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May 25, 2013

UNC Heading to Championship

DURHAM, N.C.--- In a battle of in-state rivals and top 10 foes bound to host NCAA Regionals and quite possibly Super Regionals this spring, North Carolina and N.C. State met for the third time this season in the ACC Tournament Saturday night.

The Durham Bulls Athletic Park was filled to standing room only capacity, in front of an ACC Tournament record and also a North Carolina college baseball record, with 11,392 people showing up for the game between these two powerhouse teams.

NC State saved their ace pitcher against the Tar Heels, Carlos Rodon, who came in 8-2 this season with an era of 3.86.

However, the Tar Heels had their own star pitcher on the field, Hobbs Johnson, who had a 2.18 coming into the game and a 4-0 record in 13 appearances.

Starting off the game, the two pitchers were showing their stuff, each of them going through the first two innings in order.

The Tar Heels weren't able to rattle Rodon at all early on in the game, and Johnson and the Tar Heels ran into trouble early in the third inning, as NC State put two runners on.

But Johnson was able to gain his composure and get two strikeouts to end the threat.

The game was rolling along, with both teams trying to get something on each pitcher, but NC State was the first to really get to Johnson in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Brett Williams and Bryan Adametz both singled to start off the inning and two batters later, Logan Ratledge was walked to load the bases up with only one out.

Johnson settled down and focused on his target, striking out Trea Turner and Jake Fincher on a full count with two outs to end the threat as the Tar Heel fans stood and a loud cheer come over the stadium.

Still, UNC just never seemed to get on track offensively, going hitless through the first six innings and really not being able to take advantage of any players being on base aside of a couple isolated situations over a very long stretch of action.

Johnson got out of multiple early jams, but wasn't able to stop the Wolfpack bats from swinging in the sixth inning, as Tarran Senay hit a double into the corner and Brett Clyde soared a hit off the left field wall to bring in the first run of the game.

That is all that Mike Fox needed, as Johnson's day was over, finishing with nine strikeouts in the game.

In this type of game and the way that Rodon was pitching at that time, one run may as well have been fifty it seemed.

Right handed pitcher Trent Thornton replaced Johnson and was able to limit the damage with an easy ground out to hold the damage to one run.

Things started to change though in the seventh inning for the Tar Heels, as Colin Moran got on base by an error on third baseman Grant Clyde, and Cody Stubbs singled for the Tar Heels' first hit of the game to that point, giving them a chance to tie up the game.

But Rodon came back and got Michael Russell to swing twice at ball four to get out of the threat.

Again the Tar Heels were able to pressure on Rodon in the eighth, putting two base runners on. Chaz Frank hit a line drive to first baseman Tarran Senay, but Senay hesitated, looking for the double play.

As Senay turned back around to flip the ball to Rodon for an easy out, Rodon couldn't handle the toss, putting the ball out of reach and allowing the first run of the game to cross the plate for the Tar Heels.

Rodon was able to get out of the jam, but the error gave the Tar Heels the break they were looking for all game, and as it turned out was the only thing that allowed the game to reach extra innings.

Rodon's night was done after the tenth inning, pitching a beautiful game for the Wolfpack that ended in a no decision with 14 strikeouts.

N.C. State sent out Grant Sasser in the eleventh inning and UNC got a runner in scoring position, but they couldn't come through.

Inning by inning went by, with neither team doing anything very impressive or threatening to score.

It wasn't until the top of thirteenth inning where things got interesting, as the Tar Heels were able to get a runner in scoring position.

After N.C. State made a pitching change, Colin Moran hit a blast to the left field warning track, just feet short of putting the Tar Heels up.

But the Tar Heels, like many times throughout the night, left a golden opportunity on the field go as the ball was caught.

The Tar Heels had their chance then, but during the bottom of the thirteenth inning the Wolfpack got an excellent chance to win,

UNC reliever Chris McCue came on and gave up two quick hits and eventually loaded the bases up with only one out.

Once again though, the Wolfpack couldn't take advantage, a theme of what Saturday's game was all about.

McCue battled NCSU's Brett Williams through multiple pitches, eventually striking him out on a full count.

In what was the longest game in ACC Baseball Championship history, the game finally came to an end early Sunday morning in the 18th frame, as Cody Stubbs dumped a blooper into left center field to give Carolina a 2-1 lead.

NC State had a chance to tie it up at the bottom of the eighteenth, but wasn't able to capitalize with two easy pop ups and a ground out.

With the win tonight, UNC will have to turn around in less than 12 hours to play in the ACC Championship game.

UNC will face No. 22 Virginia Tech tomorrow for the ACC title, as the game will start at 1:00pm and will be aired on ESPN2.


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