For the second straight day, UNC went into the ninth inning with the lead, having been ahead for most of the day. For the second straight day, it then got really scary in the ninth.
The Tar Heels led by three when Stetson dug in for the bottom of the ninth. The Hatters would go on to score one run, and put enough other runners on to the point where they brought the winning run to the plate. That winning run looked like it may very well cross when the Hatters’ clean up hitter hit a ball towards the warning track in deep center field.
However, instead, the ball found the glove of Brandon Riley, and the Tar Heels were off celebrating. For all the stress of the ninth inning, the game goes down as a 7-5 win, and UNC are headed to Omaha after clinching a spot in the College World Series.
Just like yesterday, the Tar Heels scored in the first against Stetson’s vaunted pitching. Kyle Datres led off the game with a single on the very first pitch, and that would be the beginning of a long inning for Stetson’s Jack Perkins. UNC would bring nine hitters to the plate in the inning, scoring four runs. Cody Roberts, Brandon Riley, Zack Gahagan, and Ashton McGee all had run-scoring hits, as the Heels took a early lead.
The Hatters got a run back in the second inning, when Jonathan Meola homered off Tar Heels’ starter Gianluca Dalatri. However, Carolina answered right back with two more runs in the third, chasing Perkins from the game.
Dalatri got into some trouble in the bottom of the third, allowing four-straight one out singles, giving Stetson two runs. On the fourth single in the run, Michael Busch couldn’t make a stop on a grounder, which prevented UNC from getting an out on the play, and probably led to an extra run scoring. A strikeout and a nice play from Gahagan at second base kept the Hatters from adding even more.
After putting on another couple runners in the fourth, Dalatri was pulled. He allowed three runs on eight hits in his 3.1 innings, striking out four. Caden O’Brien came in and got the Tar Heels out of a jam, thanks in part to an interference call on a Stetson baserunner as UNC were trying to turn a double play.
Carolina picked up an insurance run in the fifth, while O’Brien and Brett Daniels combined for scoreless innings in the fifth and sixth.
Stetson’s Andrew MacNeil added a solo home run in the seventh, but to that point, Daniels was otherwise doing a decent job in long relief. He came back out for the bottom of the ninth, and allowed a lead-off double to Austin Hale. Daniels bounced back and got the next two outs, but Mike Spooner kept Stetson alive with a single, bringing home a run. With the Heels’ lead down to just two runs, Mike Fox then decided to bring in Josh Hiatt.
Hiatt got to two strikes against the first hitter he faced, but Jacob Koos singled, to keep the Hatters alive again. That then brought the winning run to the plate in the form of Brooks Wilson, Stetson’s cleanup hitter. Wilson hit one to the warning track, but it died there as Riley caught it in very deep center field. The scare was over, and the Tar Heels clinched a berth in Omaha.
Looking ahead for a second, UNC’s most likely first opponent looks to be old enemy Oregon State. At time of writing, the #3 overall seed holds a 1-0 edge ahead of game two of their super regional later today. If the Beavers can’t close out that series, the Tar Heels will be matched up against Minnesota when CWS play starts next weekend.