RALEIGH — Spectators began streaming into N.C. States Doak Field more than an hour before the first pitch against North Carolina on Friday night. Tickets had been sold out since Monday, and a standing-room only crowd awaited the start of perhaps the most anticipated regular season series in school history.
It didnt take long, though, for the Tar Heels to turn the place quiet. Three batters into the game, UNC third baseman Colin Moran, who leads the nation in RBIs, hit a three-run home run over the center field fence. Those were all the runs top-ranked UNC needed in its 7-1 victory against No. 6 N.C. State.
If we could script out how to start a game over here, that would it, UNC coach Mike Fox said. A hit, hit, home run. And I thought it kind of took the air out of the place a little bit. And then I thought it was important we kept them off the board for a couple of innings and just got (the lead) to four or five (runs), and that was important.
Moran provided all the offense the Tar Heels (41-3, 19-2 ACC) needed. Kent Emanuel, UNCs junior left-hander, took care of the rest. Emanuel pitched eight innings, allowed seven hits and struck out nine. The lone run he allowed represented something of a victory, too, given it came after the Wolfpack (33-11, 14-8) loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh.
From there, Emanuel allowed a sacrifice fly, which drove in N.C. States only run, before striking out the final two batters of the inning. The last five outs Emanuel recorded all came on strikeouts.
Ryan Wilkins, the senior right-hander who started for the Wolfpack, lasted just 22 pitches after surrendering five hits and Morans home run. N.C. State never recovered from its slow start, and a crowd of 3,048 second-largest in school history never had much of a reason to cheer.
Sometimes you want things too much, said N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, whose teams 15-game winning streak, which had been the longest in the nation, came to an end. Maybe (Wilkins) wanted it too much, (and) overthrew the ball.
D.J. Thomas pitched well in relief for the Wolfpack, but the Tar Heels added two runs in the third inning and one in the sixth. Two of those three runs all except Brian Holbertons towering home run over the right field fence in the third inning came as a result of Wolfpack miscues. UNC scored once off of a throwing error and added another run after a passed ball.
Morans early home run, though, proved to be the most damaging blow. Initially, he doubted whether it would clear the fence. But the ball kept carrying.
I knew I got a good piece of it, Moran said. I guess the thin air the wind was blowing out, or something. I was surprised it went out. The way the outfielder was running at it, I thought he might have a chance to catch it.
N.C. States best chance to get back into the game until loading the bases with no outs in the seventh came in the second inning. Back-to-back singles put runners on second and third with two outs, and Logan Ratledge walked on four pitches to load the bases for Trea Turner, N.C. States leadoff hitter.
After a series of off-speed pitches, Emanuel on a 2-2 count threw a 90-mph fastball past Turner, who swung and missed to end the inning. Turner said afterward that he sensed his teammates become deflated after his strikeout.
UNC and N.C. State were playing for the first time since the Heels 12-inning 4-0 victory last season in the ACC tournament in Greensboro. A crowd of more than 10,000, the largest in state history for a college baseball game, gathered to watch that one. Anticipation was high for this, the first regular season meeting between old rivals with both teams ranked in the top 10.
The Tar Heels, though, took control early, silenced the crowd and kept it mostly quiet.
I dont think this stadium got loud the whole night, Emanuel said. And we were expecting it to have it pretty rowdy.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter