Bolt, Tar Heels burn South Carolina
North Carolina had the potential winning run at second base with two outs, giving South Carolina two options.
Pitch to ACC player of the year Colin Moran, who had been taken sixth overall by the Miami Marlins in the MLB First-Year Player’s Draft on Thursday. Or walk Moran and pitch to freshman Skye Bolt, who was hitting .233 since missing 17 games with a broken foot and recently had been dropped in the lineup.
The Gamecocks tried their luck with Bolt, which seemed like the wise decision. Except like so many other times this postseason, the Tar Heels came through with a clutch hit when they needed it.
Bolt fouled off two inside pitches with an 0-2 count and then pulled an RBI single through the right side, giving UNC a 6-5 win Saturday in the opening game of a best-of-3 NCAA Tournament super regional series at Boshamer Stadium.
It was the fourth dramatic win in eight postseason games for the Tar Heels – the only difference was that this did one didn’t require extra time. UNC beat Clemson in 14 innings and N.C. State in 18 innings in the ACC Tournament, and then overcame a ninth-inning grand slam and a 12th-inning three-run homer in a 13-inning winner-take-all regional game Monday against Florida Atlantic.
“I’m holding up fine. My wife’s a pharmacist,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “I’m kidding – sort of.”
UNC (56-9), the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, will advance to the College World Series for the sixth time in eight years with a win in Game 2 today (1:05 p.m., ESPN). The Tar Heels will start junior lefty Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 2.09), who didn’t allow a hit in six innings against Florida Atlantic during Sunday’s regional game.
The Gamecocks will counter with sophomore lefty Jordan Montgomery (5-1, 1.67). If South Carolina wins, the third game will be Monday.
The switch-hitting Bolt had been dropped to seventh in the batting order against Florida Atlantic, but was put back to the clean up spot against the Gamecocks (42-19) to balance out a lefty-heavy lineup against southpaw Nolan Belcher.
Bolt already had gained popularity because of his unique name – earlier Saturday, Bryce Harper tweeted out: “I hope he gets to the big leagues just so I can hear them announce his name!” – but the ninth inning allowed the rightfielder to make waves with his play.
Parks Jordan led off against Tyler Webb (3-3) with a single and was moved to second on a bunt by Chaz Frank. Landon Lassiter lined out to right and Moran was walked intentionally, setting the stage for Bolt.
“I think it’s every guy’s dream as a hitter,” Bolt said. “It’s a situation that you live to be in, and I was excited to be put in that situation.”
Another freshman, closer Trent Thornton (10-1), gave up one run in three innings to earn the win. It was the first run Thornton had allowed in 17 postseason innings, and the only run allowed by the bullpen in 6.2 innings, allowing the Tar Heels to come back from another poor outing from ACC pitcher of the year Kent Emanuel.
Emanuel, a junior who the Houston Astros selected with the first pick of the third round, gave up four and seven hits in 2.1 innings – the second-shortest start of his career – and has allowed 14 runs in 11.2 innings during the NCAA Tournament.
Fox said that Emanuel wasn’t locating any of his offspeed pitches, allowing South Carolina to tee off on the fastball, though Fox said Emanuel’s heavy workload – 175 pitches over 48 hours last weekend – had nothing to do with his ace’s performance.
The Gamecocks came in with more tournament experience, having advanced to the CWS championship series for three straight years and winning in 2010 and 2011. But South Carolina gave UNC two runs on errors early – a dropped fly ball with two outs in the first and a bad relay throw with two outs in the third.
“They played as hard as they possibly could, they just didn’t play as well as they possibly could,” said Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook, a former player and longtime assistant at UNC.
The Tar Heels took a 5-4 lead on a two-run single by Brian Holberton in the sixth inning. South Carolina tied it in the eighth, but Bolt came through with the walk-off win against Webb, who gave up just his third run in 26 career NCAA Tournament innings.
“Obviously, we’ve had some pretty emotional games the last couple weeks,” Jordan said. “It’s unbelievable how we pick up each other. Kent struggles today and he knows that we’re going to have his back.
"It’s unbelievable the emotions this team has, and I’m just really happy to be a part of it.”
NOTES -- Three players were drafted while Saturday’s game was being played. For UNC, Johnson was taken in the 14th round by the Brewers and senior outfielder Chaz Frank was taken by the Blue Jays in the 20th round. ... Gamecocks second baseman Max Schrock, a Chapel Hill native who played for Cardinal Gibbons, went 0-for-5 with an error.