North Carolina loves to rally – they have come from behind to win five of their seven NCAA games. Oregon State loves to kill rallies – they are 41-0 this season when leading after seven innings. On Saturday night, something had to give.
It was the Tar Heels who gave and the Beavers who took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three College World Series final with an 11-4 victory in front of 26,887 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium.
With a win tonight (7 p.m. on ESPN), Oregon State can repeat as champions, while the Heels must win two elimination games in two days to claim their first-ever national title.
North Carolina freshman Alex White (6-7) could not continue the recent trend of solid starting pitching, taking the loss for the second time in the CWS. White gave up eight hits and five runs in 5 1/3 innings.
Rob Wooten, who had appeared in the Heels’ previous 10 NCAA games, did not take the mound Saturday, and neither did closer Andrew Carignan, who earned a CWS-record tying fifth career save Thursday.
“[Wooten and Carignan] have pitched a lot out here,” said Coach Mike Fox ’78. “Hopefully giving them the day off will benefit us in the long run. The other guys got a shot [Saturday], and they just didn’t get the job done.”
The five “other guys” included seldom-used relievers Tyler Trice and Matt Cox, both of whom showed their rust. Trice and Cox were on the hill in the seventh when the Beavers broke the game open with four runs and took a 10-3 lead – without registering a single hit.
Trice made two errors by misplaying two bunts, first throwing a ball in the dirt after picking up Chris Hopkins’ bunt and then throwing over first baseman Dustin Ackley on Joey Wong’s, allowing two runs to come across and make it 8-3. The Heels entered Saturday’s contest as the best defensive team in the CWS, with only two errors through five games in Omaha, but they equaled that total in the seventh inning alone.
Cox relieved Trice and promptly walked the bases loaded with no outs. Cox then walked another batter home to give the Beavers a six-run advantage. Finally, Fox called on Mike Facchinei, and the junior right-hander induced a sac fly and a double play to get the Heels out of the nightmarish inning. The Heels turned five double plays in the game, a season-high and a CWS Finals record.
The only record that matters to the Heels, though, is their current one: 0-1 in the championship series.
Meanwhile, Oregon State’s Jorge Reyes (7-3) improved his record by allowing eight hits and three runs in 6 1/3 innings to win for the second time in the CWS.
“Reyes was out there throwing strike after strike,” Fox said. “He was hard to beat.”
But while Fox credits Reyes and the rest of Pat Casey’s Oregon State squad for a job well done Saturday, he is focused on the future.
“It’s a two-out-of-three series so we’ll show up ready [Sunday],” Fox said. “We still have one more game where we can be better than them.”
Tar Heel historians know that Oregon State is in the same spot as Carolina was in last year’s final. The Heels won 4-3 in Game 1 last year, but the Beavers stormed back and won the series’ final two games to claim the national championship.
Carolina must win tonight to force a rubber match on Monday. Recent history is on their side: the Heels are 4-0 in elimination games in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
– Daniel David ’07
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