The opening game of the 2018 College World Series seemed as though it would never end.
But when it finally did — 4 hours and 24 minutes after the first pitch — North Carolina prevailed over one of the pre-tournament favorites.
The Tar Heels scored five runs in the third inning and went on to post an 8-6 win over Oregon State on Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park. The length of the game in searing 93-degree heat made it the longest nine-inning contest in CWS history.
"I think we all feel as though we were in a heavyweight fight,'' North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "It was a gutsy win and we got contributions from a lot of guys.''
The Tar Heels needed those contributions against Beavers ace Luke Heimlich, who entered the game with a 16-1 record. But the left-hander struggled from the start and lasted just 2⅓ innings, his shortest outing of the season.
"I don't think he was nervous,'' Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. "He just couldn't command anything, and that makes it tough when you can't throw the ball across the plate.''
North Carolina had its own problems when starter Gianluca Dalatri left the game with two outs in the first inning after telling Fox he just didn't feel right. That started a procession of five more Tar Heels pitchers as the coach was forced to piece it together.
"That's a credit to our kids,'' Fox said. "We flush things pretty quickly and our guys didn't panic.''
With the game tied 1-1, North Carolina sent 10 batters to the plate in the third inning. Five runs scored on five hits and knocked Heimlich out of the game.
Oregon State responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning, with two scoring on a single by catcher Adley Rutschman. But the Beavers left the tying runs on base when Jack Anderson flew out to right.
Both teams were held scoreless over the next three innings until North Carolina added a pair of runs in the seventh to go ahead 8-4. Ashton McGee and Ben Casparius — the Nos. 8 and 9 batters in the order — each had RBIs.
That duo knocked in five of the Tar Heels' eight runs.
"Our coaches spend hours of preparation with all of us,'' Casparius said. "And we weren't swinging at pitches outside the zone.''
The Beavers responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the seventh when Kyle Nobach belted an RBI single and Michael Gretler had a run-scoring groundout.
Oregon State threatened to draw closer, loading the bases with two outs. But Cooper Criswell, the last of North Carolina's six pitchers, came on to strike out Steven Kwan on three pitches to retire the side.
"I wanted to get ahead in the count,'' Criswell said. "He was a little frozen on the second pitch and (catcher) Brandon (Martorano) did a great job of framing the last pitch for strike three.''
Martorano contributed a huge defensive play in the eighth. After Oregon State leadoff batter Cadyn Grenier drew a walk, the sophomore catcher picked him off first base.
"That pickoff was the play of the game,'' Fox said. "It came at a great time for us.''
The play loomed even larger when Nick Madrigal followed with a single. But Criswell got out of the inning with a strikeout and a groundout.
He pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to nail down the victory.
"Cooper was sensational,'' Fox said. "I'm proud of all of our guys.''
North Carolina (45-18) advances to a winners bracket game Monday at 6 p.m. The Tar Heels are seeking their first championship.
Oregon State (49-12-1) drops into an elimination game Monday at 1 p.m.
"We had 13 hits,'' Casey said. "But we didn't defend and we didn't pitch. We just didn't play well.''