OMAHA, Neb. — North Carolina State and North Carolina were playing each other in baseball for the 285th time, but never on a stage like this.
Carlos Rodon pitched like the star he is, throwing eight shutout innings and holding the Tar Heels to five hits in an 8-1 College World Series victory Sunday.
“This is the College World Series, and it doesn’t get any better than this, so why not bring your ‘A’ game?” Rodon said.
“Of course, I try to bring my ‘A’ game every time.”
Rodon (10-2), who required 108 pitches to record his third complete game of the season, held the No. 1 national seed Tar Heels hitless into the fifth inning. He allowed five hits and struck out eight.
It was the sophomore left-hander’s second straight dominating performance against the Tar Heels. The result was more satisfying this time. Three weeks ago he allowed one hit and struck out 14 in 10 innings but got no decision in a 2-1, 18-inning loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
“He was as good as I’ve seen him all year,” Wolfpack catcher Brett Austin said.
The Wolfpack’s first CWS appearance since 1968 will continue Tuesday when it plays UCLA, which beat LSU 2-1 later Sunday. The Tar Heels (57-11), in Omaha for the sixth time in eight years, are one loss from elimination. Carolina hasn’t lost back-to-back games this season.
“You have to rely on the leaders on your team to rally, and they’ve been able to do that all year long,” Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “It’ll be another really good team, and we’ll obviously have to play better. I have confidence in my guys. It’s disappointing today.
“I have no doubt we’ll be ready Tuesday.”
While Rodon dominated, ACC pitcher of the year Kent Emanuel struggled yet again and left the game down 5-0 in the third inning.
“Just not making the pitches I need to,” Emanuel said. “Basically, it’s simple as that.”
Brett Williams, Bryan Adametz and Logan Ratledge had two hits apiece for the Wolfpack (50-14), with Ratledge driving in two runs out of the No. 9 hole.
Rodon opened by walking Chaz Frank on four pitches, then retired 14 straight batters before Brian Holberton singled up the middle on a first-pitch fastball with two out in the fifth inning.
“You try to be perfect, but you’re not going to say, ‘I’m going to throw a perfect game’ or ‘I’m going to throw a no-hitter today.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Rodon said.
Rodon got help from a defense that turned double plays after Carolina got runners on base in the seventh and eighth innings. The Tar Heels broke through in the ninth, with Frank singling leading off and Landon Lassiter following with an RBI double.
Emanuel (11-4) was nothing like he was two years ago at the CWS when he threw a four-hit shutout against Texas as a freshman. He failed to make it out of the third inning for the second straight start.
N.C. State and the Tar Heels have now split four games this season and could meet again before the week is over.
The Wolfpack said the familiarity the teams have for each other makes it easier to adjust to the environment at TD Ameritrade Park.
“I was glad personally to come in here and play those guys,” third baseman Grant Clyde said. “And when Carlos is on the mound, you know he’s going to come out against those guys even more amped up, because it’s a big rivalry and it’s a big game.
“Carlos came out and did his thing and was very dominant.”