For the second straight year and the fourth time in the last decade, UNC are headed to the Super Regional round in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. The Tar Heels swept through their competition over the weekend, going 3-0 to win the Chapel Hill Regional and take a step closer to Omaha and the College World Series.
The toughest game for the Diamond Heels actually ended up being the opener against the four seed UNC Wilmington. Carolina opened up a 3-0 lead in the first two innings against the Seahawks, but saw that disappear over the next couple of innings.
In the sixth, UNCW knocked out Heels ace Tyler Baum, and then cashed in with a three-run inning to take the lead. The game see-sawed from there, but Carolina went into the ninth with a chance to close things out, up a run at 5-4. What instead happened was Wilmington retaking the lead after an inning that included a hit by pitch, a wild pitch, an error, and an overturned review on a play at the plate that put the Seahawks in front.
UNC showed they wouldn’t go down easy, as Aaron Sabato led off the bottom of the ninth with a game-tying home run. They then proceeded to win the game later that inning on a very bizarre play that has to be seen:
That came after a bunt failed to move the runners over, only for a wild pitch to do that anyway. Friday night was not the most fundamentally played baseball game on record.
Saturday was not remotely as wild, as the Heels crushed Liberty 16-1. UNC nursed a two-run lead through the first five innings before exploding down the stretch to cruise past the Flames. The Heels scored 14 runs over the final four innings, pre-emptively ending any real shot Liberty had at getting back into the game. All nine Tar Heels in the starting lineup recorded at least one hit in the win.
After Tennessee took down Liberty earlier on Sunday in the losers’ bracket, the Volunteers were next up for the Tar Heels in the regional final.
UNC led wire-to-wire on that one, too, holding the lead throughout the game after scoring four first-inning runs. However, the real story for the Heels was the performance of Austin Bergner. The Carolina pitcher had struggled of late, including not making it out of the second inning in the ACC Torunament against Miami. Prior to Sunday against Tenneessee, had had allowed less than four runs in a game just once since March. That was not what happened against the Vols.
Bergner threw seven strong innings, allowing just two runs on four hits while striking out eight. UNC’s offense didn’t do much after that big first inning, but they really didn’t need to thanks to Bergner’s big day.
Among the big performance on the offensive side of things included Sabato (2/5 with a run), Ike Freeman (1/3 with two walks and a run) and Ashton McGee, who opened the scoring with a two-run single.
In addition to his big game-tying home run on Friday, Sabato hit another in the Liberty win, taking him to 16 on the season. That tied him for the team lead with Michael Busch, who also hit his 16th on Satuday.
Freeman was a walk machine for the weekend, drawing six across the three games. He scored five of UNC’s runs during the regional. Meanwhile, the Heels’ second basemtan, McGee, recorded six RBI on three hits over the course of the Liberty and Tennessee games. There were other good performances on the offensive side of things, as you may expect when a team scores 28 runs across three games.
In addition to Bergner, UNC pitching got some key bullpen outings over the weekend. Despite getting the win, Austin Love did allow the two runs that put UNCW in front on Friday night, although only one was earned. However, the following day he bounced back with three scoreeless innings against Liberty, when the game was still close. Meanwhile, Joey Lancellotti came in for Bergner on Sunday and threw two scoreless innings to finish off Tennessee and send the Heels to super regionals.
Thanks to Auburn, the Diamond Heels will also get to host a Super Regional at Boshamer Stadium Stadium. The Tigers beat the #3 overall seed Georgia Tech twice in Atlanta to knock out the Yellow Jackets. UNC facing Auburn with 16 teams left in a tournament, what’s the worst that could happen?