RALEIGH, N.C.—North Carolina State sold out every ticket to this weekend’s series against No. 1 North Carolina early in the week, and fans of the host Wolfpack (with a few Tar Heel fans mixed in) packed Doak Field at Dail Park for the opening game Friday, with an announced crowd of 3,048.
The Tar Heels silenced those fans almost instantly as preseason All-American Colin Moran hit a three-run home run to left field three batters into the game. Fellow College Preview cover boy Kent Emanuel kept them mostly silent with eight strong innings, recording five of his eight strikeouts in his final two frames as No. 1 North Carolina beat No. 6 N.C. State 7-1.
“I don’t think the crowd got loud all night,” Emanuel said, crediting Moran’s homer for taking the crowd out of the game. “We were expecting it to be pretty rowdy.”
The defeat halted the Wolfpack’s winning streak at 15 games, dropping it to 33-11, 14-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. North Carolina improved to 41-3, 19-2.
The Pack fans had little to cheer as Chaz Frank led off the game with a single off Ryan Wilkins. The Wolfpack righthander had a full count on DH Landon Lassiter, who then grounded a ball through a hole at shortstop as Trea Turner moved to second because Frank was moving on the pitch. That put runners at the corners for Moran, who blasted his 11th homer out to left-center field on an 0-1 pitch.
Moran said he knew he hit it well and wasn’t sure he got all of it, but the ball carried well and out to right field, giving him 70 RBIs, best in the nation.
Wilkins lasted just three more hitters, giving up two more hits before N.C. State coach Elliot Avent took him out. Lefty D.J. Thomas kept State in the game for the most part, giving up two runs in the third—including Brian Holberton’s ninth home run of the season, a solo shot. North Carolina scored first-inning runs for the sixth straight game, and with five runs in the first three innings, UNC now has outscored opponents in the first three innings this season 153-28.
The Wolfpack couldn’t come back on Emanuel, who gave up seven hits and three walks while striking out eight. The ‘Pack stranded Turner at third in the first inning, then left the bases full in the second after a pair of two-out hits and a walk brought Turner back to the plate.
With a 1-1 count, Emanuel threw a curveball that both players said they thought was a strike; in Turner’s words, the pitch was “right down the middle,” but home plate umpire Randy Harvey called it a ball. Emanuel took a walk behind the mound; “For one thing, it lets me regroup and two, it’s kind of my civil way of letting the umpire know I thought it was a strike.”
Emanuel was able to even the count at 2-2 on a changeup, then got a crucial strikeout as Turner chased a 90 mph fastball up. That, combined with the 3-0 Tar Heel lead, took the crowd out of it for the much of the game, Turner agreed.
“When I struck out with the bases loaded in that at-bat, our dugout, I kind of could feel that,” Turner said. “I didn’t think the first two innings decided the game, but to everyone in the stands, it kind of seemed that way, I would say.”
Emanuel also faced a bases-loaded situation in the seventh, when UNC led 6-0, and Jake Fincher’s long sacrifice fly to right made it 6-1. Emanuel got back-to-back strikeouts of Brett Austin and Terran Senay, however, to end that inning, and his last five outs came on strikeouts. He improved to 9-1, 1.75 on the year with 77 strikeouts and 17 walks allowed in 87 innings.
“I think he only had one clean inning, so he really had to pitch tonight and battle them,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “They had people on but Kent’s Kent. You saw a typical Kent Emanuel night tonight.”
Moran’s only hit was his three-run homer, but the Tar Heels pressured State pitchers all night with 14 knocks. Shortstop Michael Russell had three hits while Lassiter reached base four times, punctuating the scoring with an RBI double in the eighth.
Saturday’s second game of the series will be a pitching rematch of last year’s epic ACC Tournament game as it pits sophomores Benton Moss of North Carolina against N.C. State’s Carlos Rodon. All three of the Tar Heels’ losses have come in games started by lefthanded pitchers such as Rodon, as they are 29-0 in games started by an opposing righthander and 12-3 against lefty starters.