Senior Brett Williams stepped to the plate for his second at-bat against UNC starter Kent Emanuel with a pretty good idea of what to expect.
That’s the benefit of familiarity. He figured he’d see a breaking ball if Emanuel started with a fastball — so when that off-speed pitch came in an 0-1 count, Williams was ready.
He crushed an RBI-double down the left field line as part of NC State’s four-run third inning, a surge of two-out production that ultimately buried the Tar Heels in a 8-1 blowout.
“I guessed right and got a lot of barrel on it,” Williams said.
But that was sort of the theme for the Wolfpack in their first CWS appearance since 1968. They matched up against a team they know well (lots of connections that date back to the teenage years). So the near-capacity crowd didn’t seem as daunting, and the stakes associated with the moment weren’t as suffocating.
Said third baseman Grant Clyde: “When you get to Omaha, obviously, you’re going to have pregame jitters, but when you see someone you’ve played three times, it takes those jitters away a little bit because you’re more comfortable playing somebody you’ve already played.”
And it helped they had left-hander Carlos Rodon. He was brilliant — and he countered whatever plan UNC had against him with a sharp slider and precise fastball.
In five starts against the Tar Heels, the sophomore is 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA, striking out 51 batters and allowing 24 hits in 41 1/3 innings. He just missed recording the 81st complete game shutout in CWS history, giving up a run in the ninth inning.
“This is the College World Series, it doesn’t get any better than this so why not bring your A-game,” Rodon said. “Stages like this, you compete even more.”