North Carolina and Rice both had the opportunity to advance to the College World Series' best-of-three championship series with wins Wednesday night. The Tar Heels relied on their pitching staff and an outstanding performance at the plate from left fielder Jay Cox to get the job done. Rice, on the other hand, was shut out for just the second time all season in a loss to Oregon State that forces an elimination game Thursday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).
North Carolina is the absolute favorite right now because Rice and Oregon State are burning their pitching in an effort to get to this weekend's series. Last year, Texas was in the same situation. The Longhorns had their entire rotation set up and Florida was forced to scramble to find pitching. Rice will pitch staff ace Eddie Degerman on Thursday, and at the absolute best, he might be able to pitch again Monday. If Oregon State's Dallas Buck pitches against Rice, he might not be able to return for the rest of the College World Series.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, get two days off to rest their arms. Andrew Miller, who pitched a third of an inning in relief Wednesday, was throwing 100-mph pitches, according to one scout. He most likely will start Saturday. Daniel Bard, another first-round draft pick, should be ready to go Monday after pitching six innings against Cal State Fullerton. The Tar Heels also can rely on Robert Woodard, who threw one of the tournament's best games Sunday against Clemson. North Carolina's pitching staff -- a lefty who throws 100 mph (Miller), a righty who throws 97 mph (Bard), and one of college baseball's most polished flamethrowers (Woodard) -- would intimidate even a well-rested club.
Although Oregon State and Rice could have used an extra day's rest, both teams are playing well. The Beavers are a different team since their 11-1 blowout loss courtesy of Miami. They walked nine batters in that game; they've walked four total in the last three games. Oregon State knows it can't put guys on base. When the Beavers make teams swing the bats, they're a comfortable and successful team. Daniel Turpen gave the Beavers seven shutout innings Wednesday night. He went after guys, didn't do too much and pitched within himself -- exactly what Oregon State needs its pitchers to do to be successful. The Beavers want to throw the ball over the plate and force other clubs to beat them, which hasn't happened in the past three contests.
Rice has the advantage in the contest in Degerman. Although he'll be pitching on short rest for him, he's used to throwing a bullpen session on his third day, so it shouldn't be a huge deviation. Rice has had its back against the wall before; just a week ago in the super regional, the Owls came from behind to knock out Oklahoma. They'll be ready to go in Thursday's elimination game.
Cooper tied Terry Francona (Arizona, 1980) and was one short of Dave Magadan (Alabama, 1983) and Barry Bonds (Arizona State, 1984).
|UNC-Fullerton Pitching Duel|
|Wes Roemer, CSF||4.2||27||10||6||5||4||1||1||0||3|
|Daniel Bard, UNC||6||31||12||5||5||5||2||1||3||0|
Starting pitching again floundered in the College World Series. Cal State Fullerton's Wes Roemer entered the contest having given up just four home runs all season before the CWS. In his two CWS starts against the Tar Heels, Roemer gave up five home runs. Roemer had allowed 32 runs in his first 18 starts of the season before giving up 11 runs (10 earned) in 12.2 innings versus UNC. Bard's last two outings haven't been his typical lights-out performances, but he gave the Tar Heels an advantage on the mound Wednesday.
North Carolina knocks out Fullerton
|PHOTO OF THE DAY|
AP Photo/Eric Francis
Rice second baseman Greg Buchanan leaps to catch the ball as Oregon State's Darwin Barney steals second base in the first inning.
Beavers hold on to early lead
|STOCK UP/stock down|
|Jay Cox||North Carolina||LF|
|Cox stole the show, hitting two homers and driving in four runs. He wasn't just an offensive threat; his crucial catch in the ninth inning kept Cal State Fullerton from tying the score.|
|Justin Turner||Cal State Fullerton||2B|
|Turner turned in a fine performance in his last collegiate game. He might be going home earlier than he'd like, but he has been fun to watch the past few years.|
|Andrew Carignan||North Carolina||P|
|North Carolina needed four outs badly, and Carignan was up to the task. He got the Tar Heels out of the eighth inning and got two outs in the ninth before handing the ball to Andrew Miller.|
|Shea McFeely||Oregon State||3B|
|McFeely had Rice's number, going 3-for-4 with a solo homer to widen Oregon State's lead.|
|The Owls came into Wednesday's game with every advantage -- and couldn't get the job done against a surging Beavers squad. Now, Rice will have to play with its back against a wall -- a position the Owls aren't all that unfamiliar with.|
|Bill Rowe||Oregon State||1B|
|Rowe was a threat at the plate and on the field, going 2-for-3 and driving in two runs.|
MORE COLLEGE SPORTS HEADLINES
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM