For its third game of the 2013 College World Series, UCLA will face the only other team alive in its bracket—No. 1 overall seed North Carolina.
UNC fought back from a Day 1 loss to get a shot at the unbeaten Bruins, eliminating No. 4 LSU and NC State along the way. But the Heels are playing from a disadvantage, and will have to whip up two wins against a well-rested UCLA team to advance to the CWS finals.
If the Bruins can take down the top-seeded Tar Heels once, they’ll secure their place in next week’s best-of-three championship series. To get there, it’ll be up to the pitching staff to shut down an extremely productive UNC offense…and it wouldn’t hurt if the Bruins’ bats woke up a bit too.
UCLA will send usual Sunday starter Grant Watson to the mound tonight, and will have Adam Plutko ready to go in the event of a decisive final game. Though his ERA isn’t as polished as the other starters, Watson has a season record of 8-3 and was unhittable in his last start in the LA Regional. The Bruins would be in good shape if they get six strong innings from the sophomore, as the cast of talent in the bullpen can carry them to the finish.
North Carolina junior Kent Emanuel will get the call to start for the Heels tonight, despite being knocked around in their opener in Omaha and struggling in the Super Regionals. The southpaw went just 2.2 innings in the loss to NC State, giving up five earned runs on six hits. Emanuel was consistent all season, earning ACC Pitcher of the Year honors, but has yet to prove himself under the brightest lights.
UCLA has to get to Emanuel early to give Watson some breathing room, and to put the pressure on UNC to come up with a big play. As we’ve learned all season, the Bruins pitch well, play sound defense and pounce on the mistakes of their opponents. It may not be textbook college baseball—and it definitely doesn’t earn the Bruins respect in the media—but it has them in prime position to win the program’s first NCAA title. You can’t argue with results like that.