OMAHA, Neb. – Home runs are few and far between at the College World Series these days, which made Brian Holberton’s first-inning shot all the more important for North Carolina.
Holberton staked freshman starter Trent Thornton to a two-run lead before he took the mound Tuesday, and No. 1 national seed Carolina went on to beat Louisiana State 4-2 in an elimination game.
“We certainly are happy to have survived this one,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “I thought the home run by Brian was really crucial for us, just kind of let the air out a little bit and let us play with a lead, something we seemed to haven’t done in a while.”
The Tar Heels (58-11) play rival North Carolina State in another elimination game Thursday. The fourth-seeded Tigers (57-11) went 0-2 in their first CWS appearance since winning the 2009 NCAA title.
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“We expected to come out here and play better than we did,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Even though we didn’t play great, we lost a one-run game and a two-run game. We were in position to win the games. It wasn’t like we came out here and got blown out.
“We were right there and just couldn’t come through with the play here or hit here or a pitch there, and it stings a lot.”
North Carolina, which lost 8-1 to North Carolina State in its CWS opener, staved off elimination for the third time in the NCAA tournament and remains the only team in the country to not lose back-to-back games this season. The Tar Heels are outscoring opponents 85-30 after losses, and their 58 victories are a school record.
Thornton (12-1) pitched a strong seven innings in his first start since March 27. The 6-foot, 170-pound right-hander worked around two singles and three walks to hold LSU scoreless until the fifth inning.