Copied from the College Blog.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Plenty of eyes were on North Carolina junior righthander Alex White on Saturday—including a Boshamer Stadium-record 4,316 pairs of peepers, perhaps two dozen of them belonging to scouts. Blisters and a "severely pulled hamstring," as UNC pitching coach Scott Forbes put it today, hampered White in regionals last week, but the righty said he felt good today, and it showed.
In his final outing before Tuesday’s draft and, in all likelihood, his last start ever in Chapel Hill, White allowed just one run on nine hits and three walks while striking out 12 over 8 1/3 innings in North Carolina’s 10-1 win against East Carolina. UNC coach Mike Fox pulled White after he struck out Drew Schieber on a 92 mph fastball over the outside corner to record the first out of the ninth inning, and White left to a standing ovation from fans of the Tar Heels and his hometown Pirates.
"When I went out to take Alex out, he said, ‘Thanks. I really neeeded this,’" Fox said. "It kind of surprised me a little bit, because there was never an option to not pitch him if he was healthy. Whether or not he’s feeling good or pitching well, he wants to be out there. That’s part of the quality of being a good leader, and I think our kids feed off of it a little bit."
White came out of the gate pumping 92-93 mph fastballs and touching 94 a number of times in the first two innings, but he fell behind in the count repeatedly and ECU jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Brandon Henderson’s solo homer leading off the second. White responded by striking out the next two hitters on a 93 mph fastball and an 86 mph slider.
The effectiveness of White’s slider was a significant development today. For most of the season, he has leaned heavily on his 83-86 split-finger as his No. 2 pitch, almost too much for scouts’ taste. But he threw more sliders than splitters today, and he threw them with more conviction than he has all season. Forbes said White changed his grip on his slider and his two-seam fastball since his start last week.
"The slider was sharper than it’s been all year," Forbes said. "Warming him up in the bullpen before the game, it was legit, and (the break was) late."
White said he used his 88-90 two-seamer effectively against East Carolina’s dangerous lefthanded hitters, Trent Whitehead and Kyle Roller. He also found his four-seam command in the middle to late innings, and he did a much better job getting ahead in the count. Even when East Carolina put runners in scoring position in the third, fourth and sixth innings, White was able to wriggle out of the jams unscathed by getting timely strikeouts and a big double play ball (in the sixth).
"He has a very good fastball, and he was working it all day," Henderson said. "He was throwing a very heavy fastball, he kept it down at the knees and on the outside corner. We had a few opportunities but couldn’t cash in on them. To his credit, he got out of some situations. I think he settled in."
"Usually when I struggle is when I can’t hit the spot," White said. "I found the strike zone late and put my fastball where I wanted to."
After ECU’s missed opportunity in the top of the sixth, the Tar Heels exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the frame to turn a 2-1 lead into a 9-1 laugher. White cruised after that, getting first-pitch strikes with a low-90s fastball and reaching back to touch 93-94 seemingly at will when he needed a big pitch. He even bumped 95 a few times in the game, including on a strikeout of Devin Harris in the fourth.
Afterward, scouts were reassured.
"Absolutely, he helped himself," one scout said.
"He didn’t hurt himself, that’s for sure," added another.
A third scout commented on Baseball America’s most recent mock draft, which projects White going No. 11 to the Rockies.
"He’ll probably go up now," the scout said.
Not that White was worrying about his draft stock Saturday. The Greenville native was simply relishing a big victory against his hometown team, which put North Carolina just one win away from its fourth straight trip to the College World Series.
"It was just a lot of fun," White said. "I enjoyed every moment of it. Having the Greenville fans here too, and the Tar Heel fans—it was just a lot of excitement. It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed it, and it was a great moment for me."
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