Coming through when it counts
Holberton homer keeps UNC alive in College World Series
OMAHA, Neb. -- Wherever North Carolina head coach Mike Fox plugs junior Brian Holberton into the line-up he’s likely to make a contribution. On Tuesday afternoon, Holberton did just that, blasting a first-inning, two-run homer to spark UNC to a 4-2 victory against LSU as the Tar Heels staved off elimination in the College World Series.
“I thought the home run by Brian, though, was really crucial for us, just kind of let the air out a little bit and playing with a lead, something we seemed to haven't done in a while,” Fox said.
“When I got up there I was thinking if [LSU pitcher Cody Glenn] throws one he's gotta try to pull it because he's going to run in on your hands and that's exactly what he did,” Holberton said. “I swung over I think it was the second strike and after that I just stepped out, I told myself he's going to try to throw a two-seamer in here and don't get beat in. He threw it in and put a good swing on it.”
It was Holberton’s second in this year’s NCAA tournament and 12th of the season. His last round-tripper was also in an elimination game when the Tar Heels topped South Carolina in the NCAA Super Regional on June. 11. Holberton now has 58 RBI and 15 multi-RBI games this year, and has recorded a team-best 17 RBI in the last 13 games.
The home run -- the second of this year’s CWS -- set the tone for the Tar Heels, and UNC freshman pitcher Trent Thornton reaped the rewards as he held the Tigers to two runs. LSU had entered the CWS averaging 6.5 runs per game.
“It's always good to get a lead early in the game and when you get a lead early, need to focus and know that just don't give up any runs and you'll win the game,” Thornton said. “It's just a confidence booster, because you've got your team's back.”
In Sunday’s game against NC State, Holberton batted in the seven-hole and collected two of the Tar Heels’ five hits, including one that broke up left-hander Carlos Rodon’s no-hit bid in the fifth inning. Against the Tigers, Fox moved Holberton up to cleanup spot for the LSU game -- a spot he where he had success when Skye Bolt was out with a broken foot in the middle of the season.
“It made the move look good but it wasn't me,” Fox said. “Brian's been in that position before. We felt we needed to move some things around a little bit and really we did think about that. Having Brian in there can do a lot of things for us -- not just home run -- but he can hit and he can bunt and he can do a lot of things for us. It paid off [Tuesday]. He did well.”
Holberton added a single in the third inning to up his hit total to 15 for the NCAA tournament as well as a sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning helped manufacture UNC’s fourth run of the contest. He is batting .441 (15-for-34) with nine RBI in nine NCAA postseason games.
A native of Charlotte, N.C., he has also shown his defensive versatility during the season. He has started at catcher in the last five games since regular starter Matt Roberts suffered a broken hand against Florida Atlantic, and is errorless in the NCAA postseason. For the majority of the year, Holberton had played left or right field and entered the CWS with only eight starts at catcher.
With the win against the Tigers, North Carolina improved to 11-0 after a loss and Holberton has been an integral part of the Tar Heels’ survival in postseason play.
“It goes to show the whole team doesn't want to give up,” Holberton said. “We've done it all year, with our backs against the wall, just come out fighting. And I think we played better that way. And we're a team that just doesn't want to lose. We just want to keep going.”