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|GAME AT A
Point: Early on, it looked like more of the same for North Carolina, which stranded 18 runners in Saturday’s loss to Vanderbilt. The Tar Heels left three men on base in the first two innings Monday—two of them at third base—but finally cashed in on a scoring opportunity in the third, when Jacob Stallings delivered a two-run single to right-center. That was more than enough support for Kent Emanuel, and UNC never looked back.
OMAHA—In five decades as a college baseball coach, Augie Garrido has gotten pretty good at succinctly summing up games.
“We never got the momentum,” he said Monday. “Never.”
Kent Emanuel made sure of that. North Carolina’s freshman lefthander rocked Texas to sleep, allowing just four hits and a walk while striking out five in a complete-game shutout, leading the Tar Heels to a 3-0 win in the first 2011 College World Series elimination game. It was the first complete-game shutout in Omaha since UNC’s Robert Woodard did it against Clemson in 2006—and the first CWS complete game by a freshman since Louisiana State’s Brett Laxton in 1993, when he beat Wichita State in the championship game.
Garrido had a succinct summation for Emanuel’s performance, too.
“It was a brilliantly pitched game by their pitcher,” said Garrido, whose Texas team went 0-2 in Omaha for just the fourth time in the school’s 34 trips. “He was terrific. He got three pitches over. He used them in different count spots where he would lead guys off with changeups, he’d lead guys off with breaking balls, he’d lead guys off with fastballs, and he had command throughout the game from beginning to end.”
Emanuel is the latest in an impressive line of UNC stud starting pitchers—a group that includes first-rounders Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard, Alex White and Matt Harvey, plus Woodard, Adam Warren and Patrick Johnson. The Tar Heels thought Emanuel would be special when they recruited him out of Georgia, and he has been as a freshman, improving to 9-1, 2.37 in Monday’s win.
The lanky, 6-foot-4 Emanuel’s ability to pitch inside with his fastball, especially to righthanded hitters, has been a hallmark of his success this year. But he mixed up his approach against the Longhorns, pounding the outside corner and inducing loads of weak contact, including seven infield pop-ups.
“It’s definitely from my changeup today,” Emanuel said. “I threw inside less today than I ever have all year. So today is definitely the changeup, just getting them out in front.”
The ability to work the outside corner against righties—his arm side—is a notable sign of Emanuel’s maturation as a pitcher over the course of the season.
“He definitely commanded better glove side than arm side earlier this year, and he has improved his command to the arm side as the year has gone on,” UNC catcher Jacob Stallings said. “The biggest thing for Kent’s success is the downward angle on his fastball. When he lives down in the zone, he’s going to have a good day. He really uses his downward angle and pitches off the fastball. He typically goes inside as well as anybody. In fact he’s generally had more success against righthanded hitters. Today they were on him inside, and they fouled a lot of balls off early.”
Stallings said the Tar Heels started to get the idea that Texas was looking for fastballs during Tant Shepherd’s 10-pitch at-bat leading off the game, so Emanuel had to adjust. It’s special for a freshman to make that kind of adjustment and thrive in a setting like the College World Series.
“Kent’s a special one though,” Stallings said. “He’s extremely mature for his age.”
He’s also cool, level-headed and nearly impossible to rattle. Even No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen confessed to feeling some jitters in the first inning Sunday, but not Emanuel, who set down the Longhorns in order in the first, striking out Brandon Loy on a fastball over the outside corner for the third out.
“I was probably more excited than nervous,” Emanuel said. “I slept great. I was ready to go.”
“Other than his left arm, that is his best trait, his demeanor,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “The very first time I met him, that’s just exactly the way he’s always been. I’ve never seen Kent any different. You just don’t see a lot of emotion out of him. That’s what you want when you get on the mound, especially at this stage.”
No wonder Texas could never grab any momentum. Emanuel gave them nothing to latch onto.
Twice in the first four innings, Texas curtailed its own momentum by running itself out of potential rallies. In both cases, UNC’s outfield speed loomed large, as Texas baserunners strayed too far from bases on balls to the outfield and were subsequently doubled off. Garrido said his players were trying to be aggressive but simply misread the balls, and he credited UNC’s outfield athleticism. So did Emanuel.
“Any time we can end the inning on a double play and get two for one is always big. That’s just a credit to our outfielders today,” he said. “Those are uncommon double plays, and I was fortunate to have two of them today.”
Emanuel took it from there, retiring Texas in order in three of the final five innings, and working around two-out singles in the other two.
“We didn’t have very many opportunities throughout the game,” Garrido said.
Succinct—and spot on.