HOUSTON—The feature attraction of the Astros Foundation College Classic lived up to its billing.
“I’d say so,” said North Carolina ace Kent Emanuel. “2-1? Doesn’t get much better. Exactly what we expected, this kind of game . . . It was awesome; it was a lot of fun.”
Aces Emanuel and Austin Kubitza went head-to-head in a fine pitchers’ duel, and the Tar Heels broke a 1-1 tie in the ninth inning to beat Rice, 2-1.
UNC sparkplug leadoff man Chaz Frank doubled to left field with a man on first in the ninth inning, but catcher Korey Dunbar was thrown out at the plate, preserving the tie momentarily. But the savvy Frank took third on the throw to the plate, and scored the winning run on a wild pitch soon thereafter. Zech Lemond’s breaking ball squirted away from Rice catcher Geoff Perrott—not too far, but Frank broke immediately and slid in head-first just under the tag of Lemond, covering the plate.
“Chaz is one of the best baserunners I’ve coached,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “We talk about that a lot: being ready, you never know when the ball’s going to get past the catcher. That was very heads-up on his part, he basically just kind of beat the pitcher to the plate. I thought we were fortunate to win, but it just comes down to a play like that or two in a 2-1 game.”
That was one of UNC’s few scoring chances against the Owls, because Austin Kubitza mowed the Tar Heels down, allowing just one run on four hits and two walks over 6 2/3 innings. Kubitza’s 78-83 mph slider gave UNC fits, and he added and subtracted effectively with his running, sinking 84-89 fastball. He used that sinker as many righties would use a changeup against a UNC lineup loaded with lefties.
“When he’s throwing strikes out there, his stuff was pretty good,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “He made some good hitters look pretty bad. That sinker was sinking a lot, they were struggling with it, too. They missed it a lot. He’s just got really good stuff, and good angles.”
Likewise, Emanuel worked in the 85-89 range, but his fastball also played up because of his angle and deception. He got out of trouble repeatedly with his 73-76 changeup, and he had success mixing his 69-71 curveball against righties and his 76-79 slider against lefties.
But the Owls got to him for a run in the second when Michael Aquino tripled and scored on a squeeze play, and they had other scoring chances throughout the game. But Emanuel stranded six runners in scoring position, and another Rice baserunner was thrown out at the plate by a wide margin in the sixth.
“I missed a lot of spots today, they capitalized a lot and got a lot of hits,” Emanuel said. “But that’s the beauty of it: If they get on, it doesn’t meant they’re scoring. Just staying out there and competing, just trying to get the next out, don’t worry about what just happened.”
Emanuel has always been a cool customer who never gets rattled—remember that four-hit, complete-game shutout he threw against Texas in the 2011 College World Series, when he was just a freshman? His poise is what makes him one of college baseball’s premier Friday starters, so it should be no surprise that he made big pitches in big spots against Rice.
“It was very typical of him: He’s not going to walk you, and we’ve got to play better defense behind him,” Fox said. “Kent gets in trouble at times, but he really dials it up. A couple situations where when he had to have a big out there, we left him out there for the last out and he was able to get that big out, they were first and second. That’s typical Kent: He gives us a chance to win.
“We knew runs were going to be hard to come by, and they certainly were. It was a great game, a terrific game. I thought their kid Kubitza was sensational—I didn’t think we were going to get a hit there for a while. He was really, really good, both sides of the plate. Fortunately Kent matched him, and we were able to hang in there.”