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UNC beats Oregon State in first game of College World Series despite loss of starting pitcher

UNC's Mike Fox breaks down the Tar Heels 7-4 win over Stetson

UNC wins opening Super Regional game against the Stetson Hatters 7-4 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Friday, June 8, 2018
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UNC wins opening Super Regional game against the Stetson Hatters 7-4 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Friday, June 8, 2018

No. 6 North Carolina came into the College World Series' first game as the underdog against No. 3 Oregon State.

Oregon State had better numbers in nearly every statistical category as a team, and also has one of the best pitchers. But at college baseball's biggest stage, and definitely on Saturday, none of that seem to faze UNC (44-18), which beat Oregon State 8-6.

Luke Heimlich, Oregon State's controversial ace, had his shortest start of the season, 2 1/3 innings. He gave up five earned runs, and six runs overall. And the Tar Heels dealt him only his third loss in 33 starts over the last two years.

There was bad news, however.

UNC starting pitcher Luca Dalatri was pulled in the first inning of the game with an apparent injury. He walked off the field escorted by a UNC trainer.

CWS NCarolina Oregon St Baseball (1).JPG
North Carolina pitcher Gianluca Dalatri (42) is escorted off the field following an injury in the first inning of an NCAA College World Series baseball game against Oregon State in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, June 16, 2018. Nati Harnik AP

Dalatri had been sidelined for 12 weeks earlier this year with soreness in his elbow. He was only pitching for the fifth time since returning from the injury. On Tuesday, he said he was feeling fine.

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But Saturday, he looked anything but in the first inning. His command was off, and Oregon State took the early advantage, scoring a run in the bottom of the first inning.

UNC coach Mike Fox said Dalatri told him that he didn't feel right.

"He basically said he didn't feel like he had anything on the ball," Fox said. "So with his past history, we needed to make a change."

UNC baseball coach Mike Fox talks about the tough win over Orgeon State and the injury to starting pitcher Luca Dalatri in the first game of the College World Series.

The Tar Heels threw six total pitchers.

For Oregon State (49-11-1), it was evident early that Heimlich, who was 16-1 with a 2.32 ERA, wasn't on his game either. Junior third baseman Kyle Datres hit a hard line drive to the shortstop, who committed an error. Then Heimlich hit UNC's next batter, Michael Busch, with a pitch. He managed to get out of the inning without giving up a run, but it only got worse from there.

The Beavers made multiple fielding mistakes in the top of the third, including one that led to an extra run. And Heimlich hit two batters and threw two balls that got past the catcher and went to the backstop.

Both past balls allowed UNC to score. UNC scored five runs total in the third inning to increase its lead 6-1.

"He just couldn't command anything, he couldn't get it to go where he wanted," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said of Heimlich. "He just never got a rhythm and he could never find it."

The Tar Heel's biggest production came from the bottom of the lineup. Batters five through nine were responsible for eight of the Tar Heels' 11 hits.

"You don't expect to have that kind of inning against a team like Oregon State, but we took advantage," Fox said.

Sophomore left fielder Ashton McGee, who batted eighth, went 1-for-2 with a walk and had two RBI's. Ben Casparius, who hadn't played since May 11 because of a foot injury, went 2-for-5 and had three RBI's.

Oregon State closed to two runs in the bottom of the third inning. When UNC extended its lead to four in the top of the seventh, Oregon State closed to two runs again, and had a chance to tie or take the lead with bases loaded and two outs.

Fox put in Cooper Criswell, who was expected to be his starting pitcher for Monday's game, to get the Tar Heels out of the jam.

The move worked. Criswell struck out Oregon State's Steven Kwan, who came into the game hitting .357.

But the decision to pitch Criswell raises the question of who UNC might go with on Monday. UNC has options, including Austin Bergner, but Criswell had been UNC's hottest starter in recent games. And no one other than Criswell and Dalatri has started more than one game since the start of the ACC tournament.

Criswell pitched the final two innings.

Saturday's game lasted for four hours and 24 minutes. It was the longest nine-inning game in College World Series history.

The Tar Heels need to win at least two more games to advance to the College World Series finals. They will play the winner of Mississippi State and Washington on Monday.

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander
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