There will be plenty of familiarity Sunday when North Carolina takes on N.C. State, for the teams and for many observers. Chris Pollard, who recently finished his first year as the coach at Duke, faced both during the regular season and offers his thoughts on the game:
Q: What’s important in this matchup?
A: It starts with pitching. (N.C. State’s Carlos) Rodon is arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the country, and he’s throwing the ball really well right now. I know that (North Carolina ace Kent) Emanuel had a rough outing in the Super Regional, so one of the keys will be his ability to get fresh and bounce back. Obviously, he’s had enough rest to be able to do that.
Starting pitching will be key. Both teams have guys they trust out of the bullpen, but both of these teams really have a lot of faith in those two guys, particularly in N.C. State’s case. They give Carlos a long leash, as they say, in terms of being able to get deep in games.
I look for it to be a low-scoring, pitchers’ duel. I would be shocked if it’s not. Two runs might win that ballgame.
Q: Who has the bullpen edge?
A: For both of them, the bullpen is a strength. Depth-wise, N.C. State has done a really good job of developing depth in their pen. They do a really good job of being able to match you up right-handed vs. left-handed. They’ve got (Ryan) Wilkins and (Josh) Easley as right-handed matchup guys, and then they’ve got (left-hander Grant) Sasser. They’ve got a lot of confidence right now in Sasser and his ability to go in there and get big outs for them. To me, N.C. State, through the regionals and Super Regionals, showed a lot of confidence in their pen.
Q: UNC ranks No. 3 in the country in walks, and the Wolfpack ranks 19th in stolen bases. Think each team will have to watch those stats from the opposition?
A: The stolen base aspect of it will probably be minimal. Trea Turner can run on anybody in the country, to a certain extent almost at will, but Kent Emanuel is a very tough guy to run on. With Emanuel on the mound in this particular matchup, it will be tough to steal bases. He’s got a very, very good pickoff move, and it really freezes you. I don’t look for N.C. State to use that a ton. I look for them to use the bunt a lot. They’re a very good bunting team.
In terms of Carolina and the walks, Carolina hits about .270 against left-handers, so if they have an Achilles’ heel, it’s their ability to swing the bat against left-handers. With Rodon and the electricity of his stuff, he’s tough on anybody, and he’s particularly tough on left-handers. So I look for Carolina to try and be really patient at the plate. I look for them to see if they can get Rodon out of the strike zone, and I also look for them to take a lot of pitches and see if they can push his pitch count up and get into the right-handed part of State’s bullpen because Carolina really feasts off of right-handed pitching.
Q: In the first game of the North Carolina-South Carolina series, the Gamecocks pitched around Colin Moran in the ninth inning. What do you think about pitching around Moran?
A: It will depend on who’s on the mound. With some guys, they’re going to. When they have a particular right-hander on the mound, they’re probably going to. With Rodon on the mound, left-on-left, they’re going to go right at him.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley