Omaha bound: Tar Heels top Pirates

Staff WriterJune 7, 2009 

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina celebrated like a team on its way to its first College World Series, not its fourth straight.

The Tar Heels slung their hats and gloves skyward and jumped into a celebratory dogpile after Sunday's 9-3 win over East Carolina in the Super Regional sent them back to Omaha and the CWS for the fourth straight year.

"You can't ever take this for granted," said UNC coach Mike Fox, who was still wet from the post-game Gatorade bath. "You have to enjoy every single second of it."

As the Tar Heels (47-16) celebrated, ECU (46-20) left Boshamer Stadium to wonder "What if?" yet again. The Pirates have advanced to the Super Regional three times since 2001 but the school's first trip to Omaha remains elusive.

UNC's just the 10th program to make four straight CWS appearances. The Heels own the Super Regional round, with a dominant 8-1 record since 2006 and a perfect 4-0 mark the past two years.

"To do this again is unbelievable," said UNC's senior righfielder Garrett Gore, who scored four runs.

Any signs of complacency or visual proof of a been-there-done-that attitude by the Tar Heels, was buried like ECU's offense. UNC senior starter Adam Warren allowed three runs in seven and a third innings, bookending Alex White's eight-inning, one-run effort on Saturday. In two games, ECU — which got this far with a powerful offense — managed to scrape together just four runs.

"You have to give it North Carolina," ECU first baseman Brandon Henderson said. "They pitched very well."

But UNC was far from all pitch and no hit. The Heels' offense produced 19 runs and 30 hits in two Super Regional games.

Gore went 4-for-5 with a home run, Dustin Ackley homered and drove in three runs and Kyle Seager, who had the game's first two RBIs, led UNC's offense, which has outscored its opponents 50-12 in the first five NCAA Tournament games.

ECU coach Billy Godwin had hoped he had the answer for the Heels' predominantly lefthanded lineup in lefty Kevin Brandt. The freshman from Fuquay-Varina shut out the Heels for 10 innings in two regular-season games, beating UNC 4-0 on April 22 in Greenville.

Brandt came out of gate with heat, dusting Ackley and Seager in the bottom of the first. The freshman, who hadn't lost since March 29, couldn't sustain the effort.

Seager delivered a two-run single in the third, after a costly two-out walk to Ben Bunting, to post Warren to a 2-0 advantage. Then, just like Saturday's game, the Pirates unraveled in the sixth inning.

The Heels put up seven runs in the sixth inning of Saturday's 10-1 win and they went for five runs in the sixth on Sunday.

A leadoff double to catcher Mark Fleury chased Brandt in the sixth. Righty Brad Mincey summarily gave up two runs and left runners on first and second for Ackley. Seth Simmons came in to face UNC's All-American first baseman, who ripped his 22nd home run for a 7-0 lead.

Ackley appeared to be fooled on the full-count slider but was able to hit the ball hard enough the other way to get it out of the park.

"There's a reason he's one of the best hitters in college baseball," Godwin said.

The big inning crushed the spirit of the healthy contingent of ECU fans at Boshamer Stadium, which boosted the attendance to 4,271.

The Pirates posted three runs in the eighth to cut the lead to 8-3. Devin Harris, the hero from regional comeback against South Carolina, drilled a ball deep to left that could have made it 8-5, but it landed harmlessly Bunting's mitt.

"It hurts," Godwin said, "but our guys had a great run."

UNC's continues to Omaha. The first three trips ended without the title. On Sunday, the Heels were only worried about the moment, not the one to come.

"We're just living the dream right now," senior centerfielder Mike Cavasinni said.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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