No. 1 Tar Heels pushed to the edge
Florida Atlantic waited until the seventh inning to get its first hit. It turned out to be all the Owls needed to provide a shocking upset over the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.
Ricky Santiago broke up North Carolina’s no-hit bid with a three-run homer off the scoreboard in left field, lifting No. 2 regional seed Florida Atlantic to a 3-2 win over the Tar Heels Sunday night at Boshamer Stadium.
Both teams now have one loss in the double-elimination Chapel Hill Regional, so there will be a winner-take-all rematch here today (6:05 p.m., ESPN3.com). Chris Munnelly (6-0, 2.36) will make his eighth start for the Tar Heels, while FAU coach John McCormack said he would likely count on multiple pitchers to make short appearances.
The Owls (42-21) had already used up its regular rotation by Sunday night, when Bo Logan made his first start of the season.
“The good news is we get to play again,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “We’re going to focus on that and try to put this one behind us as quickly as we can.”
The Tar Heels are the only team in the country without back-to-back losses this season.
It was the second one-run win of the day for Florida Atlantic, who beat regional No. 3 seed Towson 6-5 on a ninth-inning RBI double by Corey Keller to emerge from the losers’ bracket.
“We played a bunch of doubleheaders this year with rainouts and everything,” said Michael Sylvestri (4-2), who pitched two scoreless innings. “We were just kind of used to it being from South Florida (Boca Raton).”
That clutch hit never came from UNC on Sunday. The Tar Heels left a runner in base in every inning, including one in scoring position in each of the first seven frames.
UNC’s biggest chance to blow the game open came in the sixth when UNC loaded the bases with no outs for ACC player of the year Colin Moran, who leads the country with 85 RBIs and is expected to be one of the first players selected in Thursday’s Major League Draft.
McCormack said he hoped to keep the damage to two or three runs so his team would still have a shot. But freshman reliever Kyle Miller jammed Moran on an inside fastball to induce a 1-2-3 double play and then got cleanup hitter Skye Bolt to fly out with runners on second and third
UNC, which was designated as the road team, also got the first two batters on in the seventh before hitting into another double play.
Up to that point, all the missed opportunities hadn’t hurt the Tar Heels. Starter Hobbs Johnson had a no-hitter with two walks through five innings and had retired 12 straight before an error by Moran, the third baseman, allowed a runner to reach. He would walk three of the next four batters before leaving after 89 pitches one batter into the seventh inning.
The bullpen had thrown 29 straight scoreless innings dating back to last week's ACC Tournament championship, but FAU put an emphatic end to that streak when Santiago came up with two on and one out in the seventh against Trevor Kelley (2-1).
After getting fooled by a slider and taking a fastball away, Santiago was sitting on a slider and hit it over the wall to put the Owls up 3-2.
The Tar Heels got two singles in the ninth off senior Hugh Adams, who has a Sun Belt Conference-record 33 career saves. But Cody Stubbs was caught stealing at second on an unsuccessful hit-and-run, and Mike Zolk lined out to right with a runner on first to end the game.
UNC entered the tournament as the second-highest scoring team in the country (8.2 runs per game) behind Moran and Cody Stubbs, who is third in the nation in RBIs with 74.
It started the game with three straight singles, including an RBI hit by Moran. But the next three batters couldn’t get the ball out of the infield, providing an indication of what would follow.
“It was a lack of focus for our team, and that isn’t like us,” said UNC leadoff hitter Chaz Frank, who singled in his first four at-bats. “We have two of the top RBI guys in the nation, so it’s very different, very unlike us to leave guys out there that much.
“But baseball’s a funny sport, things happen, and you just want to come out here tomorrow and try and get the win.”
Santiago’s shot was reminiscent of a three-run homer by St. John’s in last year’s regionals at Boshamer, which set the stage for the Tar Heels’ elimination the next day.
The Tar Heels have used that loss as motivation this season, and earned the No. 1 national seed for the first time in program history. Now, after outhitting the Owls 12-3, they are once again one loss from having their season come to a surprising end.
"I don't focus on the hit column," Fox said. "They got the big hit."