Rodon was pulled after 130 pitches to a rousing ovation from the record-setting crowd. The lefthanded hurler consistently threw strikes and stayed ahead of the count against the high-powered Tar Heel offense.
“Carlos Rodon was very special tonight,” N.C. State head coach Elliott Avent said in his postgame press conference. “He kept a great hitting lineup at bay.”
UNC’s offense looked out of sync from the get go and never could generate a sequence of successful at-bats. Seven of Rodon’s 10 strikeouts came against the first seven right-handed Tar Heels batters to face him.
“He’s got that cutter he throws at their back knee and you can’t see it,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said.
Tar Heel batters Michael Russell, Landon Lassiter and Matt Roberts were all victim to Rodon’s wicked pitch.
“I think that slider helps,” Rodon said. “Just back footing the slider on righties is tough for them.”
The lone offensive bright spot came in the top of the seventh after Rodon made his celebratory exit. Senior first baseman Cody Stubbs belted a three-run homer against Wolfpack closer Grant Sasser.
“Once you get into anyone’s bullpen it gives you a little advantage,” Stubbs said. “Rodon threw well tonight but we had our chances and just didn’t take advantage of them.”
The Tar Heels left 14 runners stranded on base and accumulated 12 hits yet just they couldn’t string anything together.
“Opportunities are few and far between with him out there,” Fox said. “A lot of times there is one out, two outs and he’s such a strikeout pitcher that it’s asking a lot of your hitters to get two or three hits in a row off of him. He’s just that good. One of those nights where he just outpitched us.”
For the Tar Heels, sophomore Benton Moss struggled from the start. He allowed five earned runs and eight hits in 4.1 innings.
Associate head coach and pitching coach Scott Forbes explained the problematic evening for his Saturday starter, saying, “Benton had one of those days where he was up in the zone and you have to give their hitters credit. They made him pay for his mistakes.”
Moss continued to get behind in the count early and wasn’t able to find his footing on the rubber. During one stretch, he threw a first-pitch ball to six out of 18 batters. That 33 percent success rate didn’t translate into success for the Tar Heels.
“He just couldn’t throw a first pitch strike,” Fox said. “That’s dangerous against anybody and especially against them. He just didn’t have good command tonight and that’s not a good recipe.”
The game seemed to be trending towards an expected game filled with great pitching and few runs. This changed abruptly in the bottom of the fourth inning. The lone run to that point was a Brett Austin RBI bloop single to score Trea Turner from second base for N.C. State.
The bottom of the fourth was where the real trouble began for Moss and the Tar Heels.
Moss hit third baseman Grant Clyde to open up the inning and followed it with a walk to put two runners on with one out. From there, uncharacteristic mistakes and opportunistic hitting allowed the Wolfpack to eventually stretch the lead to 7-0 over the Tar Heels.
Moss was pulled in the fifth inning after one of his shortest appearances of the season.
Forbes highlighted reliever Trevor Kelley’s outing as a silver lining. The sophomore righty allowed just one run on four hits over the final 3.2 innings to minimize the Wolfpack’s damage. It was Kelley’s longest stint on the mound this season.
“In a perfect world we’d like to have Moss but Trevor saved us (Chris) Munnelly, (Chris) McCue, Mason (McCullough), (Trent) Thornton and (Tate) Parrish,” Forbes said. “No matter how you spin it, we only used two pitchers so you feel good going into [Sunday].”
The Tar Heels will face N.C. State Sunday night to determine the winner of the series at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.