Trent Thornton is a big reason North Carolina's baseball team got to Omaha.
He became an even bigger factor in helping keep the Tar Heels around for another couple of days. In his first start in almost three months, the freshman checked Louisiana State for seven innings in Tuesday's 4-2 elimination game victory.
“He's pitched like that for us all yearlong,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said.
In just about every role possible. Thornton's first appearances came out of the bullpen. He shifted to a midweek starting role a couple of weeks into the season, winning five games while allowing just two earned runs in 31 1⁄3 innings.
He became the team's closer in late March, winning another six games and saving eight. Then, with North Carolina's season in jeopardy after an opening-round College World Series loss to North Carolina State, Tar Heels pitching coach Scott Forbes decided it was time for Thornton to make a first pitch instead of the last one.
“Coach Forbes texted me after LSU lost to UCLA that we needed to start Trent,” Fox said. “I texted back 'OK.' I didn't say 'why?' or 'are you sure?' Just OK.