Starters Must Step Up

OMAHA, Neb. --- On what Mike Fox calls the "big stage," North Carolina will have to stage a big comeback in order to remain in the hunt for a College World Series title. After Rice cut the Tar Heels down a notch with a 14-4 "fanny whipping," as Fox called it; their battered pitching corps must bounce back in a big way Tuesday versus a hot hitting Louisville squad.

  • Rice Cools Down Tar Heels, 14-4
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    "They're scary," said Fox. "Obviously they have power. They hit a lot of home runs, and they've got guys that can run. They'll be a handful for us."

    The Tar Heels (54-13) and the Cardinals (47-23) square off in an elimination game Tuesday at 2 p.m. EST (ESPN2).

    Louisville will be the home team and bat last.

    The loser goes home, an option it might just find more palatable than the fate that awaits the winner – the unenviable prospect of having to defeat the Owls in back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday in order to advance to the championship series this weekend.

    "We want to get off to a good start, but these kids are not robots," Fox said. "They're trying as hard as they can. This game is all about confidence, and we've just got to run guys out there and make good pitches.

    "We pitched so well all year long, but out here you're just on a bigger stage against teams that can hit the ball out of the ballpark."

    Fox said Sunday night he's all but sure to start sophomore right hander Luke Putkonen, but will consider using senior Robert Woodard out of the bullpen, if he doesn't start him.

    Woodard suffered his shortest outing of the year in Carolina's 8-5 win over Mississippi State on Friday. Woodard surrendered seven hits and four runs – all earned – in just 1.2 innings of work, before giving way to part-time starter Adam Warren, who allowed just three hits in 4.1 scoreless innings of relief.

    Of course, with the season on the line, Fox may "throw everybody out there," he said. Carolina used a CWS series record eight pitchers in the loss to Rice.

    "We considered starting Woodard, and Coach [Scott] Forbes and I will have to talk about it," Fox said. "But when you've had three starting pitchers all year long that have won 54 games for you, I would have to really think hard about telling a young man, ‘I'm not going to let you go out on the biggest stage after you've helped get us here.'"

    Putkonen (7-1), recently selected by the Detroit Tigers in the third round of the Major League Baseball draft, has struggled recording a 9.00 ERA in his two NCAA Tournament starts. However against Wake Forest in the ACC championship game, he allowed just three hits and one earned run over 6.2 innings, helping the Tar Heels to their first conference title since 1990.

    "I think Luke will come out and do well for us," said freshman Alex White, who managed just an inning and a third of work before giving up six runs to the Owls in the second inning. "He always pitches good games. I think we'll be OK."

    In a backward kind of way, Fox admits he's fortunate to have Woodard and White so well-rested due to their previous shortened outings. And Warren will also be available thanks to the off day Monday.

    Still, Fox says he hopes the Tar Heels don't set another CWS record for pitchers used on Tuesday.

    "That would be nine, wouldn't it?" Fox asked rhetorically. "We're looking for any bright spot we can find. At this point, you've got to throw anybody out there you can.

    "I'm just trying to give my team a chance to win. I thought we pitched well the last couple of innings (versus Rice). We were starting to match up real well, other than the slider the guy hit out. We held them a little bit compared to the first four innings," he said.

    "We'll rebound and be ready to go Tuesday."

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