North Carolina, Tennessee Walk-Offs Headline Historic Start To 2024 College World Series


The 2024 College World Series opened Friday in Omaha with a banner start, as North Carolina and Tennessee won on walk-offs.

Here are five takeaways from opening day.

Omaha Delivers The Drama

The 2024 NCAA Tournament has been drama-filled from the start. There were a record six walk-off wins on the first day of regionals and 10 in the round overall. There were two more walk-offs in super regionals.

That set the stage for Friday in Omaha. Both games ended on walk-offs, as North Carolina beat Virginia 3-2 to start the day and Tennessee came back to beat Florida State 12-11 in the nightcap. It marked the first time in the 74-year history of the CWS that the first two games of the tournament ended in walk-off fashion.

Drama is getting to be old hat for UNC. Five of its nine wins have come in walk-off fashion, including four wins in the NCAA Tournament. So when the Tar Heels went into the bottom of the ninth tied 2-2, there was plenty of confidence in the dugout. Jackson Van De Brake hit a pinch-hit double to lead off the inning and Vance Honeycutt, who also hit a walk-off home run last week to beat West Virginia in super regionals, delivered the game-winner.

Coach Scott Forbes said the late-game nerves are taking their toll on everyone.

“The funniest part of the day was at the end of the game when Parks Harber was talking to me and coach [Jesse] Wierzbicki, “’How do you guys make it through the game? I don’t even know if I’m going to live to be 50, I think my heart’s going to just fail,’” Forbes said. “I can relate to what Parks Harber feels like, I can tell you that.”

Tennessee, meanwhile, has not had the same kind of late-game success. Before Friday, the Volunteers were 0-10 in games in which they were tied or trailing after eight innings. That changed in the biggest game of the year.

Tennessee trailed Florida State 11-8 entering the ninth inning. Kavares Tears led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly. A walk and a foul out followed, bringing Florida State one out away from victory, but Tennessee had flipped over its lineup. Christian Moore doubled and Blake Burke followed with a two-run single to tie the game. Billy Amick singled and then Dylan Dreiling lined a ball into left center for the walk-off hit.

“Obviously, both teams get a lot of credit for putting on a show for the fans,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. “My understanding is the game prior to ours was like that, too, and that’s what this place is about. And it’s why we get the crowds that we do here. It’s why this sport has grown into what it is.”

While Friday was the first time in CWS history that the first two games ended on walk-offs, last year’s opening day in Omaha delivered plenty of drama, too. On that day, Oral Roberts scored four runs in the ninth inning to beat TCU, 6-5. The Golden Eagles were the visiting team, so there was no walk-off. In the nightcap, Florida walked off Virginia, 6-5.

Ninth-inning drama and one-run games might be turning into a new opening day tradition in Omaha. And that’s great news for fans, though possibly less so for coaches.

“I probably should ease up on the Red Bulls, I guess,” said Forbes of all the nervy late-inning games UNC has played of late.

Did Blake Burke Swing?

Tennessee’s comeback benefitted from a controversial check-swing call. With two outs and two runners on base, Blake Burke, a lefthanded hitter, started to swing at a 2-2 pitch before trying to hold up on a ball just outside the strike zone. Third base umpire Shawn Rakos ruled he did not swing, extending the at-bat. Burke fouled off the next pitch and then dumped a two-run single up the middle to tie the game.

It was a close play, but Burke said he wasn’t nervous about the appeal to the third base umpire.

Third base coach Josh Elander said it was a tough call.

“I really don’t think he went,” he said. “Blake is as strong as it gets and being able to kind of control that [swing] there. It’s good to let the game play out. Of course I feel that way, right? But I’m usually pretty down the middle on those deals right there and I thought [Rakos] got it right.”

Florida State coach Link Jarrett was displeased with the call in the moment but after the game said he didn’t have a good angle on it from the first base dugout and would need to see the replay.

“I need to watch every pitch of this game again,” he said. “There’s factors in this that affect the outcome of the game. And I can’t tell from 90 feet away on the side what was going on with some of the things that occurred. I need to watch the game.”

It was a close callboth the pitch and the check swing. I’ve personally always preferred to give the hitter the benefit of the doubt in these scenarios, but it’s undoubtedly a huge call in the game and a tough pill to swallow for Florida State, which understandably will always feel that it was a swing.

Christian Moore Is Tennessee’s Heartbeat

Christian Moore had a massive game to lead the way for Tennessee. He went 5-for-6, scored four runs and became the first player since 1956 to hit for the cycle in the CWS.

Moore has been at the heart of just about everything Tennessee has done this year and is hitting .385/.460/.822 with 33 home runs on the season. His game Friday, however, will go right into the program’s lore.

“Honestly, it’s a Todd Helton-, Chris Burke-like performance,” Elander said. “It’s an all-timer. I saw on the scoreboard, first time in 50, 60 years that’s been done here.

“Special player, special year, special moment and I’m glad it was tonight.”

Moore, who hits leadoff for Tennessee, opened the game with a triple to right fieldhis first triple of the year. He doubled through the left side of the infield in the second inning. He singled to right in the fourth and then blasted a home run to dead center to complete the cycle in the sixth. The only other cycle in CWS history was hit by Minnesota’s Jerry Kindall in 1956 against Mississippi.

Moore’s home run to center was clocked at 117 mph off the bat and estimated at 440 feet, cutting through a wind that was blowing in. It went out into the batter’s eye area, a spot in Charles Schwab Field that very rarely gives up homers.

Moore’s biggest hit came in the ninth inning, however. With Tennessee down to its final out and a runner on base, he represented the tying run. He battled through a seven-pitch at-bat before he turned on a pitch and doubled to left field, keeping the line moving for Tennessee.

“Through the whole game the only mindset I have is to win, get on base for my team, set the tone,” he said. “I have really good hitters behind me, so I just want to get on for them.”

Pitching Dominates In UNC-Virginia

When UNC and Virginia played in April, the teams combined for 53 runs over the three-game series. So, of course, when they met in Omaha the game was a pitcher’s duel.

UNC did a good job silencing Virginia’s potent offense. Jason DeCaro (4 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 6 K) and Matt Poston (1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K) were solid before bullpen ace Dalton Pence (3.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K) was excellent to finish the game. His only blemish was a hit batter with two outs in the seventh inning. He then retired the final seven batters he faced.

Pence also worked efficiently, which Forbes was excited to see.

“Dalton is Dalton,” he said. “He’s been our horse the whole season. And the thing I like the most, looking at this box score, is he only threw 29 pitches. So that horse is going to be back out there most likely on Sunday night.”

Virginia, meanwhile, got a quality start out of Evan Blanco, who was the only pitcher to work past the fifth inning all day. He held UNC to two runs on seven hits and two walks in 6.2 innings.

“(I’m) just really, really proud of Evan,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “You can see why we started him in the opener. He had a fantastic day and was ready to pitch, and managed some situations and gave us an opportunity to win.”

You Want To Win The First One

The benefit of winning game 1 in Omaha is clear. In the last 42 tournaments, only four teams have lost their opening game of the CWS and went on to win the national championship.

All four coaches Friday managed the game with that history in mind. Every one of them went all-in with their pitching staffs. UNC turned to Pence in the sixth inning. Tennessee, chasing the game most of the night, used all of its top relievers. Florida State and Virginia did their best to limit their bullpens to just their top options, with the Seminoles riding Conner Whittaker until things went sideways in the ninth and the Cavaliers only using Chase Hungate.

With Saturday off, every team will have the opportunity to let its bullpen catch its breath before Sunday. Expect to see a lot of those same relievers when these teams get back on the field then.

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