Andy: A Call to Arms

Bard

OMAHA, Neb. --– Watching North Carolina blow a 5-0 fifth inning lead Sunday in Game 2 of the CWS Championship severely stung Tar Heel fans. It burst a balloon of confidence that had sailed from Chapel Hill to Tuscaloosa and then to Omaha. By the time it plummeted to earth just west of the Missouri River, Oregon State had tied the best-of-three series with an 11-7 victory.


North Carolina vs. Oregon State
Game 3: Monday, 7 p.m. EDT
TV: ESPN
Records: UNC 54-14, OSU 49-16
Probable Starting Pitchers: UNC, RHP Daniel Bard vs. OSU, RHP Jonah Nickerson

IC's CWS Coverage
Game 1: UNC 4, OSU 3
Game 2: OSU 11, UNC 7


But after the dust settled and the debris was cleaned up, fortunately no one was seriously hurt.

In fact, other than a few bruised egos in the UNC dugout, the only casualty that could be found was the overworked arm of Beavers' top closer Kevin Gunderson.

Of course OSU coach Pat Casey had no choice but to bring in his No. 1 fireman with the Tar Heels on the verge of laughing their way to the school's first NCAA baseball title and its 33rd national sports championship overall.

Although second guessed by some, leaving in the diminutive (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) lefty for 5.1 innings was understandable considering the volatile nature of a lead in college baseball – see UNC's five-run lead referenced above.

Sure in the final game of the season, with everything on the line, Gunderson could still be called on for a limited stint if necessary. But when the Tar Heels' pitchers received their wake up calls Monday morning, for the most part their throwing arms felt considerably fresher than their opponents.'

The difference won't be noticeable in the early innings of tonight's showdown, as UNC sends Daniel Bard (9-3, 3.84 ERA) to the mound to face OSU's Jonah Nickerson (13-4, 2.35 ERA) -- both well rested. But when the coaches begin to reach into their respective bullpens almost assuredly in this "no tomorrow, do or die" situation, then the advantage shifts decidedly in Carolina's favor.

Behind Bard awaits a bevy of talented hurlers, including standouts Jonathan Hovis (1.17 ERA), Andrew Carignan (3.21); and yes, perhaps even the Detroit Tigers' top draft pick – Andrew Miller (2.48), who threw five innings on Saturday in a rain-shortened start.

"We've got some rested arms and they're ready to go," UNC coach Mike Fox said.

The Beavers went to bed last night with momentum, there's no doubt about it. But that could wear off quickly if UNC bats can chase Nickerson early.

Both teams have earned the right to be crowned CWS champs. Advancing this far in this tournament format may be tougher than in any other college sport. But Carolina fans can carry a significant level of confidence knowing their team is in great position from a pitching standpoint.

Pitching has carried the Tar Heels all year – just as it does for most championship-caliber baseball teams. And there's every reason to believe they can make the difference one last time – tonight – for all the marbles.

OSU's coach can't help but keep in mind the pitching arsenal that UNC will have at its disposal tonight.

"I'll take what we have right now – momentum," Casey said. "But we're very much aware of the arms on the other side of the diamond."

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