OMAHA, Neb. -- North Carolina State sophomore left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon apparently likes to save the best for last, and for the rival North Carolina Tar Heels.
Rodon made plenty of headlines a few weeks ago for his performance against the Tar Heels in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. And while he was dominant in that contest, he was equally dominant against the Tar Heels on the grandest stage of all, the College World Series, an event the Wolfpack are making their first appearance in since 1968.
Rodon twirled yet another gem against North Carolina on the way to an 8-1 win at TD Ameritrade Park.
"Anytime you're facing Rodon, getting behind is possibly one of the worst things you can do," North Carolina head coach Mike Fox said. "You could see his dominance today. Just complete dominance. He was really good today, and he was too good for us."
Typically, young pitchers making their debuts in Omaha tend to get off to a slow start. At least through one batter, that seemed to be the case with Rodon, who walked North Carolina leadoff hitter Chaz Frank to start the contest.
Rodon, though, showed a very brief lapse in his game. He closed out the first inning with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to first base. The elite left-hander would then retire 14-straight UNC hitters before allowing a hit to Tar Heels catcher Brian Holberton with two outs in the fifth inning, tallying seven strikeouts during that span.
"You know, this is the College World Series. It doesn't get any better than this, so why not bring your A game? Of course I try to bring my A game every time," Rodon said. "When I come out, I'm going to compete. And stages like this, I'm going to compete even more than I can. But you always give 100 percent, and things usually go your way."
In addition to playing in the CWS, there's no doubt Rodon gets a bit more amped up, and comfortable, when he's facing the Tar Heels. Rodon had been absolutely masterful against the Tar Heels in the previous two meetings. The ACC tourney performance in well documented, while earlier in the season, he allowed just two earned run in 6 2/3 innings of work.
Amazingly, when you combine Rodon's last two performances against the Tar Heels, he has allowed just one earned run in the last 19 innings.
"He can control his pitches in any count when he wants to," North Carolina catcher Brian Holberton said. "He's throwing 94-95 and he had everything working for him today."
From a sheer stuff standpoint, Rodon couldn't have been more impressive. He used a few 81-82 changeups in the contest, but primarily sat with his fastball and slider, interestingly choosing to wipe hitters out with that slider much more so than the fastball. Rodon consistently sat anywhere from 92-96 with his fastball, while that devastating slider, to both left and right-handed hitters, sat anywhere from 85-87.
"That slider isn't Steve Carlton because Carlton was the best at it, or it might not be Randy Johnson quality yet, but it's pretty tough," Avent said. "The big thing for Carlos right now is he's commanding the fastball better than any time in his career."
North Carolina leadoff hitter Chaz Frank summed up Rodon's performance quite well: "What Carlos does well, he uses that slider effectively," he said. "He almost controls that pitch better than his fastball. You usually see power pitchers go with their fastball, but for him, it's the slider."
For Rodon, the month of complete domination continues. Rodon's masterful last month began with that performance against North Carolina in the ACC tourney, and has continued in NCAA Regional, NCAA Super Regional action, and now in Omaha. In the Raleigh Regional, he struck out 10 batters in a complete game shutout of William & Mary, while last weekend against Rice, he willed himself to striking out nine, walking two and allowing just three hits in 8 1/3 innings of work.
Amazingly, in 36 1/3 innings of work in the NCAA postseason, Rodon has struck out 41, walked five and allowed five runs on 19 hits.
As impressive as Rodon was against UNC in the victory, Tar Heels junior left-handed pitcher Kent Emanuel was equally disappointing for the third-consecutive start. He allowed five runs in 7 2/3 innings against Towson in NCAA Regional action before giving up four runs in just 2 1/3 innings of work last weekend against South Carolina.
This go-round against the Wolfpack, Emanuel struggled with command and placement of all his pages, but especially his changeup, allowing five runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings, not getting out of the third inning for the second-straight performance.
"When he doesn't have command of his off speed pitches, it's not good. That's his strength," Fox said. "To be able to throw his change up in any count, keep the hitter uncomfortable, to be able to pitch in with his fastball, that's his strength. And he hasn't had that the last few starts."
Give some credit to the N.C. State offense, too. Though Rodon's start certainly is the headline in this contest, the Wolfpack put Emanuel and the rest of the UNC pitching staff on the ropes, giving their own left-handed pitcher some serious cushion.
Brett Williams, Bryan Adametz and Logan Ratledge each finished the contest with two hits, with all three big pieces to that four-run third inning that gave the Wolfpack a commanding lead the rest of the way.
But even two runs was enough for Rodon.
Even without the experience of playing in Omaha before, Rodon, who could very well be the top pick in the 2014 MLB draft, showed again why he was a first team Perfect Game All-American.
More so than any other moment, Rodon loves the big stage. That's when he shines the most.
CWS snapshot: Breaking down N.C. State-North Carolina
Player of the game: LHP Carlos Rodon, North Carolina State -- The last time Carlos Rodon faced the Tar Heels, he proceeded to strikeout 14, walk two and allowed just a run and a hit in 10 innings of work. Rodon carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning in his College World Series debut, going 4 2/3 innings without allowing a hit in a dominance performance. He struck out eight, walked two and allowed just a run on five hits in nine innings of work. He also threw 108 pitches, 74 for strikes.
Turning point: North Carolina State carried a 1-0 lead into the third inning against North Carolina, and UNC left-handed pitcher Kent Emanuel, despite not looking great, had just one on and two outs. However, Grant Clyde's RBI single started the offensive onslaught for the Wolfpack. He was followed by Brett Williams (double), Bryan Adametz (single), Jake Armstrong (single) and Logan Ratledge (single), who all knocked in runs to extend the Wolfpack lead to 5-0. N.C. State never looked back.
What they said: I think he was sub par. I don't think he was that good today. No, I'm just kidding. I mean, he was as good as I've seen all year. Both pitches were working for him, commanded -- after the four-pitch walk to Chaz, then he settled in a little bit. Maybe the pre-game jitters got to him, I don't know. But he's as good as I've ever seen. And he stepped up for us big today. -- North Carolina State catcher Brett Austin
What's next: With the win, the Wolfpack head to the winner's bracket contest with Ethan Ogburn and Logan Jernigan available as starting pitchers. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels head to the loser's bracket needing a strong performance from either left-handed hurler Hobbs Johnson or right-hander Benton Moss, who both have been average the past couple of weeks. The Tar Heels have some experience in the CWS, so them running the gauntlet through Omaha wouldn't be too much of a surprise. Still, though, the starting pitching must rise to the occasion.