Call it rust. Call it a post-ACC Tournament hangover. Whatever the case, the Tar Heels had their issues against #4 seeded Canisius but held on for a 6-3 to open NCAA Tournament play.
Thing started out well enough with the Heels posting a three run first inning on doubles from Brian Holberton and Cody Stubbs. The Heels added another in the 2nd to stake a 4-1 lead. However sophomore starter Benton Moss continued to struggle as his control simply wasn't there. Moss worked just 4.1 innings giving up three earned runs, three walks while also hitting two batters. Moss' only clean inning was the fourth but in the fifth he walked a batter then hit the next one to put a pair on with one out. Chris McCue relieved Moss and promptly gave up a single then threw a wild pitch bring Canisius within a run. Despite the issues in the 6th, McCue settled down to post scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth.
Mike Fox then turned the game over to freshman closer Trent Thornton. After striking out the first batter he faced, Thornton loaded the bases on a pair of singles and yet another hit batter before getting two strike outs to end the threat. The Heels plated a pair of runs in the bottom of the 8th to give Thornton a cushion he really didn't need. Thornton would go on to strike out the side in the 9th to send the Heels into the winner's bracket.
Ideally, UNC would have loved to have gotten more innings out of Moss who has not been sharp since pitching eight scoreless innings at Georgia Tech in mid-May. If the Heels advance to the super regional, Moss will need to find his control. The pitching in general was a little off but sufficient to get out of trouble causing Canisius to strand 14 runners over the course of the game. UNC also made several blunders on the base paths with two runners thrown out at the plate and it very much looked like a team that was maybe a little out of kilter. To what extent UNC's marathon games at the ACC Tournament had an impact is anyone's guess. Ultimately the only thing that matters is North Carolina won the game.
UNC will face the #3 seed Towson on Saturday at 6 PM with Tar Heel ace Kent Emanuel trying to put North Carolina in the proverbial cat-bird seat.