CWS Game 12: North Carolina 4, Fresno State 3

See also: Fresno State-North Carolina Box Score

OMAHA—A college baseball player couldn’t be more experienced than Chad Flack. In his four-year career, Flack has missed just four of North Carolina’s 270 games. He hit super-regional-winning home runs in 2006 and 2007 and has saved UNC’s bacon time after time after time. In the fourth inning of Saturday’s game against Fresno State, Flack became the all-time leader in College World Series at-bats, breaking a 35-year-old record.

But until his 70th career CWS at-bat in the eighth inning, Flack had never hit a home run in Omaha. That changed on a 3-and-2 pitch from Justin Miller, which the senior third baseman deposited just to the left of the left-field video board for a massive two-run homer, sending the Tar Heels to a 4-3 win over the Bulldogs and forcing a decisive rematch Sunday night. The winner will face Georgia in the CWS Finals starting Monday.

Fresno State had a 3-2 lead and was threatening to break the game open in the seventh, loading the bases with one out. But UNC ace Alex White came out of the bullpen for the second straight night and struck out the next two hitters on nine straight fastballs to end the threat.

When it matters most, it’s always Chad Flack. After his fourth-inning double gave him a CWS record for most career at-bats in Omaha, Flack came through with his first career CWS home run, a game-winning two-run blast in the eighth inning.

Not Have Noticed:
Saturday night’s game marked just the third time in 12 CWS games that both starters have lasted at least five innings. Fresno State lefty Justin Wilson allowed just two runs on five hits and six walks while striking out six over 5 1/3 innings of work, and UNC righty Matt Harvey allowed three runs over five innings in his second start in as many days.

“Wow. I don’t really know what to say,” UNC coach Mike Fox said at the
start of his postgame remarks. “I know Chad Flack’s the clutchest
player I’ll ever be fortunate enough to coach. He’s proven it time and
again for us.”

By the time Alex White’s career is over, he might not be far behind Flack in UNC lore. The sophomore righthander picked up his record-tying third win of the CWS with 2 2/3 perfect innings of relief, striking out five. White, who started and went seven innings to beat Louisiana State on Sunday and came out of the bullpen to beat the Tigers again with two scoreless innings Friday, was even better Saturday.

Fresno State had a 3-2 lead and was threatening to break the game open in the top of the seventh, loading the bases with one out against UNC relievers Rob Wooten and Brian Moran. Fox called upon White to get the Tar Heels out of trouble for the second straight night, and White responded by pumping nine straight fastballs to strike out Gavin Hedstrom and Erik Wetzel, stranding the bases loaded. Fresno couldn’t manage another baserunner against White over the final two innings. White threw 34 pitches on the night, and 33 of them were fastballs.

“We knew he was coming with the fastball—he’s got an exceptionally good fastball,” Fresno State cleanup hitter Steve Susdorf said. “Unfortunately we just couldn’t catch up to it today.”

White, who repeatedly ran his fastball up to 96 mph and even touched 97 on the ESPN radar gun, said he felt better tonight and had better stuff than he did last night. Fortunately for UNC, starter Matt Harvey also had excellent stuff a day after throwing 29 pitches, just like White did.

The Bulldogs scrapped across a run against Harvey on the first inning, but he retired the next nine hitters. Fresno got to him again in the fourth, when Tommy Mendonca launched a two-run homer to right field to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead, but Harvey bounced back with a 1-2-3 fifth, including two strikeouts. Fox said the Tar Heels did not want to extend him further than that even though his stuff was good because his pitch count over Friday and Saturday was up to 112.

“I think our pitching tonight was the story of the game,” Fox said. “Matt gave us exactly what we needed—he gave us five innings and didn’t make us go to our bullpen too early.”

The Tar Heels answered Fresno’s two-run fourth with two of their own in the bottom of the frame, but Bulldogs starter Justin Wilson and relievers Holden Sprague and Kris Tomlinson held the 3-2 lead until the eighth.

Fresno State coach Mike Batesole had called upon righthander Justin Miller—who, like White, is a starter by trade—to get the final out of the seventh, and Batesole elected to stick with Miller in the eighth instead of going to closer Brandon Burke. Miller surrendered a leadoff double to Kyle Seager in the eighth, causing Burke to start throwing in the bullpen, but Batesole stuck with Miller against the next batter, Flack. Fox called for Flack to bunt early in the at-bat, but when the count ran to 3-and-1, the coach gave Flack the green light. He fouled that pitch back, and Miller tried to come back with a slider on 3-and-2, but it was flat and up in the zone, and Flack made him pay.

“Justin was throwing the ball exceptionally well. We liked the matchup we had,” Batesole said. “I thought he threw a good pitch, a 3-2 slider, which is what he does. Give Flack credit, he got into it pretty good.”

It’s hardly the first time Flack has got into a pitch pretty good in a key spot. His walk-off home run to beat Alabama and send North Carolina to the 2006 College World Series, and his game-winning home run to beat South Carolina and send UNC to the 2007 CWS were two of the biggest hits in program history. They springboarded UNC’s national profile and its fund-raising efforts, leading to a brand-new $26 million Boshamer Stadium project, which is set to open next year.

“Those two swings of the bat are worth $26 million—$13.5 million apiece,” UNC hitting coach Chad Holbrook said. “I’m serious about that: We wouldn’t be playing in that ballpark if not for him.”

That’s all well and good, but Flack ranks Saturday’s homer as the biggest of his memorable career.

“It has to be No. 1 right now,” Flack said. “We’re here another day, and we have a chance to come out tomorrow. So I’d have to rank it No. 1, especially right now.”