Pack's Rodon convinced coach for start against UNC

acarter@newsobserver.comJune 20, 2013 

N.C. State, NC STATE, UNC, North Carolina, College World Series,

N.C. State's Carlos Rodon pitches in the first inning against UNC in an elimination game in the College World Series Thursday, June 20, 2013, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.


— Carlos Rodon made it clear on Wednesday, and again on Thursday. And in the hours before N.C. State’s 7-0 season-ending loss against North Carolina in the College World Series on Thursday, Rodon sent a text message to Elliott Avent and again said he was ready to start the Wolfpack’s most important game of the season.

Avent, the Wolfpack coach, said on Wednesday that he would start Matt Stone, a freshman left-hander, against the Tar Heels on Thursday night. Avent called it a “no-brainer” to start Stone. The decision changed, though, after Avent and Rodon spoke before the game on Thursday.

“I wanted to make sure he was thinking with his head instead of his heart,” Avent said. “He’s got such a big heart. He’s always been about winning a national championship. He’s never been about Carlos. Ever.”

For the fourth time this season – and the second time this week – Rodon started against the Tar Heels. His start on Thursday came four days after he threw nine innings and allowed one run and five hits during N.C. State’s 8-1 victory against the Tar Heels on Sunday. Rodon threw 109 pitches in that game.

He threw 80 more on Thursday, and left the game after allowing four hits and two runs – only one of them earned – in five innings. Rodon wasn’t the overpowering force he was earlier in the week.

“But his stuff was electric as always,” said Michael Russell, the UNC shortstop.

Rodon pitched after his shortest rest of the season. During the regular season, he normally started every six days.

It wasn’t difficult to understand Avent’s decision to start him, though. Rodon has been dominant against the Tar Heels – especially in the postseason.

His performance on Sunday came after he allowed one unearned run in 10 innings during the Wolfpack’s 18-inning loss against UNC in the ACC tournament. He also pitched nine scoreless innings against the Tar Heels in the 2012 ACC tournament in Greensboro.

Rodon allowed a leadoff hit to UNC center fielder Chaz Frank, but then retired the next six consecutive batters. He found trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, though. After allowing a leadoff single to Colin Moran in the fourth, Brian Holberton attempted a sacrifice bunt.

Rodon fielded it and his throw to second sailed into centerfield. Moran walked Cody Stubbs, and UNC had the bases loaded with nobody out. A couple moments later, Russell’s sacrifice fly to right drove in Holberton to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.

Holberton’s slide into home barely beat Jake Fincher’s throw from right. After home plate umpire Joe Burleson called Holberton safe at the plate, Rodon slammed down his glove in frustration. In the fifth, he hit Parks Jordan, UNC’s No. 9 hitter, and Jordan later scored.

“Obviously, I definitely wanted to pitch out there,” Rodon said. “I felt good … I had some (velocity). It came and went, I guess.”

The Tar Heels broke the game open long after Rodon departed. He could only watch the end of his team’s season from the dugout. Rodon had pitched at least nine innings in each of his previous three starts against UNC in the postseason.

He was never going to last that long on Thursday, but he still wanted to start with his team’s season at stake.

“He’s Bob Gibson as a pitcher and Pete Rose as a position player because he also hits for us,” Avent said. “… He’s no different than the little kid who just wants to win.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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