North Carolina had a lot of things to think about through the opening game of the 2018 College World Series – whether it be the tournament history between their opponent, the heat, the injury to ace pitcher Gianluca Dalatri, the record-breaking length of the 9-inning match or the tragic news received before the game.
At the conclusion of the post-game press conference, Tar Heels coach Fox closed on a tragic note: it was announced that a pitcher from the previous year, Zach Attianese, had passed away in a car crash Friday night, along with Attianese’s father. The team had been notified before the game. For catcher Brandon Martorano, the news hit close to home: the starting catcher was “best friends” with Attianese since childhood. Despite the loss, Martorano pushed through.
Nothing would phase them, as the Tar Heels advance to the second round of the tournament with a victory against Oregon State, 8-6.
“For me, the longer you’re out there, the better,” Head Coach Mike Fox said. “Our guys didn’t flinch and they kept playing… credit to our team to keep playing and competing, able to keep it together.”
“When you get those long innings, you have to make sure you have that energy,” Oregon State Catcher Adley Rutschman said.
The heat was also a large factor, but North Carolina pitcher Cooper Criswell passed it off as normal. “It might be more humid in North Carolina,” he quipped. Beaver right fielder Trevor Larnach simply said, “It is what it is, you have to fight through it.”
North Carolina also had to deal with frequent pitcher rotations. Ace pitcher Gianluca Dalatri was forced to leave the game in the bottom of the 1st, and the Tar Heels would cycle through 5 additional pitchers. Freshman Caden O’Brien was credited with the win, pitching for 1.2 innings; Junior Cooper Criswell (2.1 innings) was credited with the save.
“Cooper Criswell was phenomenal – he probably didn’t even think he would pitch this morning,” coach Fox commented. Criswell was the intended starter for a Monday matchup prior to throwing 34 pitches. Monday’s pitching rotation remains a mystery for even Coach Fox.
In addition to the circumstantial elements, there was also history to consider: in 2006, Oregon State defeated North Carolina in the final round of the CWS. In 2007, the exact same thing happened again. North Carolina succeeded in finding revenge.
Oregon State star and starting pitcher Luke Heimlich (16-2 on the season) gave a disastrous performance, allowing 6 runs in 2.1 innings. He was given the loss. “I haven’t seen that before,” said coach Casey. “I don’t think he was nervous… he could just never find (the plate).”
The game opened with each team driving in a run in the first two innings. Trevor Larnach sent a ball flying to center field for a triple as Steven Kwan crossed home plate in the bottom of the 1st inning. The Tar Heels answered with Zach Gahagan crossing home plate on a ground ball.
North Carolina proceeded to open the flood gates in the top of the 3rd, scoring 5 runs including a run scored on an error. The Beavers answered with 3 runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Each team added two more runs in the 7th inning.
After a day of rest, North Carolina will face the winner of the Washington/Mississippi State matchup taking place Saturday night. That game will be played Monday night at 6 PM CT.