UNC scorched by hot Devils
Posted: Friday, June 19, 2009 4:47 pm
By: By ERIC OLSON, AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Arizona State coach Pat Murphy calls him “Carrot Top” and “Red.”
Right now, you can just call Kole Calhoun red hot.
Calhoun hit a game-tying grand slam and the go-ahead double on Thursday night in a 12-5 victory that eliminated North Carolina at the College World Series.
The junior left fielder has homered in three straight games and driven in 10 runs, a surge that would have been unfathomable for Calhoun at midseason.
Now he’s a major reason the Sun Devils are one of two teams remaining in Bracket 2.
ASU (51-13), which has one CWS loss, would have to beat No. 1 national seed Texas (48-14-1) tonight and again Saturday to advance to next week’s best-of-three finals.
Arkansas (41-23) and LSU (53-16) play in the afternoon. The Razorbacks are in the same position as ASU, needing two wins to reach the finals.
Calhoun was batting just .246 with four home runs and 21 RBI after his first 39 games. In the 25 games since, he’s batting .391 with eight homers and 31 RBI. He’s raised his season average to .304.
“He didn’t like struggling. He wanted to be a big part of this ballclub,” ASU coach Pat Murphy said. “You don’t see first-year players come into the Pac-10 and do as well.”
Calhoun was in the starting lineup on opening day, but he had to learn discipline as a hitter.
“The game has come to him a little bit,” Murphy said. “You’re not going to force the game. He’s a great kid and a great teammate. When he was struggling, he was the life of the locker room. Very few days he had his head down.”
Calhoun has no explanation for his success in Omaha. He hemmed and hawed and fidgeted with his water bottle when asked why he’s been so good in the CWS.
Finally, Murphy intervened.
“He was saving it,” Murphy told reporters.
“Yeah, I was saving it,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun led an offensive attack that produced the most runs surrendered by Carolina (48-18) this season and backed a strong pitching performance by Josh Spence, who went seven innings for a second straight start on three days’ rest.
Spence (10-1) allowed seven hits and four runs, three earned, during his 126-pitch outing. He struck out eight.
North Carolina’s usually dependable pitching staff melted down in the muggy 92-degree heat. Colin Bates (4-4) took the loss in relief of Matt Harvey, who threw a CWS-record four wild pitches.
Harvey’s control problems caught up to the Tar Heels in the fifth. He was pulled in favor of Brian Moran after hitting Jason Kipnis and walking Carlos Ramirez to load the bases.
Calhoun, the first batter to face Moran, slugged a 3-2 slider into the seats 390 feet away in right-center field to tie it at 4.
Calhoun’s homer was his 12th of the season and second off Moran. Calhoun tagged Moran for a three-run homer in the 10th inning in ASU’s 5-2 win Sunday.
ASU sent 13 to the plate in an eight-run seventh inning that Calhoun started with his two-run double into the right-center gap.
It was the Sun Devils’ biggest inning of the season, and the second-most runs by a Tar Heels opponent in one inning.
“You don’t want those innings to happen to you in the first game of the year, and you certainly don’t want that kind of inning out here,” Carolina coach Fox said. “We couldn’t find the strike zone. I feel so bad for all those kids. They’re trying as hard as they can. It just didn’t go right for us that inning.”
North Carolina’s Dustin Ackley extended his NCAA Tournament hitting streak to 22 games with a single in his last at-bat.
Calhoun’s grand slam was the first by an ASU player at the CWS since Michael Collins in 1998. Sal Bando (1965) and Bob Horner (1978) also have hit slams in Omaha for the Sun Devils.
Calhoun for now is a man of few words and many big hits.
“I get up there,” he said, “and I’m just happy and excited to go hit.”