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|GAME AT A
Point: The gusting wind and bright sun conspired against North Carolina right fielder Garrett Gore, who dropped a fly ball from Jason Kipnis in the 10th. Instead of there being a runner on first with two outs, the error led to a first-and-second, one-out situation, and ASU took advantage, getting an RBI single from Carlos Ramirez and a three-run homer from Kole Calhoun.
OMAHA—All that extra Omaha experience for North Carolina amounted to nothing Sunday.
A pair of Arizona State lefthanders making their first appearances in Rosenblatt Stadium held North Carolina to one run over 10 innings, and two junior college transfers drove in a combined four runs in the 10th to propel Arizona State to a 5-1 win.
In the postgame press conferences, North Carolina coach Mike Fox was accompanied by two players with a combined 23 CWS games under their belts heading into Sunday. Minutes later, Arizona State coach Pat Murphy was joined by three players with a total of zero games of prior CWS experience.
“All year we’ve talked about how we’re young, but we’re not going to let that affect how we play on the diamond,” said freshman lefthander Mitchell Lambson, who picked up the win with three stellar innings of relief, striking out five. “Of course everybody gets a little jittery, but once we took the time to settle in, we were good to go.”
Junior lefty Josh Spence shined in a game televised on ESPN back to his native Australia. Spence leaned heavily on his two breaking balls from various arm slots to rack up eight strikeouts over seven strong innings, allowing just one run on eight hits and three walks.
“Brilliance,” Murphy said jokingly of his decision to start Spence against the lefthanded-leaning Tar Heels instead of first-team All-American righty Mike Leake. “It was mostly about my brilliance.”
Indeed, it was the right call, but not because Spence is lefthanded; after all, UNC entered the game hitting .360 against lefthanded pitchers in the postseason. It was the right call because Spence is really good.
“He threw a lot of offpseed. He’d throw offspeed in fastball counts, mix it up really well, mix it up in and out,” UNC third baseman Kyle Seager said. “He might have changed up more than a lot of lefties we’ve seen. He threw more offspeed than a lot of them. He changed arm angles too—we haven’t seen that too much this year. He just did a really good job today.”
As impressive as Spence was, he might have been out-dueled by North Carolina junior righthander Alex White, who tied his career high for the second straight game with 12 strikeouts over nine brilliant innings. White worked around seven hits and three walks, repeatedly using his fastball to get big outs. He left after nine with the score tied 1-1.
“Everybody felt better with him out of the game,” Murphy said, after a long exhale. “Anybody was better than him . . . I went up to him after the game and said, ‘I know you’re disappointed, I know it sucks, but if my 25 years of coaching means anything, you’re a hell of a competitor.’ I told him to hold his head high.”
The pitching duel was the big story for nine innings, but with White out in the 10th, ASU pounced. Drew Maggi’s one-out single against righty Colin Bates got things started, and Jason Kipnis followed with a windblown drive to right field that senior Garrett Gore (playing in his 19th CWS game) dropped for an error. Then, with runners on first and second, Carlos Ramirez singled up the middle against another Omaha veteran, lefthander Brian Moran, to put the Sun Devils ahead 2-1. One batter later, outfielder Kole Calhoun used the gusting wind to his advantage, slapping a three-run homer to left field.
“I got the 1-1 pitch up in the wind, and the wind took over,” said Calhoun, a stocky, amiable Yavapai (Ariz.) JC transfer. “I was trying to have a better at-bat than the last four, and it wasn’t hard to do. Murph told me before that at-bat to take what he gives me and take it into left-center. Fortunately it got up into the air and got out of here.”
Fox said it didn’t look like Moran had the life on his stuff that he usually has.
“But you’ve got to give the young man (Calhoun) credit,” Fox said. “We left the ball up over plate, and he got it up into wind in left as we were hoping our lefties would have done earlier in the game.”
And that was the difference; once White was out, Arizona State finally took advantage of the chances North Carolina gave it in the 10th. The Tar Heels, for all their intimate knowledge of Rosenblatt, could not cash in on golden opportunities, leaving 11 runners on base, including five in scoring position.
“I don’t know that I buy into that . . . Once you get here, I don’t know that anybody’s inexperienced anymore, going through 60 games and the fall,” Fox said. “Once they get here, they’re grown up. They’re a good team, they made good plays, pitched well and played good defense.
“It was a terrific game, I thought. Two outstanding pitchers going head-to-head. You can see why Alex White’s so highly regarded, and their lefty too, Spence, he was terrific. A game like that’s going to come down to a big swing of the bat, and were weren’t able to get it done and they did.”