OMAHA, Neb. — Robert Woodard got it right this time.
Coming off the shortest start of his career five days ago, Woodard shut down Rice for six-plus innings Wednesday and North Carolina stayed in the College World Series with a 6-1 victory.
“There are a lot of good players who probably don’t have the heart and pride in his performance that Robert Woodard has,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “So today didn’t surprise me or any of his teammates with how he came back and pitched after a rough outing the first time out.”
Rice had 29 runs and 33 hits in its first two CWS games, one of which was a 14-4 victory over the Tar Heels on Sunday.
Woodard and two relievers limited the Owls to one run on six singles and a double on Wednesday, and Dustin Ackley broke open the game with a three-run homer to help the Tar Heels force another meeting with Rice on Thursday.
The winner meets UC Irvine or defending national champion Oregon State in the best-of-three championship starting Saturday.
Rice (56-13), at No. 2, and 2006 national runner-up North Carolina (56-14), at No. 3, are the only remaining national seeds in the CWS.
“They’re the No. 3 team in the nation, so beating us twice in a row wouldn’t be an upset,” Rice’s Joe Savery said. “At this point, you can’t look at it as underdogs or that sort of thing. We just have to go win. As much as we want to talk about experience that benefits us, they have at least equal experience, and they made it a step farther last year.”
Woodard (11-2) allowed five hits and one earned run in 6 2-3 innings. North Carolina starters struggled in the postseason until Luke Putkonen held Louisville to one run in seven innings in a 3-1 win Tuesday.
“The last two days we’ve gotten great starting pitching, which is what it takes to stay around out here,” Fox said.
Last year Woodard went only three innings in an 11-7 loss to Oregon State in Game 2 of the championship series. He lasted just 1 2-3 innings in Friday’s 8-5 win over Mississippi State, his shortest outing in 51 career starts.
Woodard said he and pitching coach Scott Forbes spent a lot of time together studying video and going over mechanics after the Mississippi State game.
“With the performance Luke had yesterday, I was fortunate to have the opportunity today,” Woodard said. “I was definitely chomping at the bit and thankful it worked out the way it did.”
Woodard gave up base hits in the first and second innings, then retired 12 of the next 13 batters before allowing back-to-back singles in the seventh. He left after Danny Lehmann’s two-out double drove in the Owls’ only run.
Rob Wooten and Andrew Carignan finished for the Tar Heels, who handed the Owls their first loss in 10 games.
Ackley, one of the nation’s top freshmen, broke out of a 5-for-37 slump with a fifth-inning single that was his school-record 113th hit of the season. In the seventh, Ackley lined a pitch from Chris Kelley over the right-field fence for his eighth homer and first since May 11.
The homer was the Tar Heels’ second in 15 games.