Were this a remotely normal year, Saturday would’ve been the first day of the College World Series. Despite getting off to a bit of a slow start before everything was cancelled, we’ll never know if North Carolina would’ve been one of the eight teams participating.
In general, the Tar Heels have been a regular face in Omaha, making 11 trips over the years, most recently in 2018. They’ve been one of the two teams left standing twice in 2006 and ‘07, although those are a bit tough to think about. The program’s really come on in the Mike Fox era as seven of those CWS appearances have come since he took over.
However, that does leave four prior to him. So, let’s dig into the history books at look back at the first time UNC made a trip to Omaha.
The 1960 Tar Heels were coming off a winning season under coach Walter Rabb. Since taking over in 1947, Rabb’s teams had generally put up winnings records, but had only made one NCAA Tournament trip in 1948. However, they got back in thanks to an ACC regular championship season in 1960. The were played in the District III regional in Gastonia.
The 1960 Heels were led by pitcher Wayne Young. The All-American had a 1.50 ERA in 108 innings. On the offensive side of things, they also had three All-ACC players in Ferg Norton, Gerald Griffin, and John Burgwyn.
The Tar Heels started their run by eking out a 2-1 win over Florida Southern. They followed that up with a dominant win over The Citadel, advancing to regional title game. Florida came out of the loser’s bracket, but UNC completed their sweep of the region with a 7-5 victory. For the first time in program history, Carolina was going to Omaha. Things didn’t go great when they got there, however.
First up for UNC was Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were a strong program, having won the national title four years prior. On the day, none of that seemed to matter as the Tar Heels got off to a quick start. They scored three runs in the top of the first and chased Minnesota starting pitcher Clyde Nelson after one inning.
Young had gotten the start for UNC, and held the Gophers off the mound for the first four innings. However, Minnesota struck back with five runs in the fifth inning. The Tar Heels only trailed by two runs, but after that first innings, they mustered just four hits in the last eight innings. Minnesota tacked on another three runs, and Carolina lost 8-3.
However, it was a double elimination tournament, so they had a chance to play their way back into things. At least in theory, they did.
UNC was matched up against Oklahoma State in the loser’s bracket. The Cowboys sent Jim Wixson to the mound, which proved to be a smart move. The OSU pitcher threw a no-hitter, helping his team to a 7-0 win, eliminating the Tar Heels and ending their season. To redeem things somewhat, Minnesota did go on to win the championship.
Carolina’s next trip to the College World Series came six years later, where they again were eliminated in two-straight games, losing the second to Oklahoma State again. They finally won their first game in Omaha in 1978, where they were one of the last four teams standing before being eliminated by eventual champions USC.
In total, UNC’s trips to the College World Series have produced several heart-breaking losses, but hopefully some big wins and a title are coming in due time.