Emanuel keeps Longhorns on heels
Rookie allowed just four hits and had only one walk
Playing on the biggest stage in college baseball with your team’s fate hanging in the balance has rattled even the most talented of pitchers at the College World Series over the years.
Already this week we’ve seen Texas’ Taylor Jungmann and Vanderbilt’s Sonny Gray – both first-round MLB Draft picks – make earlier than usual exits.
But North Carolina freshman left-hander Kent Emanuel was not about to let pitching against perennial CWS participant Texas in this electric atmosphere get the best of him.
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The 19-year-old from Woodstock, Ga., looked like a seasoned veteran at TD Ameritrade Park on Monday afternoon, putting together what looked like an effortless performance to lead the Tar Heels to a 3-0 victory against Texas sending the Longhorns home with an 0-2 record for the first time since 2000. It was also the first time Texas has been shutout in Omaha since a 7-0 loss to Pepperdine.
“It was a brilliantly pitched game by their pitcher,” Texas head coach Augie Garrido said. “He was terrific. He got three pitches over. He used them in different count spots where he would lead guys off of changeups. He'd lead guys off with breaking balls. He'd lead guys off with fastballs and he had command throughout the game from beginning to end.”
Emanuel pitched the first complete-game shutout in the CWS since North Carolina’s Robert Woodard accomplished the feat against Clemson with a 2-0 victory on June 18, 2006. Woodward is now in his first season as an assistant coach for the Tar Heels. Emanuel is also the first freshman to throw a complete-game shutout since LSU’s Brett Laxton blanked Wichita State in the 1993 championship game.
“He's very, very committed, and he's had some pretty good examples as well to follow,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said. “I think he'll be the first one to tell you that Robert Woodard helped him and all our upperclassmen pitchers have given him some advice. He's taken it to heart. He was pretty good before he got to North Carolina, and we're happy to have him.”
The rookie limited the Longhorns’ chances, allowing just four hits and issuing one walk on the day. He struck out five batters in the outing, and a Texas base runner never got past second base.
“He mixed pitches early in counts and kind of had us on our heels the entire game,” Texas shortstop Brandon Loy said. “Like I said, not anything overpowering. He hit spots and he could throw three pitches for strikes and where he wanted to throw it. That makes it tough on hitters.”
“I thought his curveball and changeup command were what set this performance apart from maybe the rest of them,” North Carolina catcher Jacob Stallings said. “Usually he just absolutely commands his fastball and throws it wherever he wants to.”
Along with his outstanding command, Emanuel’s composure was what might have been the most impressive aspect of his performance, but that did not surprise Fox. He had already seen his freshman earn victories in two NCAA postseason appearances.
“[It was] very characteristic,” Fox said. “Other than his left arm, that is his best trait is his demeanor. Very first time I met him, just exactly the way he's always been. I've never seen Kent any different. Just you don't see a lot of emotion out of him. That's what you want when you get on the mound especially at this stage.”
Emanuel is now 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA in a trio of NCAA postseason starts. He has struck out 15 batters and walk only three in 23.0 innings of work during the stretch.
While Emanuel threw 126 pitches – 84 for strikes – Fox never thought about pulling him after the eighth inning, despite a 3-0 Tar Heel lead in order to let another pitcher get his feet wet on the CWS stage.
“That is a thought to get some other guys on the mound in the College World Series because they're probably going to be out there again at some point,” Fox said. “But right now you've got to go with the guy that got you to that point in the game. Kent would have probably tried to strangle me anyway if I tried to take him out. But I think he deserved to finish that game.”