CWS, Day2: Carolina throws a wet blanket on the upset-fest

North Carolina wasn't going to have any of that lower seeded-upset thing continuing through all four first round games. The Tar Heels didn't even want to hear about LSU's vaunted comeback ability. They just went out there and threw bee-bees at the Tiger bats and finally allowed one team NOT to pull the upset in this College World Series.

Meanwhile, Fresno State keeps on playing like they're from another planet, routing the CWS-experienced Owls in an ugly manner.

CWS08-FresnoMunoSlide.jpg
(Kevin Muno slides around the tag of Rice catcher Adam Zornes)

Day two brings more surprises from Omaha.

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GAME ONE---
Conditions at game time:
78 degrees, 52% humidity and winds from the Southeast at 8mph, which is blowing across the field from the right field foul pole to the left field foul pole.

Fresno St. - 040 705 010 - 17 13 2
Rice Univ. - 000 011 030 - 5 10 1

WP: Justin Wilson (8-5)
LP: Ryan Berry (8-5)
Save: you kiddin'?

Top hitters:
FSU-
Danny Muno, 2-for-6, 5RBI, HR
Erik Wetzel, 3-for-5, 1RBI
Alan Ahmady, 2-for-4, 3RBI, HR
Jordan Ribera, 2-for-4, 3RBI, HR

Rice-
Jordan Gayheart, 2-for-4, 1RBI
Diego Seastrunk, 2-for-4, 3RBI, HR
Jordan Dodson, 2-for-3, 1RBI

It was as if the ravenous spirit of the Bulldog left Georgia after last night's 9th inning and leapt into the bodies of these Bulldogs, because they scored runs in bunches all game long to make this a laugher nearly from the word go.

The Dogs from the Valley scored four runs in the second inning, getting a pair of walks, a fielding error and then two-RBI base knocks from Danny Muno and Gavin Hedstrom to stake out an early lead.

The floodgates opened up in the 4th inning as Fresno got seven runs to put this one out to pasture. Danny Muno provided the ultimate punch again, blasting a three-run dong and that was followed by Alan Ahmady's three-run yard call four batters later. 11-zip. Done. Ballgame. Over.

Justin Wilson, no not the famous Cajun chef and TV personality, went 7.0 innings, scattering eight hits, striking out five and getting a heavy dose of groundouts and popouts as well. He also gave up only two earned runs, making up for a rough go of it at Arizona State last weekend, where he gave up eight runs and nine hits in 4.1 innings of work.

"I felt strong out there." Said Wilson. "Arizona State was tough, so I knew I had to come out here and throw a stronger game. And having the guys behind me making plays gave me confidence."

But the real story was the hitting of FSU, who came in as the worst-hitting team in the field at .297. Today, it was a 13-hit barrage, that was capped by the four power shots beyond the outfield fence.

CWS08-FresnoMunoHR.jpg
(Kevin Muno and Steve Detwiler get handshakes on another of many Fresno State home run trots)

"Fresno did an incredible job of hitting today." Rice coach Wayne Graham would lament. "It's hard to hit that good in batting practice."

According to FSU coach Mike Batesole, the key was staying getting on top of the Rice arms and keeping a foot on the throat. "We played aggressive." Batesole commented. "The last thing we wanted to do was sit back and let the action come to us. We had to be aggressive and not let up.,"

And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Gorilla Ball patented by the teams from the deep South? Well these Bulldogs looked an awful like one of those teams today.

In fact, they looked an awful lot like those 9th inning Bulldogs of Georgia from last night.


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GAME TWO---
Conditions at game time:
85 degrees, with 30% humidity and winds out of the North blowing in at 7-10mph.

LSU - 110 000 020 - 4 8 1
UNC - 302 110 10x - 8 17 0

WP: Alex White (11-3)
LP: Ryan Verdugo (9-4)
Save: Rob Wooten (5)

Top hitters:
LSU-
Michael Hollander, 3-for-5, 1RBI, HR
Matt Clark, 1-for-3, 1RBI, HR

UNC-
Seth Williams, 3-for-4, 3RBI
Ryan Graepel, 3-for-4, 1RBI
Tim Fedroff, 3-for-5, 2runs scored

Let get this right. LSU was down 7-2, going into the 7th inning against a school that plays (gulp!) a West coast style. Sound familiar? Care to talk about a team called the Anteaters right about now?

Well two guys that wanted to hear none of it were UNC starter Alex White and reliever Rob Wooten. White sent the Tigers down 1-2-3 in the 7th, before getting pulled in the 8th and Wooten came in to a bases-loaded jam, but held LSU to two runs, instead of the kind of landslide comeback that the Tigers have become famous for.

But let me say this... I saw what most of you probably did in the two blown calls that may not have decided the game, but certainly decided momentum in the 8th inning.

A bases loaded walk that scored a run, was followed by an infield single, where UNC 3Bman Chad Flack double-pumped on the play, then threw to first to get the speedy D.J. LeMahieu. I thought it was a very close out, bang-bang play and all. But an out none-the-less. However, he was ruled safe on the play, scoring a run and pulling LSU within a grand slam of tying it.

Then, on a Baltimore chop to second, SS Ryan Graepel touched second and threw late to first, as Leon Landry beat out the throw by a half-step. Despite the obvious replay that showed Landry safe, he was surprisingly called out on the play.

CWS08-LSUleonLandry.jpg
(It wasn't Leon Landry's day. Called out at first after he out-legged a double play ball, but was wrongly ruled out by 1st base ump Jack Cox. Then here, he dove and missed this pop fly in short Center Field. Ouch)


So if you're keeping score at home, first base umpire Jack Cox just blew two calls in that 8th inning. (Cut to angry reaction of LSU fans fully expecting their boys to score more than just two runs that inning.)

"The umps do the best job they can. They're human." Coach Paul Mainieri claimed afterward. "But it was pretty obvious to me that he was safe, I'm sure the replays showed that, and it was a big momentum breaker for us."

CWS08-LSUmainieri.jpg
(Though LSU coach Paul Mainieri was being cordial in the post-game press conference, you could tell he wasn't all that crash-hot with the umpiring today in the loss to North Carolina.)

After that, the 9th inning went:
* Flyout.
* Strike out.
* Double.
* Walk.
* Ground Out.

Not exactly going to go down into the LSU lore like last week at home against UC Irvine. Then again, this IS North Carolina, the ACC champions that hung around the top of the polls all season AND had made Omaha a second home the last few years. It's an experienced, cool-under-pressure, national title contending team. Not a 4th place team from the Big West.

So that's how it went for the Tigers tonight. Not the same magic. Especially with the pitching of Alex White. The Heel starter went 7.0 innings, giving up just four hits (okay, granted, two of them were home runs), three runs, striking out six and walking two. He threw 109 pitches in all, 63 of those were strikes.

Rob Wooten had a few hairy moments, like the bases-loaded jam he inherited in the 8th, but still put the clamps on the Tiger attack to pick up his 5th save of the year.

The biggest key to the game? The UNC response unit. The Tar Heels kept the pressure on by getting the leadoff batter on base in each of the first five innings and building up an 8-2 lead with six outs to go.

Seth Williams would say afterward, "We know we're not going to go get beat by one run. And that was obvious from the way we responded in the bottom of the first inning."

UNC coach Mike Fox admitted it was still nervous time until the Heels defense got out No. 27. "We had 17 hits and they had six and yet we're still holding our breath. That's how good they are on offense."

So now LSU, with their fans vocal chords in ribbons again, will try to stave off elimination on Tuesday against post-season nemesis Rice.

CWS08-LSUwildPitch.jpg
(Paul Bertuccini threw a wild pitch, sending Tiger catcher Micah Gibbs scrambling for the ball and allowing UNC to score its 6th run of the day)

"Every team here is tough and each one is so tough to beat." Mainieri said. "We can't tell our kids that we have to come back and win four games. We just have to take it one game and one pitch at a time. It makes it seem much less daunting of a task."

True. And still, with this offense, it's possible.

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NOTES---

- Two-strike hitters.
At the Long Beach Regional two weeks ago, Fresno coach Mike Batesole said he's never had a team hit better with two strikes against them in his coaching career. Today, the Dogs got 11 of their 13 hits with two strikes against them, including three of the home runs.

- The Beaver spirit in them?
Wayne Graham commented after the game about his team's chances for coming back and winning it all, despite the opening game loss. "Oregon State did in in 2006 after getting beaten 11-0 in the first game and we also did it in the JC state tournament in 1986 after losing the first game 16-2 after five innings. So it can be done. We've got plenty of pitching to get it done. We just gotta play better baseball."

- Old mates.
Coming into today's game as former rivals in the WAC from 1997 to 2005, Rice had beaten Fresno State 29 of the 45 times they had played. The biggest win for FSU in that time span was a 15-1 shellacking in 2000. Other than that, the Bulldogs hadn't beaten Rice by more than six runs in those 16 wins.

- Mike isn't comfy.
When told in the post-game presser that he looked relaxed in the dugout tonight, Fresno coach Mike Batesole quickly quipped, "Who's relaxed?... I wasn't relaxed until the last out. I think you guys remember last week in Arizona." (Where FSU nearly blew an 11-4 lead in the 9th.)

- Mock applause.
After several long innings that saw FSU score four, seven and five runs, the fans in Rosenblatt clapped vigorously when the Bulldogs went three-up, three-down in the 7th inning.

- The difference between LSU and other teams.
LSU's first hit of the game travelled 380-feet (a home run from Michael Hollander). UNC's first hit of the game went about 75-feet (a chopper that Dustin Ackley beat out).

- Another difference.
LSU's first inning lasted six minutes. UNC's first frame lasted 18 minutes.

- With his 2nd inning home run, LSU's Matt Clark took over the national lead with 27 home runs on the year.

CWS08-LSUClarkHR.jpg
(Matt Clark in mid-national-home-run-leading swing)


- Coach Mainieri explained Jered Mitchell's botched pop fly in the 7th like this in the post-game press conference. "He raced back because he thought the ball was hit pretty well. He took his eye off the ball and ran back, but when he went to look for it again, he just lost it in the high sky."

- Alex White, on what worked so well for him tonight. "It was definitely my splitter. It was a big key for me tonight, especially with their left handed batters. I went to it when I needed a big pitch."

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Another great day at Rosenblatt. Hope to see you out there tomorrow when either Miami or Florida State will non-handshake its way on home to Florida in an elimination game.

G'night

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert