With two outstanding pitchers going at it and two of college baseball's elite programs facing off, runs were at a premium on Friday. So when North Carolina's Chaz Frank broke from third base to home plate on a wild pitch in a tie game in the top of the ninth, he knew how crucial the play was.
Frank barely eluded the tag of Rice reliever Zech Lemond. Frank's run was the difference in top-ranked and unbeaten North Carolina's 2-1 win over Rice at Minute Maid Park in the Astros Foundation College Classic.
"You got to do what you can to score runs," said Frank. Especially the way the Tar Heels' Kent Emanuel and the Owls' Austin Kubitza were pitching.
Frank led off the ninth inning with a double off Lemond (0-1) and then advanced to third base on a putout at the plate. Then when Lemond's pitch got past catcher Geoff Perrott, it was a foot race to home between Frank and Lemond.
"As soon as I saw the ball in the dirt, I took off," said Frank. "I knew it bounced away from him [the catcher]. As long as he couldn't tag me, I knew I could beat the pitcher. I slid around the tag and got the run."
Runs were scarce. Rice (6-3) took a 1-0 lead in the second on Michael Aquino's run. North Carolina tied the game at 1 in the top of the seventh when Mike Zolk scored.
In seven innings, the left-handed Emanuel allowed eight hits and one run with five strikeouts and one walk. The right-handed Kubitza allowed only four hits in 6 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts and two walks. Kubitza did not allow a hit until the fifth inning, when Brian Holberton singled for the first of his three hits.
"I didn't think we were going to get a hit there for awhile," said North Carolina coach Mike Fox. "Fortunately, Kent matched him, and we were able to hang in there. That's all what you want to do when you're not getting many runs in a close game."
Chris McCue (2-0) got the win in relief for the Tar Heels (8-0).
Christian Stringer had three of Rice's nine hits. Ford Stainback and Aquino had two hits each for Rice.
"My stuff was moving well, but I wasn't as sharp as hitting my spots where I want to be," said Emanuel. "A lot of their hits was when I knew I missed it."
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com.