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|GAME AT A
Point: After UNC starter Matt Harvey loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a hit batsman in the fifth, the Tar Heels called upon lefthander Brian Moran to face lefthanded-hitting Kole Calhoun. On a 3-and-2 pitch, Calhoun blasted a grand slam to right-center, erasing a four-run UNC lead with one swing of the bat.
OMAHA—Trailing by four runs heading into the bottom of the fifth inning Thursday, Arizona State started its comeback in characteristic fashion: by taking what North Carolina was giving. The Sun Devils, who rank among the national leaders in walks just as they do most years, drew 10 free passes Thursday, and junior outfielder Kole Calhoun converted those baserunners into runs, driving in six in ASU’s 12-5 victory. The Sun Devils earned a rematch with Texas on Friday evening.
In the pivotal fifth, the Devils loaded the bases against UNC sophomore righty Matt Harvey on two walks and a hit batsman.
“The at-bats were typical,” Arizona State coach Pat Murphy said. “We’ve been a team that has taken a lot of walks all year, and we took 10 tonight and got hit four times, so you get 14 free bases. It was the same type of comeback we’ve had many times: patience, patience, patience, then Calhoun had a chance.”
Calhoun made the most of his chance just like he did against UNC on Sunday, when he hit a huge three-run homer in the 10th inning against lefthander Brian Moran. The Tar Heels brought Moran in again to face the lefthanded Calhoun with the bases loaded in the fifth Thursday. In the previous meeting between the two, Calhoun hit a fastball away over the left-field fence early in the count. This time, Moran used his slider to get ahead, but Calhoun battled the count full, then connected for a game-tying grand slam to right-center on a hanging slider.
Then, in the seventh, Calhoun gave Arizona State a lead it would not relinquish, breaking the 4-4 tie with a two-run double to right-center. The Sun Devils capitalized on four walks and a hit batsman to send 13 batters to the plate and score eight runs in the inning. But it was Calhoun who opened the floodgates, once again. He now has three homers and 10 RBIs in the College World Series.
“I really don’t know what to say,” said the stocky, amiable Calhoun. “I don’t know; I get up there and hit. I’m just excited to go up there and hit right now.”
Early this season, Calhoun wasn’t hitting much. He was batting just .194 through the first 10 games he played this season, and as recently as April 25 he was hitting just .242 with four home runs. Now he’s sitting at .304 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs.
“The last half of the season, Kole Calhoun’s been red hot. No pun intended,” said Murphy, referencing Calhoun’s hair color as he often does. “He’s made some adjustments. He didn’t like struggling early. He wanted to be a big part of this ballclub.
“Kole has made an adjustment to staying on the baseball away. He’s made an adjustment to staying on offspeed pitches. He understands that the game’s got to come to him a little bit—he’s not going to force it.”
Even facing that early four-run hole, ASU did an excellent of job of not forcing it Thursday, and Calhoun said the team never seemed too worried in the dugout. The Sun Devils just played Sun Devil baseball, waiting out UNC’s control problems.
Meanwhile, Arizona State lefty Josh Spence settled down after UNC cobbled together three runs against him in the fourth. Spence, working on three days’ rest after throwing seven strong innings against UNC on Sunday, allowed just four runs (three earned) on seven hits and two walks while striking out eight over seven innings Thursday. Spence, who threw 126 pitches, insisted he was accustomed to working on short rest and wasn’t tired, but he credited catcher Carlos Ramirez for calming his nerves after the first few innings.
“I went and told him, ‘This is baseball, people are going to make errors.'” Ramirez said, recalling his conversation with Spence after the Tar Heels jumped ahead early. “‘Keep on hitting your spots, keep the ball low, and we’ll back you up.’ That’s what he did, and fortunately we got the ‘W’.”
The ‘L’ for North Carolina ended an unforgettable era. The Tar Heels must say goodbye to cornerstone players like Dustin Ackley, Alex White, Kyle Seager, Adam Warren and Garrett Gore (who became the all-time leader in College World Series games Thursday), and saying goodbye was particularly difficult Thursday. Fox and his players were late for the post-game press conference, and an extremely emotional Fox barely kept it together during his opening remarks.
“I’m not going to apologize for being late, because the last time you spend in a locker room with a group of kids that you love and cherish this hard—we had a bunch of young men in that locker room that wanted to say a few words, and they deserved to do that,” Fox said. “I’m going to focus on the whole season. These kids getting here four years in a row is an amazing accomplishment, and we’re not going to let tonight tarnish that.
“I’ve had a special group, probably the most fun I’ve ever had coaching these guys. They took me on a great ride. It’s been fun.”