Brian Holberton felt like he hit it pretty well, but he also knew how many fly balls had died before ever getting close to the outfield walls at TD Ameritrade Park.
So the North Carolina cleanup hitter kept watching LSU right fielder Mark Laird give chase.
“I didn't really think that it was going to go out until I saw his jersey turned to me with his number, and I just figured he wasn't going to catch it,” Holberton said. “I saw it sail out, and it felt pretty good.”
The rare home run in this College World Series did two things Tuesday for Holberton and his North Carolina mates:
» It gave the Tar Heels reason to exhale just four batters into a Bracket Two elimination game after they had been smoked 8-1 by North Carolina State in the first round.
» It put two runs on the scoreboard that gave North Carolina a lead it would not relinquish in a 4-2 win over Louisiana State before 21,380.
“I thought the home run by Brian was really crucial for us,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “Just kind of let the air out a little bit and let us play with a lead, something it's seemed we haven't done in awhile. So that was good.”
That blast combined with the pitching of freshman Trent Thornton was enough to buy North Carolina a school-record 58th win — and a little more time in Omaha.
“It didn't take pressure off of us. It just puts the pressure on them,” said North Carolina right fielder Skye Bolt, one of four Tar Heels with at least two hits. “Playing behind is something you don't want to do, especially in an elimination game.”
LSU couldn't respond, resulting in a disappointing 0-2 showing in the Tigers' first CWS since winning the national championship in 2009. LSU (57-11) collected 10 hits and four walks against Thornton and reliever Chris McCue, but left 13 runners on base.
“It was a very frustrating game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We had so many opportunities and just couldn't come through with a big hit.”
Thornton (12-1) had something to do with that. He threw a career-high 114 pitches in just his sixth start. The right-hander twice escaped bases-loaded situations unscathed before exiting after walking Christian Ibarra to start the eighth inning.
“He came right at us,” Mainieri said.
It helped having leads of 2-0, 3-0 and 4-1 along the way. Holberton provided the first of those after Colin Moran hit a two-out single against LSU starter Cody Glenn (7-3).
Mainieri said the Tigers thought they had Holberton on a 2-2 pitch. Glenn didn't get the call, and on a full-count pitch, Holberton delivered his bomb — only the second home run through four days and eight games at this CWS.