It was the longest game in ACC Championship history, played before the largest crowd in the history of the tournament – in fact, the 11,392 fans packed the Durham ballpark were the largest crowd to see a college baseball game in the state of North Carolina.
They got to see an incredible pitching duel that lasted long into the night, and into Sunday morning. Ten pitchers combined for 43 strikeouts. The game ended at 1:51 a.m. – barely 11 hours before North Carolina (51-8) has to meet Virginia Tech at 1 p.m. Sunday in the title game. NC State (44-14) will wait for an NCAA bid Monday.
It looked like it would last forever, but in the 18th inning, NC State closer Chris Overman (1-1) – who had not given up an earned run all year – walked UNC designated hitter Landon Lassiter to open the inning. He hit third baseman Colin Moran to put two runners on base. After right fielder Skye Bolt bunted into a force play – NC State throwing out Moran at second as Lassiter moved to third – first baseman Cody Stubbs blooped an RBI single into center – driving Lassiter home with the winning run.
In the bottom of the 18th, NC State center fielder Brett Williams led off with a double against UNC right-hander Chris Munnelly (6-0), originally scheduled to start Sunday. A wild pitch moved the speedy Wolfpack runner to third with no outs. Munnelly forced a pair of short pop-ups, then a grounder to third to preserve the victory.
For the first 10 innings, the dramatic game was dominated by Rodon. The sophomore went 10 innings, allowing one hit, while striking out 14 Tar Heels. UNC starter Hobbs Johnson and reliever Trent Thornton were almost equally effective, limiting the Pack to one earned run over the same span. Thornton gave UNC six and two-third innings of hitless relief, allowing just two walks and striking out six.
Rodon threw nine scoreless innings against the Tar Heels in last year's ACC Tournament without getting a decision. He's now gone 19 innings against UNC in the tournament, allowing five hits, one unearned run and recording 26 strikeouts – with two no-decisions.
The Wolfpack defense helped the Tar Heels tie the game in the top of the seventh inning, despite Rodon's dominance.
The Pack led 1-0 when the NC State ace struck out Brian Holberton to open the seventh. He walked UNC second baseman Mike Zolk. Pinch hitter Parks Jordan bounced a grounder to third, but a fielding error put runners at first and second.
Chaz Frank then bounced a ground ball to first and reached on a fielding error by the Pack – allowing Zolk to score and the other two runners to wind up on second and third. Rodon prevented any more scoring by striking out Lassiter and getting Moran on a one-hopper to third, but the damage was done. UNC scored the tying run without benefit of a hit.
The Wolfpack mounted a threat in the sixth, breaking through when Tarran Senay legged out a hustle double with one out. Clyde ripped a double off the wall in left-center – scoring Senay with the game's first run – and what proved to be N.C. State's only run.
The Pack had far more chances to get the go-ahead run, but UNC's relief corps – which shut down Clemson in Friday night's 14-inning marathon – kept the Pack at bay.
NC State awaits the announcement of hosts on Sunday night on the bottom line of ESPN at 9 p.m., and the NCAA Selection Show on Monday at noon on ESPNU.