Jordan, Tar Heels Walking Back To Omaha
By Bobby Hundley, UNC Athletic Communications
OMAHA --- Only in the game of baseball could a game-winning play go largely unnoticed. Walk-off hits by Cody Stubbs and Skye Bolt in recent days were easy to spot and those players deservedly got much of the postgame attention. But following Tuesday's 5-4 win over South Carolina that saw UNC advance to the College World Series for the sixth time in eight seasons, the man who drove in the fifth and final Tar Heel run was not on the podium.
Parks Jordan didn't have a hit or score a run Tuesday. In three plate appearances, he never got the ball out of the infield. But his eight-pitch walk after falling behind 0-2 to South Carolina closer Tyler Webb scored Bolt from third with what would prove to be the run that sent the Tar Heels back to Omaha.
Carolina's first four runs were certainly scored in more spectacular fashion. Brian Holberton clubbed just the second Tar Heel home run of the postseason to score a pair in the second. Colin Moran exorcised a fair amount of postseason frustration with a run-scoring triple in the sixth. Moran then scored when Bolt pushed the envelope to take an extra base and South Carolina first baseman Kyle Martin skipped a throw into right-center.
From there, a classic baseball chess game ensued. With Bolt on third with one down, South Carolina brought the infield in and got the sharp grounder it desired for the second out. Holberton then worked the count to 3-1 against big lefty Adam Westmoreland, and the signal came from the visitors' dugout to issue an intentional ball four and put Holberton on base.
Westmoreland missed the mark on four straight to No. 8 hitter Mike Zolk to load the bases, prompting South Carolina to summon Webb from the bullpen for the second time in the series. The senior lefty had saved 17 games for the Gamecocks in 2013 and was looking to keep this one tied.
"I was telling myself I was going to be up in a big situation and to be ready for it and to want that," Jordan said Wednesday. "I'm the type of player that wants to be in the batter's box when the game's on the line."
Webb, who will head to the professional ranks as the all-time leader in appearances at South Carolina, took the loss in game one of the series due in part to Jordan's lead-off single in the ninth.
"I knew they were gonna change pitchers and bring in Webb," Jordan said. "He's one of the best lefty relievers in the country. When he came in, Coach Jackson came over and we talked about him. I'd gotten a hit off him in the first game, and I went in there with the approach that he was gonna try to get ahead early with the fastball."
Webb did just that, painting the outside corner for strike one and then elevating a fastball out of the zone for a swinging strike two.
"I didn't get a good swing and got behind, and then spread out and shortened up and tried to work my way back into a count, and I did, luckily."
After missing high on 0-2, Webb came back in the zone with a fastball that Jordan fouled back.
"It's a skill," Jordan said of a hitter's ability to spoil an out-pitch. "You hear about hitters being 0-2 in a count and sitting on a pitch, expecting him to throw something soft. But at the same time if he tries to zip that fastball in on you like he did to me that was kinda high, you cast your hands at it and nick it off foul."
Webb missed high and away with a breaking ball on 1-2 and then missed low to run the count full. After another foul ball on a high fastball, Jordan took the eighth pitch of the at-bat - a fastball just off the inside corner - for ball four to score Bolt with the eventual winning run.
"You tell yourself, 'I'm putting this ball in play somewhere, he's not gonna strike me out.' You've gotta have that mindset, you've gotta say, 'I'm moving the ball on the ground and I'm gonna run as fast as I can down to first base,' and a lot of times if you have that mindset, it works to your advantage."
None of the 24 Carolina outs Tuesday were recorded via the strikeout. It was the first time UNC had done that in 2013 and it was the first time since at least 2003 that Gamecock pitchers had failed to strike out an opposing batter.
"That's our approach as an offense," senior Chaz Frank said. "We know we're not the biggest team and we're not gonna hit the most home runs, but we want to have more walks than strikeouts and that's our goal every year. We don't really talk about average all that much. We talk about quality at-bats, and if you have a quality at-bat, if you go deep into a count."
"Walks are good," head coach Mike Fox said. "The guys are probably getting tired of hearing me say that, but we talk about walks to strikeouts and knowing the strike zone. I think that's so important. An umpire, if he's consistent, he'll give you his strike zone the first inning or two. That's where hitters need to talk to pitchers and pitchers to hitters, and that's where I think Parks' experience really helped him in that at-bat. He's very calm, and he's confident, and I've gotta have somebody in the box at that time that's exhibiting those traits."
Fox called Jordan's walk the epitome of where the 2013 Tar Heels are offensively. Carolina has a .409 team on-base percentage led by Landon Lassiter's eye-popping .502 mark. Six of UNC's regular starters have at least 30 walks this season, and Moran is third in the country with 61.
"It's just the type of players we recruit, that our coaches try to recruit," Jordan said. "We're just scrappy guys. That's what it's all about, that's the type of baseball we like to play, and I think that's the best type of baseball. You've got to go out there and compete as best you can."
Now, thanks in no small part to Jordan's under-the-radar heroics, Carolina will be competing on the biggest stage in college baseball.