North Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 10:12 AM
OMAHA, Neb. — For much of the regular season, this was the game — LSU vs. North Carolina — that was begging to be played.
Even here at the College World Series, it’s a pretty intriguing match-up.
North Carolina is the No. 1 national seed. LSU is ranked No. 1 in the major polls.
“No. 1 vs. No. 1, wow,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Two teams with 57 wins? You don’t get that very often do you?”
Just not now. Not under these circumstances. It seems too early.
“It’s a shame it’s not for the national championship,” Mainieri said.
Instead, it will be a lowly elimination game for the teams with the two best records in college baseball when the Tar Heels (57-11) and Tigers (57-10) play for their Omaha lives at 2 p.m.
Only three national seeds even made it to Omaha, and all three were banished to the loser’s bracket after first-round losses.
North Carolina’s pitching got roughed up in an 8-1 loss to North Carolina State. LSU’s two errors accounted for both of UCLA’s (unearned) runs as they wasted another excellent performance by Aaron Nola in a 2-1 loss to UCLA.
Now it’s pretty simple. Today’s high-profile loser goes home much earlier than was planned. The winner stays alive, but will still face a long, tough road, needing three more wins to advance to the championship round that begins next Monday.
“I really expect a tremendous game,” Mainieri said. “I have great respect for North Carolina and I really do think we’ll play better.”
Mainieri will call on starting pitcher Cody Glenn, who hasn’t pitched in almost four weeks, since the opener of the SEC Tournament on May 22. He was suspended for the regional for a violation of team rules, and his spot in the rotation didn’t come up when the Tigers swept Oklahoma in two games in the super regional.
Glenn (7-2, 2.41) didn’t find out until Monday morning that he’d been moved up a slot in the rotation. But, even if Ryan Eades hadn’t struggled in his last two starts, it was a no-brainer for Mainieri to pitch his only lefty starter against a dangerous Tar Heel lineup that normally employs six left-handed batters.
“We’re only going to play them once,” Mainieri said. “I’ve watched them, they’re not bad against left-handers. But let’s run the left-hander out and see what happens.”
North Carolina coach Tom Fox will make an early call to his bullpen. The Tar Heels will start their normal bullpen closer, Trent Thornton (11-1, 1.23).
“He’s a freshman and he’s been their best pitcher down the stretch because their starters have been struggling,” Mainieri said. “He’s got some deception, a little unique action with his arm. A little bit of a cocky kid, he’s going to come right at us.”
Glenn had to apologize to the team for his missteps before he was re-instated to the team. But if he really wants to make up, he can give the Tigers the kind of outing he was making routine before his break.
His last start was seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 shutout of Alabama, and he hasn’t given up more than one earned run in his last five starts.
He has thrown three simulated games since his last start.
“I need to get off to a good start, that’s the key,” Glenn said. “I want to catch my groove as soon as possible. If I catch in it in the first inning, I feel good about my game.”
Mainieri expects his team to bounce back.
“They’re a group with a lot of fortitude,” he said. “You have to turn the page and go to the next day. We’ve just got to play.
“It seems overwhelming (needing four straight wins) but you can’ think like that. You have to think in terms of one game at a time.”
Mainieri then promptly laid out the plan for the week.
“If we can win tomorrow, then we get a day off then Thursday we’ll play a team coming off a loss, and if we win that game, then we get Nola back on the mound for us Friday. If we win that game, then the team that had to only win one game against us, the pressure kind of shifts to them.”