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June 16, 2013Omaha, Neb.- North Carolina lost 8-1 to NC State in its opening game of the College World Series Sunday.
Coach Mike Fox was proud of the one run UNC earned just before the final three outs of the game - he knew it'd be difficult for his offense to generate anything off of ace lefty Carlos Rodon - but it was too little, too late, he said.
"Any time you're facing Carlos Rodon, as good as he is, getting behind is one of the worst things you can do," Fox said. "We saw evidence of that today."
The Wolfpack took the lead 1-0 in it's the first inning as Kent Emanuel walked his first batter, then let up an RBI single.
UNC got out of the inning with no further damage, despite a hit batter, as Emanuel got Brett Williams looking to end the inning.
Williams was one of only two strike-outs of the game for Emanuel, but the lack of K's wasn't as much of a factor for North Carolina, as was their ace's inability to throw with his signature control.
"Kent (didn't have) the command of his off speed pitches like he normally does you know," Fox said. "That's his strength, to be able to throw his change up and his breaking ball at any time at any count, keep the hitter uncomfortable, be able to pitch in with his fastball."
Despite having watched himself on film earlier this week and throwing on flat ground for the first time in his career earlier this week in attempt to fix his mechanics, Emanuel was still unable to throw the way he has this season.
"(It's) just not making the pitches I need to, basically," Emanuel said. "(It's) just as simple as that."
The southpaw believed that some of the day's difficulty came from the inability to control his pitches as precisely as he would have liked in the first high-pressured situation of the game.
"I think just the big spots-like Senay in that first inning, two strikes- I wanted to go away, and I did," he said. "I just needed it just a couple more inches to get the swing and miss rather than him being able to get the cap on it and get a single like that."
"It's just been stuff like that, just not executing the big spots."
The one-run deficit that North Carolina faced its first at-bat with put the No. 1 team in a position Fox never wanted to be in.
Although he and his players have developed a reputation in the post season for having the ability to play from behind in dramatic fashion, competing from a deficit against Rodon was not a similar situation - even after the Tar Heels had done just that a month ago in the ACC Tournament.
"We've been successful against them in the past (from the) win/loss perspective," Fox said. "Just because we've been able to hang in there with him and match him on the mound on our side and just kind of outlast him."
UNC's leadoff man Chaz Frank walked and stole second base in the Tar Heels' first at-bat before Rodon settled and retired three batters in a row.
Emanuel only allowed one hit in the second inning, and seemed to have his bearing. But Rodon threw a 1-2-3 second inning and NC State opened up in the top of the third as Emanuel became coming undone.
After a ground out to open the third inning, NC State's Brett Austin doubled to left center and the simplicity of the off-kilter performance from the ACC Pitcher of the Year, who's struggled in NCAA play letting off 19 runs in 15 innings played, became apparent.
Tarran Senay was unable to get a consecutive hit for NCSU as he flew out to deep right center field, but the solid contact reflected the readability of the pitches being thrown, almost as much as the Wolfpack's next three hits did.
Grant Clyde singled to left field to score Austin, then Brett Williams doubled to score Clyde and Bryan Adametz singled to score Williams and gave NC State the 4-0 lead.
North Carolina pitching coach Scott Forbes halted the game there, pulling Chris McCue from the bullpen in an effort to prevent a further rally.
McCue walked a batter before letting off an RBI single then forcing Trea Turner to line out to end the inning.
McCue threw through the fourth and fifth innings, before UNC looked to Chris Munnelly to start the sixth.
The North Carolina bullpen contributed again in the top of the eighth as Trevor Kelley came in. Reilly Hovis and Tate Parrish also threw in the eighth to help UNC get through the inning, and Taylore Cherry and Mason McCullough threw in the ninth.
But the pitching changes were also a part of the plan because he wanted his players to get their "feet wet," Fox said, in addition to using them to stay with Rodon.
NC State's ace only needed 108 pitches to throw an entire game, fanning eight as part of the 74 strikes he threw.
"That's what Carlos does well," Frank said. "He uses the slider very effectively, throws it better and controls it better than his fastball and he feeds off that."
"With power pitchers, you usually see them throw their fastball and use their fastball more - but Carlos it's his slider, and that was difficult today."
Rodon threw 1-2-3 innings in the second, third and fourth innings before Brian Holberton broke through the no-hitter with a single in the fifth inning with two outs, before Mike Zolk struck out swinging.
"That base hit maybe could have done something and started a few base hits, got a rally going," Holberton said. "But it ended up not doing anything."
"It felt like he was doing basically the same he was doing earlier in the year. He was just a little bit more on than we were today."
North Carolina made contact on three balls in the sixth inning, all with no benefit, before Cody Stubbs gave the Tar Heels their second hit in the seventh inning with one out.
Michael Russell came to bat with a chance to capitalize on the third North Carolina runner Rodon had allowed on base all game, but NC State's defense held as solid as its pitcher and turned the double play to take it to the eighth.
Rodon threw another 1-2-3 inning as two Tar Heel pinch hitters took the plate in the eighth inning.
Frank singled and designated hitter Landon Lassiter hit an RBI double to avoid the shut-out, but the 8-1 loss to a familiar foe left the Tar Heels in a familiar position nonetheless.
"Throughout the year, we've kind of played better with our backs against the wall," Holberton said. "We did in the Regional and Super Regional."
"Coming out here, the first game, (we were) maybe a little tight. Maybe now, moving on, we know what we have to do. It's win or go home. So hopefully we can do that."
UNC will now play in the Loser's Bracket Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 pm central (3:00 pm eastern) against LSU, who suffered a 2-1 loss Sunday night to UCLA.