June 18, 2018 10:16:45 AM
OMAHA, Neb. -- The beauty of the day between each game of the double elimination portion of the College World Series is the rest time built in for pitching staffs. North Carolina won't be feeling that benefit for a while.
The Tar Heels's No. 1 starting pitcher, Gianluca Dalatri, lasted just 15 pitches, retiring two batters before leaving the game with an injury. What complicated matters for the Tar Heels' future in the tournament is that its No. 2 starter, Cooper Criswell, pitched the final 2 1/3 innings of that game, collecting the save. It forces North Carolina (44-18) to its third starter, Austin Bergner, for the 6 p.m. Monday (ESPN) game against Mississippi State.
Each of Bergner's last four starts have gone at least 5 1/3 innings, going 3-1 in those starts. Bergner enters the start with a 4.28 earned run average and a .248 batting average allowed, striking out 76 in 75 2/3 innings and walking 33. He has struggled in the NCAA tournament, allowing a .320 batting average in two appearances, one start and one in relief.
Small bruised but fine
MSU interim coach Gary Henderson admitted to some concern when starting pitcher Ethan Small took a hard-hit ball off of his leg in the fourth inning. He feared the ball hit Small lower than he thought it did, possibly harming his ankle; he was also concerned Small wouldn't be able to loosen his leg enough to pitch on it.
Small's silence when Henderson visited the mound made him even more uneasy. But two test pitches later, the mound was emptied and Small continued to work, on his way to seven shutout innings, allowing a meager four hits and no walks, striking out five.
If MSU (38-27) wins enough to give Small the chance to pitch again in the College World Series, Henderson expects him to do so with no issues. Henderson said Small is bruised but not injured beyond that.
As for what made Small so effective in the start, he credited eventually managing his adrenaline.
"Early on, there were some nerves playing, for obvious reasons," Small told The Dispatch. "Everything was working for me, though. I started focusing on location more than throwing harder."
Pilkington's postseason record
Konnor Pilkington is slated to get the start for MSU against North Carolina Monday, hoping to return to his former postseason form.
In his two starts of the 2017 postseason, he went a combined 13 innings, allowing eight hits and four runs. In two starts this postseason, he has lasted 8 1/3 innings, allowing 14 hits and eight runs (seven of them earned) on top of five walks. His most recent start was the better of the two from this postseason, going five innings with two runs allows, walking one and striking out six.
The 24,758 people in TD Ameritrade Park for MSU's first game of the College World Series had a pretty clear majority: those donning maroon and white. That fact was not lost on Henderson.
"I give our fans a ton of credit and credit them again last night," he said. "That's a home game. That's a home game for the Bulldogs in Omaha, Nebraska. I think our kids consistently feel our fans and feed off them.
"We have the best fans in college baseball and our kids are well aware of it."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson