After a shaky start, righthanders Bradley Holt and Steven Hensley settled down, and the UNC Wilmington-Elon pitcher’s duel developed after all. Holt got the better of it, allowing just two hits after the second inning en route to 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball in UNCW’s 5-2 win.
"It makes it a whole lot easier when you get that type of pitching game," Seahawks coach Mark Scalf said.
It was a matchup of contrasting styles, both on the mound and in the lineups. As one scout put it, Holt and Hensley "couldn’t be more different." Holt relied almost exclusively on his 93 mph fastball, while Hensley mixed four pitches but struggled with his command. Matt Blood will have more on the pitching showdown later on the Draft Blog.
The Seahawks and Phoenix also play very different styles, with Elon relying on its speed and patient approach, and the Wilmington leaning on its power and aggressiveness at the plate. UNCW coach Mark Scalf said the plan was to lay off Hensley’s breaking ball down out of the zone and wait for fastballs, and they did a good job pouncing when he came inside. Freshman DH Alex Hill set the tone for the offense, going 4-for-4 out of the leadoff spot in his first career postseason game.
Elon, meanwhile, was very aggressive on the basepaths, ending the first two innings between third base and home. Leadoff man made the final out of the first trying to steal home on a high Holt fastball, and he was called out on a very close play.
"That’s how we play," Elon coach Mike Kennedy said. "We’re not always talented enough to sit back and try to out-slug people and play that type of baseball. Our speed all year has been our speed on the bases and putting pressure on people, and we wanted to set the tone early. If that call goes our way, there’s a lot of energy in our dugout."
Instead, the Seahawks had a lot of energy, and they got to Hensley for two runs in the bottom of the inning. The biggest difference in the game was Holt was able to get out of jams later in the game, while Hensley could not finish off innings after getting to two outs. Hensley allowed five runs on 12 hits over 6 1/3.
Tomorrow, in all likelihood, Wilmington will face top-seeded North Carolina, which has already jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Mount St. Mary’s and should have little trouble today. The precocious Hill, for one, can’t wait to face the Tar Heels.
"I’m pretty excited about it," he said of the prospect of facing UNC this weekend, "because my mom went to Carolina, my aunt went to Carolina, my sister went to Carolina, and I’m pretty much a life-long Carlina fan."
At that point in the press conference, Scalf interjected, "You’re a Carolina basketball fan, though, right?"
The media tent erupted in laughter. Wilmington has plenty of reason to smile today; tomorrow it’s back to work, with senior righthander Jeff Hatcher on the mound.
UNC freshman righty Matt Harvey looks very strong early, so I’m heading over to Raleigh for the North Carolina State-James Madison game, which starts in about a half hour. The Wolfpack are expected to start a freshman of their own: righthander Jake Buchanan. So N.C. State hosts a regional on campus for the first time ever and starts a freshman in the opener against a dangerous offensive team. Bold move; we’ll see if it pays off.
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