Emanuel was brilliant for the Heels.
OMAHA, Neb. – With so little offensive margin for error, Texas needed something – anything – good to happen offensively Monday when the Longhorns took the diamond against North Carolina in the first elimination game of the 2011 College World Series.
Tar Heels freshman Kent Emanuel had much different plans.
Emanuel twirled a magnificent four-hit complete-game shutout, stifling the Texas batting order for the second game in a row as the Tar Heels stayed alive with a 3-0 triumph at TD Ameritrade Park.
UNC catcher Jacob Stallings shanked a two-out single into shallow right field with the bases loaded to score two runs in the third inning and red-hot Ben Bunting added a huge insurance run with a two-out, two-strike double in the ninth for all the support Emanuel needed.
“Sensational performance is an understatement probably,” Heels’ coach Mike Fox said after the first complete-game shutout at the CWS since UNC’s Robert Woodard blanked Clemson 2-0 in 2006. The last freshman to do so was LSU’s Brett Laxton against Wichita State (8-0) in the 1993 national championship game.
Added UT coach Augie Garrido, “It was a brilliantly pitched game by their pitcher. He was terrific.”
The left-handed Emanuel (9-1) allowed singles in the second, third, sixth and seventh innings and walked the leadoff hitter in the fourth. Two outfield double plays thwarted two minor Longhorns’ threats in the second and fourth frames.
Other than that, Emanuel alternated a fastball with an effective curve and tantalizing changeup that caused Texas to meekly pop into seven infield outs. He struck out five, the first four looking, and seemed to get stronger late in the game despite throwing 126 pitches.
“I thought his curveball and changeup command were what set this performance apart,” Stallings said. “It seemed like they were on his fastball a little bit, especially with two strikes, so we started going to more breaking balls and off-speed pitches and I think that really had them off balance.”
The two double plays also prevented any chance the Horns harbored of chipping away in what was typical for them all season – a low-scoring struggle.
In the Texas second, Jonathan Walsh rifled a single through the middle with one out. He broke for second base on a 1-and-2 pitch to Paul Montalbano, who sent a fly ball to left field.
UNC’s Chaz Frank charged the ball, caught it on the fly and heaved a nice throw to first baseman Jesse Wierzbicki, who stretched and grabbed the throw for the twin killing.
Then in the fourth, Mark Payton reached on a leadoff walk and moved to second – UT’s only runner to get that far all day long – on Brandon Loy’s bunt. Cleanup hitter Erich Weiss jacked a liner toward the gap in right-center field, but Seth Baldwin tracked it down and threw to second base, with Payton already nearly all the way to third, for another momentum-killing double-play.
“Any time we can end an inning on a double play and get two outs for one is always big,” Emanuel said. “That was a credit to our outfielders. Those are two uncommon double plays and I was fortunate to have them.”
The Tar Heels weren’t exactly explosive for a second game in a row, but managed nine hits off five Texas pitchers, six in the first three frames.
Frank started the third inning by whipping an opposite-field single to left and he motored to second when Walsh overran the ball for an error. Bunting, who was 4-for-5, dumped another hit into right to put runners on the corners and abruptly end Longhorns starting pitcher Cole Green’s day.
Left-hander Hoby Milner came on for Texas and struck out Colin Moran and Wierzbicki to nearly squelch the Heels’ threat. But Tommy Coyle walked to load the bases and Stallings rammed an 0-and-1 offering into right field to plate two runs.
“That kind of let the air out of dugout a little bit and we got a two-run lead,” Fox said.
Texas’ deep bullpen stopped the bleeding for the next five innings, aided by a pair of 4-6-3 double plays as the Tar Heels encountered the same problems hitting in the clutch that haunted them in a 7-3 loss to Vanderbilt in the CWS opener.
Carolina was just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, although both came with two outs.
UT’s Sam Bradford was a big reason why the Heels scuffled. He kept them in sight with three effective innings of relief, but he walked pinch-hitter Greg Holt to begin the ninth to create a sliver of opportunity.
Baldwin’s bunt got pinch-runner Jeff Bouton to second base, and with two outs Bunting came though when he clanged a double over Payton’s head in right.
“That was a huge swing of the bat,” Fox said.
“A good bunt by Seth to get Jeff over to second and another two-out, two-strike hit, which I think you have to have just to stay alive here.
The kind of swing Texas never really mustered in a frustrating loss with historical implications.
The Longhorns were bounced in two games at the CWS for the first time since 2000 and just the fourth time in an NCAA-record 34th appearances. The others were 1961 and 1965.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Loy said. “We didn’t come here to be the first team to leave. You’re never going to be satisfied unless you come out of here with a national championship.”
North Carolina still has a chance to do that for the first time, thanks in large part to Emanuel. The Tar Heels will be back in action at 6 p.m. Wednesday against the loser of Monday’s second-round showdown between Vanderbilt and Florida.