UNC eliminates N.C. State in 12-inning ACC thriller

acarter@newsobserver.comMay 27, 2012 

— Carlos Rodon couldn’t pitch forever. That was about the only negative from his performance Saturday night, when the N.C. State freshman held North Carolina scoreless through nine innings and struck out 12.

Rodon, both the ACC’s pitcher and freshman of the year, was at his best while he tried to lead the Wolfpack into the ACC baseball championship game. But North Carolina’s pitching staff dominated, too, and the Tar Heels outlasted the Wolfpack in 12 innings in UNC’s 4-0 victory at NewBridge Bank Park.

“That may be the best bullpen in college baseball,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said of the Tar Heels, who used four pitchers to record the first extra-innings shutout in ACC tournament history.

UNC (44-14) and Miami both finished with 2-1 records in pool play, but the Hurricanes, who beat the Heels on Thursday, will meet Georgia Tech today at noon for the conference championship.

Neither team scored Saturday night until Adam Griffin, the UNC freshman, hit a single to right field with the bases loaded in the top of the 12th inning. Griffin’s single off of D.J. Thomas, N.C. State’s third pitcher of the night, drove home Colin Moran and left the bases loaded with no outs.

From there, UNC added three more runs, and Tar Heels closer Michael Morin, who pitched the final five innings, retired N.C. State (39-17) in order in the bottom of the 12th. Morin had spent the past few days sick, batting a stomach bug that left him vomiting in the locker room during the Tar Heels’ victory against Wake Forest on Wednesday.

The moment he found himself in on Saturday helped heal him, he said.

“It’s not really something that you need to push through,” Morin said. “… When you’ve got about 8,000 [people] rooting against you, it’s not too hard.”

The announced crowd of 10,229 set an attendance record for an ACC baseball championship game by more than 3,000. The crowd, the majority of which supported the Wolfpack, was also the largest for a college baseball game in state history, according to officials here.

Most in attendance were looking forward to watching Rodon, the Wolfpack freshman pitcher who compiled one of the best seasons in school history. Rodon didn’t disappoint. But neither did UNC starter Benton Moss, the UNC freshman who started and allowed two hits in five and one-third innings.

Asked afterward what was working for him on Saturday night, Rodon said, “Pretty much every pitch I threw.”

The Heels, though, had too much pitching depth. Combined, UNC’s four pitchers allowed four hits, and N.C. State never moved a base runner past second base.

Scoring opportunities for both teams were rare until the Tar Heels broke through in the 12th. Before then, UNC’s best chance to score came in the sixth, when Michael Russell hit a two-out triple.

Rodon quickly built an 0-2 count against Moran, the all-ACC third baseman who is the Tar Heels’ most feared hitter. Moran eventually hit a soft blooper into shallow center, but N.C. State shortstop Chris Diaz chased it down, reached for the catch and made it while falling down.

He received a standing ovation, at least from those here wearing red, as he jogged back to the dugout.

N.C. State threatened in the sixth, too, when it put runners on first and second. But Hobbs Johnson, who entered the game in relief of Moss, escaped trouble with an inning-ending double play. As it turned out, the sequence might have been the Pack’s last best chance to score a run.

Scott Forbes, the UNC pitching coach, acted as the Tar Heels’ head coach while Mike Fox served a one-game suspension after his ejection on Thursday. Fox didn’t have any words of advice, Forbes said – not that he needed to.

“He didn’t really say anything,” Forbes said. “We’ve been together so long, I think he said, ‘Go get it done.’”

It took a while but the Tar Heels – especially their pitching staff – did on Saturday night.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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