Photo: Courtesy of Go Heels
OMAHA, NE – Brian Holberton’s two-run home run and Trent Thornton’s seven-inning pitching performance Tuesday helped UNC defeat No. 4 LSU, 4-2, and survive elimination in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
In a key coaching move, UNC Head Coach Mike Fox went with Thornton (12-1), a freshman from Charlotte, as the starter in what could have been Carolina’s final game of the season.
“We had the utmost confidence in Trent today, and I think all of his teammates did as well. He’s pitched like that for us all year long and we’re used to that,” Fox said.
Thornton, who started earlier in the year, was used primarily as reliever in the second half of the season. His 12 wins in 2013 season are the most for a Carolina freshman in school history.
“It’s always good to get a lead early in the game. At that point, you just have to focus and not give up any runs and you’ll win the game,” Thornton said.
Holberton gave the No. 1 overall national seed a 2-0 lead in the first inning after sending a home run over the right center field wall to score Colin Moran from first base.
“When I got up there, I was thinking that if he throws one, I had to try to pull it because I thought he would try to pull it in on my hands, and that’s exactly what he did,” Holberton said.
The Tar Heels (58-11) combined clutch hitting and a solid fielding effort for the remainder of the game to secure the victory.
UNC also scored in the third inning after Landon Lassiter opened with a double and was brought home by a Colin Moran single.
The Heels scored again in the top of the seventh on a Skye Bolt RBI two-out single to left field, scoring Moran from second base, the Heels up 4-1.
LSU scored one in the fifth and one in seventh, but failed repeatedly to take advantage with runners in scoring position, and stranded 13 runners total in the game.
In the bottom of the eighth, after Thornton walked the lead off batter, UNC made a pitching change and brought in reliever Chris McCue. The right-hander then allowed a single and hit a batter, but with the bases loaded, forced a fly out to end the inning.
After a quick at bat for UNC in the top of the ninth, the Tigers had a last chance to stay alive in the CWS, with the heart of their batting order up. McCue sealed the victory with two fly outs and a final strike out.
Carolina established a new school record for single-season wins with its 58th victory. The previous school mark was set by the 2007 team that finished 57-16.
UNC next plays Thursday at 8 p.m. against the loser of the NC State/UCLA match-up.