The North Carolina baseball team successfully exorcised the demons from last year’s regional upsets at the hands of Davidson on Sunday by beating Houston for the second time this weekend and advancing to an NCAA Super Regional for the first time in five years.
The top-seeded Tar Heels survived a high-scoring slugfest and an hour-long weather delay to outlast the third-seeded Cougars 19-11 in a record-setting victory at Boshamer Stadium. They will now face Stetson in a best-of-three series next weekend in Chapel Hill, with the winner earning a trip to the College World Series in Omaha.
“We accomplished something that we have not done in a while,” coach Mike Fox said after watching his team set a school record for most runs scored in an NCAA tournament game. “I’m just thrilled for everybody associated with our program. It was a thrill to see them to watch them in that locker room to celebrate. So it was a crazy game but we did what we needed to do to win a regional here. It’s exciting. Goal accomplished.”
While UNC took care of business on its own home field, two other local No. 1 seeds weren’t as fortunate in their respective regionals.
Both NC State and East Carolina were eliminated after suffering their second losses of the tournament Sunday.
The Pirates’ defeat at the hands of in-state rival UNC Wilmington was particularly painful. Not only did they win the first meeting with the fourth-seeded Seahawks in the regional opener on Friday, but they led 5-0 going into the bottom of the fifth.
But that’s when the bottom fell out as in its first at bat following a three-plus hour rain delay, UNCW erupted for nine runs in the inning on the way to a 9-7 victory. The Seahawks will now play South Carolina this afternoon for a shot at the region title.
In Raleigh, State, got a measure of revenge by beating Army 11-1 in an elimination game before returning to Doak Field and suffering a season-ending 15-7 loss to Auburn.
Duke, meanwhile, stayed alive in the loser’s bracket of the Athens Regional by pounding out a 15-6 victory against Troy to earn a shot at host Georgia this afternoon. The Blue Devils will have to beat the Bulldogs twice to advance to a Super Regional.
UNC 19, Houston 11: Regional MVP Michael Busch had three hits and drove in four runs to lead the Tar Heels’ offensive onslaught. Seven UNC players had multi-hit games, including Kyle Datres, who led off the first inning with a solo homer and score five runs.
The 19 runs scored and 30 combined runs were the most ever in a NCAA game for the Tar Heels.
Austin Bergner pitched the first 5⅔ innings for UNC, allowing only three earned runs. Although Houston kept things interesting after falling behind 9-3, The Tar Heels kept answering back as the teams scored 18 runs between them over the sixth through eighth innings while going through 12 different pitchers.
UNCW 9, ECU 7: The Pirates were rolling along with a 3-0 behind sophomore Jake Agnos when the rains came in the fourth inning. They added two more in their first at bat following the long delay, but the game took a dramatic turn.
“The Seahawks sent 13 hitters to the plate against the ECU bullpen in a nine-run fifth inning that turned the five-run deficit into a four-run lead. As a pinch hitter Zack Canada doubled twice and drove in two runs in the inning. David Sheaffer singled in the tying and go-ahead runs.
Blake Morgan then maintained the lead over the final four innings to earn his first save of the season.
Auburn 15, NC State 7: The Tigers scored once in the first, three times in the second and twice in the third to open up a 6-0 lead they never relinquished.
The Wolfpack threatened to get back in the game with a run-scoring double by Patrick Bailey and a two-run triple by Brock Deatherage that cut the deficit to 7-3 in the fourth. It had a chance to pull even closer three innings later, but left the bases loaded — allowing Auburn to break the game back open with a five-run eighth.
State scored its final runs on a two-run homer by senior Shane Shepard in the eighth and a Bailey single in the ninth.
Earlier in the day, the Wolfpack reversed an opening round loss to Army as Evan Edwards hit two homers and Will Wilson had another to back the strong pitching of Johnny Piedmonte, Kent Klyman and Nolan Clenney.
Duke 15, Troy 6: The Blue Devils erupted for a season-high 22 hits, with eight of the nine starters in the lineup collecting at least two. Freshman Chris Crabtree, the hero of Duke’s come-from-behind win against Campbell on Saturday, stayed hot with four hits, including the first two home runs of his career.
Max Miller, Griffin Conine and Chris Proctor had three hits each for a Blue Devil offense that has produced 30 runs while going 36 for 72 as a team over its last 12 innings.