See also: North Carolina-Louisiana State Box Score
OMAHA—In a game that featured a suspension of play for the first time at the College World Series since 2000, a streaker for the first time since 1974 and the largest crowd in CWS history, the finish was the wildest of all.
Junior catcher Tim Federowicz delivered a tie-breaking grand slam with two outs in the top of the ninth to propel North Carolina to an epic 7-3 win against Louisiana State. The grand slam was the first at the CWS since 2001, and it was North Carolina’s first home run in Omaha in 2008.
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Point: After Alex White wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, LSU reliever Louis Coleman answered by getting UNC’s leadoff man in the ninth to pop out. But No. 9 hitter Ryan Graepel ignited a North Carolina rally with a one-out double to right-center field.
“We picked a good time for it, didn’t we?” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said.
The grand slam knocked LSU (49-19-1) out of the CWS and earned North Carolina (53-13) a rematch against Fresno State on Saturday night. But the Tigers did not go down without a fight. They never do.
The Tar Heels built a 2-0 lead before inclement weather suspended play Thursday, and they had the bases loaded with one out when play resumed. The Tigers summoned sinkerballer Jared Bradford—who worked 6 2/3 innings Tuesday against Rice—to get them out of the jam when play resumed Friday, and he responded by getting Garrett Gore to ground into a 5-4-3 double play. That breathed life into the Tigers, who got on the board with a run against Matt Harvey in the second before rain and lightning forced another delay.
This one lasted one hour, 27 minutes, ended Harvey’s outing and helped produce some empty seats despite the record announced attendance of 30,422. But LSU’s coaching staff elected to send Bradford back out to the mound when play resumed, and he rewarded their faith. The senior righthander allowed just one run on four hits while striking out five in 5 2/3 innings. Bradford, who finished with 76 pitches, said the plan was for him to try to get a double-play ball in the first, and then see how he felt from there. He said he felt good for a while before his shoulder started to get sore late in his outing.
“What Jared Bradford did for our team tonight on two days’ rest is what legends are made of,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Not only is Jared Bradford one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever coached, he’s one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met. I told Jared I’ll be talking about him to LSU players 10 years from now. What he’s done for our program will be so far-reaching beyond what his statistics are. He was just amazing.”
North Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley said Bradford’s sinker had even more life as he got tired, but Fox said his team approached Bradford better after the delay. Fox stressed to his players not to swing at the sinker down below the zone, but he said it’s particularly hard for righthanded hitters to avoid rolling the pitch over.
The lefthanded-hitting Ackley was the only Tar Heel who had any success against Bradford. Ackley reached base in all five of his plate appearances in the game, going 4-for-4 with four hard-hit singles and an intentional walk. In a game full of remarkable individual performances, Ackley’s is easy to overlook.
“You saw why we think Dustin Ackley is the best player in America,” Fox said. “He’s got 230 hits in two years at North Carolina. Absolutely incredible.”
So when Ackley came up in the ninth inning after Ryan Graepel’s one-out double to the right-center-field gap, Mainieri didn’t hesitate to call for the intentional walk.
“Anybody who doesnt walk Ackley there ought to have his head examined, to be honest with you,” Mainieri said. “The kid’s one of the best hitters in the country, we couldn’t get him out tonight.”
LSU closer Louis Coleman, who had struck out five batters over the previous two scoreless innings, struck out pinch-hitter Mark Fleury for the second out in the ninth, but he issued a wild pitch during the at-bat, allowing the runners to reach second and third. Mainieri called for Coleman to intentionally walk the lefthanded-hitting Tim Fedroff to pitch to the righthanded-hitting Federowicz, and he said he would make the same decision again 1,000 times out of 1,000. With a low arm slot and a vicious slider, Coleman is murder on righthanded hitters, and Federowicz had struggled to that point in the College World Series.
But Coleman left a hanging slider over the inner half—catcher Micah Gibbs was set up outside—and Federowicz turned on it.
“I still felt confident up there—I’ve been hitting the ball hard,” Federowicz said. “I was confident going up with the bases loaded, and my adrenaline was pumping.”
Not to be overlooked is the performance of UNC’s pitching staff, which gave Federowicz a chance to be the hero by limiting the big LSU bats to four hits. The biggest was first baseman Matt Clark’s nation-leading 28th home run of the year, a two-run shot to right in the sixth that tied the score 3-3.
But LSU had another golden opportunity in the eighth and couldn’t capitalize. UNC ace righthander Alex White relieved closer Rob Wooten after the leadoff man reached on Wooten’s fielding error, and White loaded the bases with one out on a pair of walks. But he retired freshmen D.J. LeMahieu (pop-up) and Leon Landry (ground out) to escape the threat unscathed.
The Tar Heels got through the early innings thanks to 2 2/3 scoreless innings from righty Colin Bates, a scoreless inning from Moran (before he gave up the homer) and another scoreless frame from Wooten.
“We just kind of hung around,” Fox said. “Tonight you saw why I think we led the nation in earned run average; we ran our five best guys out there.”
After hanging around for eight innings, North Carolina got the victory emphatically. It was a welcome and unexpected finish for a team that has not produced many late-innings rallies this year.
“Maybe we needed something big and dramatic to get us going here tomorrow,” Fox said. “I can’t imagine we needed anything else to get us going trying to survive, but maybe that will help.”
And for an LSU team that has shocked so many opponents in late innings this year, it was an especially cruel end to the season.
“I guess you could say we just ran out of miracles,” Mainieri said.