OMAHA, Neb — North Carolinas players and coaches gathered on Tuesday night to watch N.C. State play against UCLA in the College World Series. The Tar Heels were not impartial observers. They wanted another chance to play against the Wolfpack, who dealt UNC an 8-1 defeat on Sunday in the first game of the College World Series.
There was a moment late in the N.C. State game when it seemed like UNC might have to wait a while for a rematch if one came at all. In the eighth inning on Tuesday, Wolfpack shortstop Trea Turner hit a ball well to deep left field. Off the bat, it looked like it might be gone for a three-run home run.
We were all watching it at the same time, and we thought he hit it out, Chaz Frank, the Tar Heels senior center fielder, said on Wednesday. And Im pretty sure he thought he hit it out, too. I think he raised his hand like he hit it out. But its the park. Theres not going to be many balls that are going to be hit out.
Instead of sailing over the fence, Turners hit landed for an out. Not long after, the Wolfpack recorded the final out of a 2-1 loss that sent them to the losers bracket against a familiar opponent. N.C. State coach Elliott Avent wasnt in the mood on Tuesday night to talk about playing UNC for the fifth time this season.
He was still focused on the mistakes his team made against UCLA. A base running error here. A wild pitch there. Even on Wednesday, a day later, the pain of that defeat still lingered.
I still havent gotten over the emotions of losing that game last night, Avent said. That game has stuck with me probably longer than any game has ever stuck with me.
Even so, Avent perked up when informed how badly the Tar Heels wanted another shot at N.C. State.
Its easy to say you want to play somebody, but then youve got to do it, Avent said. I dont know if Id want to play us again, but if thats what they want to do then they get their opportunity (Thursday) night.
The stakes were high on Sunday, when UNC and N.C. State played each other in the College World Series for the first time. Teams from the two schools had never met each other on such a stage, in any sport.
The rematch carries even more significance. The winner on Thursday night will survive to play another game. For the loser, the season will end with its fiercest rival ordering the one-way ticket back to the North Carolina.
Yeah, I guess that makes a good story for you guys, Grant Clyde, the Wolfpacks senior third baseman, said on Wednesday after his teams practice. They beat us in the 18-inning game (in the ACC tournament). We split a pair at our place, and then came here and beat them in game one of the World Series.
So yeah, Im sure theyre looking for revenge.
The Tar Heels might never be too disappointed to see the Wolfpack lose, and vice versa. But UNC might have taken special joy in N.C. States loss on Tuesday, since it guaranteed a rematch and one without the specter of facing Carlos Rodon, the sophomore left-hander who has dominated the Tar Heels throughout his career.
Avent didnt rule out the possibility of Rodon making a relief appearance, but N.C. State will start another left-hander, freshman Brad Stone.
UNC is starting Hobbs Johnson, a junior left-hander who allowed one run and six hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Wolfpack during the ACC tournament. Johnsons performance in that game was a distant memory by the time UNC won the game in 18 innings.
For us, especially since we lost the last one, our plan is to definitely send them home, Johnson said.
Players from both teams expected they might see each other again after Sunday. Thats how its been for UNC and N.C. State this season.
They met in the ACC tournament game, and then traveled halfway across the country to play each other in Omaha. And now theyll play for one final time.
Its like the stars just keep aligning for us to keep knocking heads, UNC coach Mike Fox said on Wednesday. So yeah it probably is (fitting) after all the battles and the wars we had. Just not in the past. But this year in particular, it seems to be some special games we played. And perhaps this will be another one.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter