Florida State eliminates UNC from the MCWS to face Tennessee

Omaha, Neb. — Connor Hultz felt better walking off the mound at the end of Tuesday’s game than he did three days ago.

Hults pitched 4⅓ innings of shutout relief to thwart North Carolina’s comeback effort and Jackson West and Max Williams hit back-to-back homers in the ninth for insurance as Florida State beat the Tar Heels 9-5 in an elimination game at the Men’s College World Series. Continued on Tuesday.

FSU blew a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth against Tennessee on Saturday in its MCWS opener. A check-swing call that didn’t go the Seminoles’ way — which would have ended the game if it had — was followed by Dylan Dreiling’s single to give the Volunteers a 12-11 win.

Hults threw the pitch to Trailing, the only batter he faced.

“Hults’ response — four-plus innings? Amazing,” Seminoles coach Link Jarrett said.

The junior left-hander relied on a sharp fastball and mixed it effectively with fast pitches.

“Finding the fastball in any count is new to my game,” Hults said. “I haven’t done that in a few weeks. It’s there. But Coach Posey and I were talking about mixing in some more fastballs and changeups and starting to get winners on the curveball. I was able to find some fastballs and expand my game. Speed ​​when needed, and that worked in our favor.”

When he finished the eighth, there was no doubt he would go out in the ninth, and he let Jarrett know that.

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“‘Don’t think about it,'” Hults told Jarrett, according to the coach. “There were a few other words mixed in. I’m really happy for him. It’s hard to walk off that field. [Saturday] the night You all have seen and know. He actually responded.”

The Tar Heels (48-16) lost back-to-back games for the first time since mid-April and went 1-2 in their first MCWS since 2018.

“We had one of the best teams in the country and our goal was to win this whole thing,” Tar Heels’ Casey Cook said. “In the postseason, we didn’t hit how we wanted to. We didn’t get what we wanted, but we have no regrets. We gave it everything we had.”

While both FSU and North Carolina hail from the Atlantic Coast Conference, this will be their first meeting since the Tar Heels won a three-game series to end the 2022 regular season.

Florida State took a 3-1 lead in the third inning after Aiden Hogg (4-3) and Matthew Mathews struck out both. The Tar Heels called on Dalton Pence, who extended his NCAA Tournament shutout innings to 14⅓ innings before five singles in six at-bats led to four runs in the fifth inning as the Seminoles took a 7-1 lead.

North Carolina scored four runs in the bottom half. With two runners on, Vance Honeycutt homered off Connor Whittaker with his fourth homer in five games, and Jackson Van de Breck made it a two-run game with an RBI single.

“The team has been like this all year — never quit,” Honeycutt said. “It’s a credit to how we coached, how we coach and the character of the guys in the locker room.”

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Hults (3-1) got the last out of the inning and retired 12 of 15 batters in his longest outing of the season. He never got into trouble. Honeycutt took the lead in the seventh, but was wiped out in a rundown between first and second. After Van de Breck doubled in the eighth, Hults connected on two groundouts. He walked Alex Madera to start the ninth, but struck out between two groundouts to end the game.

West, FSU’s No. 9 batter, had a game-high four hits in five at-bats. His homer was his second in four games and third of the season.

Williams hit his fifth homer in eight NCAA Tournament games and has 14 on the season.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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