Saturday Roundup: ‘Special’ Rodon Leads Wolfpack Past UNC

RALEIGH, N.C.—With a dominant performance from ace lefthander Carlos Rodon and at least one hit from every player in the lineup, No. 6 North Carolina State set up a crucial rubber game on Sunday against No. 1 North Carolina. The Wolfpack won 7-3 on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd.

“We didn’t play bad last night, but we played really well tonight,” North Carolina State head coach Elliot Avent said.

Carlos Rodon

Carlos Rodon (Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)

Rodon was amped for the big game, sitting in the 90-94 mph range with his fastball and reaching back for 96 a couple times against North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran. Rodon scattered seven hits and gave up two earned runs (due to a Cody Stubbs home run given up by reliever Grant Sasser after Rodon left the game). Rodon walked four and struck out 10.

“Carlos Rodon was very, very special tonight,” Avent said. “He didn’t pitch as well as he did last weekend at Georgia Tech, but he pitched very, very well and he kept a great lineup at bay.”

North Carolina matched N.C. State with 12 hits in the game, but just couldn’t scratch out runs outside of the Stubbs home run. The key play of the game came in the top of the fourth inning. Down 1-0 with Moran on second and Stubbs on first with two outs, second baseman Mike Zolk hit a single to center field. NC State center fielder Brett Williams fielded the ball cleanly and fired a strike to the plate to nail Moran, who collided awkwardly with catcher Brett Austin instead of sliding (video here).

“When it happened, I was so proud of Brett Austin,” Avent said. “First of all, that guy’s caught so much this year. He has caught so many games—a lot of double headers—and he’s just been so good defensively all year long.

“I’ve seen a lot of good plays at N.C. State, but I thought when that happened, I thought back to another play, and I said, ‘I don’t know if that’s the best play I’ve ever seen here at NC State, but it would tie the best play,’ and that one happened with a play at the plate, also. It was a big play for us, and if you want something bad enough, you can almost will yourself to do it, and that’s what happened. I’m very proud of him.”

The Wolfpack went on to score three in the fourth and three in the fifth to break things open and seal the victory.

“This series prepares you for that weekend when you’re playing in a regional and playing for a chance to go to Omaha,” Avent said. “To beat the number one team in the country two-out-of-three would be great and to beat Carolina two-out-of-three would be great.”

—CONOR GLASSEY

Here on the West Coast, I took in a pair of games in San Diego. Fresno State slugger Aaron Judge was the featured attraction in the first game, but he had a quiet 0-for-4 day, and San Diego State evened the series with a 10-8 win. After that, I headed across town, where San Francisco’s Alex Balog faced San Diego’s Dylan Covey in a matchup of power-armed juniors.

Covey struggled to command his 90-93 mph fastball and 78-81 breaking ball, lasting just one-plus inning, allowing four earned runs on three hits and five walks. But Balog looked very good, working in the 92-95 mph range and touching 96, and complementing his heavy fastball with an 82-84 slider that got tighter as the game progressed, an effective power curve at 78-80 and a few 79-80 changeups against lefties. He struck out seven and walked just one over seven strong innings, but he lost his first three battles against San Diego superstar Kris Bryant, who singled and scored in the first, ripped a double down the left-field line in the third (setting up another run), and crushed a 94 mph fastball halfway up the left-field light tower for a two-run homer in the fifth. Balog wound up allowing five earned runs on eight hits, but the 6-foot-6, 225-pounder looked good in front of a bevy of scouting heavyweights and solidified his standing as a top-two-rounds draft talent, with a chance to climb into the first round. We’ll have more on Balog in the next week or two.

The Toreros rallied back from an 8-4 deficit with three runs in the eighth and another in the ninth, but San Francisco won it 9-8 with a run in the 10th. The Dons improved to 11-6 in the West Coast Conference, while San Diego finds itself in a hole at 9-8. The Toreros have lost series against USF, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Gonzaga, putting them behind the eight-ball if tie-breakers come into play for entrance into the four-team WCC tournament.

On to some of Saturday’s other highlights. We’ll keep this tight after a long day of baseball, focusing on Top 25 action.

Top 25 Showdowns

• (15) South Carolina at (2) Louisiana State: Jordan Montgomery (7 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K) and Ryan Eades (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) both pitched well but earned no-decisions, as the Gamecocks scored twice in the ninth to win 4-2, handing LSU closer Chris Cotton his first loss of the season.  After Grayson Greiner reached on Alex Bregman’s second error of the game to start the ninth, Tanner English tripled him home, then scored on a balk. LSU coach Paul Mainieri was ejected for arguing the balk call.

• (16) Mississippi State at (3) Vanderbilt: The Commodores broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the second and never looked back, as Tyler Beede (6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) improved to 11-0 in Vandy’s series-clinching 5-2 win. Tony Kemp (4-for-4, 2 R, 3B) led Vandy’s offense against Kendall Graveman (5 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K).

• (21) Stanford at (13) Oregon: The Ducks clinched their first series win of the year against a ranked team with a 6-4 win. Ryon Healy (3-for-3, 2 HR, 4 RBI) powered the Oregon offense behind Cole Irvin (7 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 2 ER). Dean McArdle (3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) struggled for the Cardinal, who got five innings of one-run relief from Logan James.

• (20) Georgia Tech at (25) Clemson: The Yellow Jackets avoided a sweep and snapped their six-game losing streak with a 14-9 win. Zane Evans (6-for-6, 4 R, 4 RBI, 2B, 2 HR) had a monster game to lead Georgia Tech’s 18-hit barrage against Clate Schmidt (4 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 4 ER) and the Clemson bullpen.

Top 25 Upsets

• (5) Virginia at Virginia Tech: The Hokies swept a huge doubleheader, 5-3 and 11-6, to hand the Cavs their second series loss of the season. Virginia Tech won a series against UVa. for the first time since 2009 and improved to 14-13 all-time against the Cavs in Blacksburg. At No. 13 in the RPI and 11-13 in the ACC (with series remaining against Boston College and Wake Forest), Virginia Tech now finds itself on very solid at-large footing. Alex Perez (3-for-4, R, RBI) led the Virginia Tech offense behind Joe Mantiply (7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) in the first game, as Scott Silverstein (5.1 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 4 ER) took his first loss of the year. Andrew Rash (3-for-3, 3 R, 3 RBI, 3B) and Tyler Horan (2-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI) both went deep in the second game, as Virginia Tech chased Nick Howard (2.1 IP, 6 H, 7 ER) in a five-run third. Devin Burke (7.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 ER) turned in a solid start to improve to 7-3 for the Hokies.

• Kentucky at (18) Mississippi: The Wildcats won the critical rubber game, 5-4. Corey Littrell (8 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) was strong for Kentucky, which overcame a 3-2 deficit with a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth. Austin Anderson (2-for-4, HR, 2 RBI) led the offense for the Rebels, whose pitchers committed two errors on sacrifice bunts in the crucial eighth, leading to two unearned runs. By taking the huge road series, Kentucky improved to 9-12 in the SEC, with two tough home series ahead against Arkansas and Vanderbilt, followed by a road set at Missouri.

• Brigham Young at (22) Gonzaga: The Cougars avoided a sweep with a 9-6 win. BYU took control with five runs in the third against Arturo Reyes (4.2 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 0 BB, 5 K). Jaycob Brugman and Brock Whitney had two hits and three RBIs apice to lead the BYU offense.

• (23) UNC Wilmington at Towson: The Tigers erased a 2-1 deficit with seven runs in the seventh and went on to even the series with a 9-5 win. Paul Beers (7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER) was strong for Towson, while UNCW’s strong bullpen was roughed up in the late innings.

Other Top 25 Results

• (4) Cal State Fullerton at Hawaii: J.D. Davis (5-for-5, 2 R, RBI) became the first Fullerton player to record five hits in a game this year, and Justin Garza (8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K) was excellent in the Titans’ 5-0 win, leveling the series.

• Southern California at (7) Oregon State: Andrew Moore (7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R) improved to 8-1 in Oregon State’s series-clinching 3-0 win.

• (8) Arizona State at Utah: Eight Sun Devils notched hits as part of a balanced 12-hit attack behind Ryan Kellogg (8 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K), who improved to 10-0 in ASU’s series-clinching 5-1 win.

• (9) UCLA at Washington State: The Bruins clinched the road series with a 10-1 win behind Nick Vander Tuig (9 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K). Cristoph Bono (2-for-3, 2 R, 3 RBI, HR) led a 10-hit attack for UCLA, which took control of the game with six runs over the first two innings.

• Wake Forest at (10) Florida State: John Sansone (3-for-4, 2 RBI) led FSU’s offense behind Brandon Leibrandt (5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K), as the Seminoles clinched the series with an 8-6 win.

• Texas Tech at (11) Oklahoma: The Sooners finished off an 8-0 win in the resumption of Friday’s suspended game, then clinched the series with a 6-2 win. Jake Fisher (7.1 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 K) picked up his first win of the season in the opener, and OU rapped out 15 hits behind him. Matt Oberste had three hits in that one and two more (plus two RBIs) in Game Two, and Jonathan Gray (7.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) dominated to improve to 8-1.

• Georgetown at (12) Louisville: The Cardinals scored four runs in the first behind Jeff Thompson (7.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) and cruised to a series-clinching 6-2 win.

• (14) Arkansas at Georgia: Ryne Stanek (6.2 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) was strong in a no-decision, and the Hogs got to Sean McLaughlin (9 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K) for two runs in the eighth to win 2-1, clinching the road series.

• Michigan at (17) Indiana: Nick Ramos (2-for-3, R, 4 RBI, 2B) led Indiana’s 12-hit attack behind Kyle Hart (5.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER) in a series-clinching 9-3 win.

• Nevada-Las Vegas at (24) New Mexico: The Lobos extended their winning streak to nine games with a 5-3 win, clinching the series. Sam Wolff (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R) turned in another strong start in a no-decision, and New Mexico answered UNLV’s two-run eighth with four in the bottom of the frame.