Calhoun’s grand slam, double keys ASU’s 12-5 win
AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Kole Calhoun can’t explain it. He just keeps hitting.
Arizona State’s junior left fielder continued his tear at the College World Series on Thursday night, hitting a game-tying grand slam in the fifth inning and the go-ahead double in the seventh in a 12-5 victory that eliminated North Carolina.
In the Sun Devils’ three CWS games, Calhoun has hit three homers and driven in 10 runs.
Calhoun hemmed and hawed and fidgeted with his water bottle when asked why he’s been so good in Omaha. Finally, ASU coach Pat Murphy intervened.
“He was saving it,” Murphy said.
“Yeah, I was saving it,” Calhoun said.
The Sun Devils (51-13) are hoping Calhoun hasn’t used up all his big hits, because now they must beat No. 1 national seed Texas twice to reach next week’s best-of-three finals. The teams meet Friday night and, if ASU wins, would play again Saturday.
“We have the least experience of any team in major college baseball,” Murphy said. “There is no team with less returners. We have eight active players who have ever played Division I baseball. I’m so proud of them, but why stop now?”
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 pitch 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.
Harvey and the six pitchers who followed him Thursday combined to walk 10, hit four batters and throw five wild pitches.
“We dodged bullets the first two, three, four, five innings with walks and hit batters,” Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “If you continue like that, it’s going to get you. And it got us.”
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,” 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. The No. 2 overall draft pick by the Seattle Mariners, who was likely playing his final college game, has had at least one hit in each of his 15 career CWS games.
Ackley, who was 8 for 16 in three games in Omaha this year, holds the CWS record with 28 career hits.
“It was a great ride and I can’t think of any other guys I would rather do it with,” he said. People dream of playing out here. We had a great run.”
Murphy, who earlier in the week had ruled out Spence until the weekend, reconsidered and gave the Australian lefty the surprise start against a Tar Heels lineup that included six left-handed batters.
The Tar Heels got to Spence early in the rematch. Their first two runs scored on Jacob Stallings’ safety-squeeze bunts, and Mike Cavasinni and Ryan Graepel hit back-to-back RBI singles to put Carolina up 4-0 in the fourth.
It was all Arizona State after that.
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, described as the “life of the locker room” by Murphy, 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.”