We knew Carlos Rodon was good. We just didn't know he was this good.
The N.C. State sophomore ace was dominant on Sunday afternoon, holding a North Carolina offense considered to be one of the best in the country to just five hits as the Wolfpack rolled to an 8-1 victory over the tournament's No. 1 overall seed.
Rodon improved to 10-2 with a complete-game performance in which he walked two and struck out eight. He was in line for a shutout before North Carolina strung a single and a double together to score its only run in the bottom of the ninth.
N.C. State got on the board in the first inning when Terran Senay singled to left, bringing in Trea Turner from second. The Wolfpack then broke the game open with four runs in the third, all of which came with two outs. A double sandwiched between a ground-out and fly-out put two quick outs on the board, but three consecutive hits made the score 4-0. After a walk, a Logan Ratledge single put N.C. State up by five.
It was a very balanced offensive attack from the Pack, as eight starters got at least one hit and seven recorded an RBI.
As good as Rodon was, it was a very different story for North Carolina starter Kent Emanuel, who, for the second time in as many outings, failed to make it out of the third inning. The Tar Heel ace, who gave up five runs off of six hits, has struggled mightily in the tournament following a regional round during which threw over 170 pitches in a three-day span. Emanuel clearly hasn't been able to recover, looking fatigued and lacking the velocity and movement that made him the ACC pitcher of the year.
The brief outing from Emanuel is part of a concerning trend for the Tar Heel rotation, none of whom have lasted past the third inning of a game in over two weeks. Here's a breakdown of the team's last five tournament starts:
|Florida Atlantic||Chris Munnelly||3|
|South Carolina||Kent Emanuel||2⅓|
|South Carolina||Hobbs Johnson||1⅔|
|South Carolina||Benton Moss||2⅓|
|N.C. State||Kent Emanuel||2⅔|
Long innings from starting pitching are critical for a team in this type of tournament, as it conserves the bullpen. With a loss in their first game, the need to for fresh relievers becomes even more important — it means the Tar Heels will now have to win four consecutive games if they hope to make it to the finals.
It's not impossible. In 2010, South Carolina bounced back from a loss in its opening game to win six straight and capture the national championship. If anybody can do it, it's North Carolina, which has a deep pitching staff and is 2-0 in elimination games so far in this tournament. At some point, though, you have to wonder how long they can keep doing this.