SUPER SURVIVORS: Heels top Owls in 13 innings
North Carolina never showed the dominance that was expected from the No. 1 national seed in the NCAA Tournament during the Chapel Hill Regional.
Still, the Tar Heels showed the resilience that has made them the only team in the country without back-to-back defeats, and that turned out to be enough.
UNC gave up six runs in the top of the ninth, including a two-out grand slam by Tyler Rocklein, and later a three-run homer by Levi Meyer in the 12th. But Mike Zolk tied the game with singles in the bottom half of both innings, and Cody Stubbs hit a game-winning single in the 13th to beat Florida Atlantic 12-11 Monday night at Boshamer Stadium.
While it took one day and a few innings longer than expected, UNC (55-9) is moving on to the super regionals of the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in 11 seasons.
“That might have been the greatest baseball game I’ve ever been a part of,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “We withstood a grand slam, a three-run homer, a two-run homer.
"We talk about toughness all the time and trying to recruit tough kids. You can’t coach (it), but we sure do have them on our team and I’m very proud of them. That’s an understatement.”
The Tar Heels will host South Carolina for a best-of-three series that will start Friday at 1 p.m.
The Gamecocks won the 2010 and 2011 College World Series and were runners-up a year ago. They are led by first-year coach Chad Holbrook, a UNC player from 1990-93 who served as an assistant with the Tar Heels for 15 seasons.
After a shocking 3-2 loss to FAU (42-22) on Sunday, the Tar Heels went to drastic measures on Monday, trying to close out the regional with top two starters Kent Emanuel and Benton Moss.
Emanuel, the ACC pitcher of the year who threw 124 pitches over 7.2 innings on Saturday, got five outs but left the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth. Moss, who threw 90 pitches on Friday, came in and allowed the grand slam, putting the Owls in front 8-6.
After being eliminated at home in last year’s regional round by St. John’s, UNC had been one inning away from a second straight shocking exit.
Still, UNC was 8-0 after losses — outscoring teams 64-13 in those situations — and the ninth inning Monday would be no different, despite the stakes.
Cody Stubbs led off with a double, and Michael Russell followed with a single. Skye Bolt struck out for the first out as Russell stole second, putting the tying run in scoring position.
That left it to Zolk. The sophomore second baseman had the lowest batting average in the lineup (.264) but came through with a two-run single to right off of FAU closer Hugh Adams, who came in with a school-record 18 saves on the season.
Extra innings were nothing new to UNC, who beat Clemson in 14 innings and N.C. State in 18 innings during last weekend’s ACC Tournament championship run.
Chris McCue entered in the 10th and struck out four batters over the next two innings. But he lost his command, as well, issuing two walks and then giving up a three-run homer to Meyer.
In the bottom of the 12th, the Tar Heels loaded the bases with no outs. Stubbs and Russell walked to make the score 11-10, and after Bolt lined out to the pitcher, Zolk again came through with an RBI single to tie the game. But Stubbs was thrown out at the plate on the play, and Parks Jordan grounded out to send the game to the 13th.
Reilly Hovis (4-0), UNC’s seventh pitcher, struck out Rocklein with two on in the top of the inning.
That gave the country’s second-highest scoring offense one more chance to end the game.
The bottom half started inauspiciously when leadoff hitter Chaz Frank appeared to be safe after a grounder but was called out. It turned out to be the last out of the game.
Landon Lassiter singled, Colin Moran walked and Brian Holberton was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Stubbs. With a 1-2 count, Stubbs hit a line drive down the left-field line, providing one final bit of suspense about whether it would be fair or foul.
Seven hours after the game was supposed to start — and five hours after it actually did, because of a two-hour rain delay — the ball landed inside the line.