Vanderbilt ends Heels' run in College World Series

CorrespondentJune 22, 2011 

— North Carolina’s College World Series game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday came down to two swings of the bat.

The Commodores’ Connor Harrell connected on his, resulting in a three-run homer that was the big blow in Vanderbilt’s 5-1 win at TD Ameritrade Park.

North Carolina’s Jacob Stallings missed on his, striking out and leaving the bases loaded in the fifth inning in what turned out to be the Tar Heels’ last gasp against winning pitcher Taylor Hill.

“He was able to make the big pitches in big situations,’’ said Stallings, who played with Hill during the Cape Cod League. “In big situations, he kind of elevated his game a little bit.’’

Stallings had doubled in his first two at-bats before coming to the plate with the bases loaded and his team trailing by four in the fifth inning. Hill needed just four pitches to get out of the jam, and North Carolina never advanced a runner past first in the final four innings against Hill and reliever Corey Williams.

North Carolina coach Mike Fox, whose team ended its season 51-16, admitted Hill’s strikeout of Stallings deflated the Tar Heels, who struggled to come through with runners on base in their three games in Omaha.

“You're down four and you have the bases loaded and you're thinking to yourself one swing of the bat and we're right back in the game,’’ Fox said. “We were in that situation several times while we were out here, and it just didn’t happen for us.’’

North Carolina left 34 runners on base in losing twice to Vanderbilt and beating Texas in a Monday elimination game. The Tar Heels hit .179 (7 of 39) with runners in scoring position.

“You've got to tip your hat to the pitchers,’’ Fox said. “It’s a one-on-one battle. Sometimes the pitcher wins, sometimes the hitter wins. That's probably what will be written about.

“We left a lot of people on base out here for three games, but a lot of that has to do with the other team, and we were facing some pretty good arms. It didn't happen for us, and after that we didn't muster up a whole lot.’’

Hill, a sixth-round draft pick of the Washington Nationals, held North Carolina to four hits in his seven innings of work. He walked four and struck out four, while Williams pitched two hitless innings to finish off the win that advances Vanderbilt (54-11) into Friday’s Bracket One championship game against Florida.

The Commodores jumped on North Carolina starter Greg Holt to take a 1-0 lead two batters into the first inning. Tony Kemp led off with a triple and Anthony Gomez brought him home with a sacrifice fly.

Harrell made it 4-0 in the second when he hit his ninth homer, and his second against North Carolina, after Holt had given up a single to Mike Yastrzemski and walked Conrad Gregor.

“The wind was a factor tonight,’’ said Harrell, referring to a 23 mph wind blowing out to center field. “I just tried to get my hands extended and get that ball into the jet stream.’’

Curt Casali made it 5-0 in the third when he hit his seventh homer. North Carolina, which had wasted Stallings' doubles in the second and fourth innings, got a run in the fifth but squandered an even bigger chance.

The Tar Heels sandwiched a walk to Seth Baldwin in between singles by Brian Holbertson and Chaz Frank to load the bases against Hill with one out. Holbertson scored on Ben Bunting’s infield grounder that advanced the other runners to second and third.

Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin elected to intentionally walk Colin Moran, the Tar Heels’ leading hitter and a left-handed hitter, in order to have Hill pitch to the right-handed-hitting Stallings.

“I wasn't surprised they walked Colin,’’ Stallings said. “He's been great for us all year. He had 70-some RBIs, and I knew it was a right-on-right match-up, so it probably just ended up being the smart thing to do.

“I got a first pitch slider, and it was the best pitch of the at-bat to hit, and I just missed it. Taylor really kind of bumped up during that at-bat. His stuff was a lot better just that whole at-bat than it has been in my previous times.’’

Stallings took a called second strike before fouling off the next pitch. He then swung through Hill’s fourth pitch.

“He had hit an 0-2 slider in the first at-bat really well,’’ Hill said. “Then the next at-bat he hit an away fastball the other way.

“I was just trying to move it in and out. I was fortunate enough to have him swing through it.’’

Frank’s hit was the last North Carolina would get. Hill put a runner on base in the seventh with a walk, and Williams hit a batter in the eighth and walked one in the ninth but the Tar Heels couldn’t advance any of them past first.

When Franz flied out in the ninth, it brought a finish to a season that many never thought would end in Omaha. The Tar Heels made four straight trips to the CWS from 2006 to 2009 but stumbled last season, and prospects at the start of the season weren’t exceedingly bright, he said.

“This is a credit to our players and how committed they were just to make it this far,’’ Fox said. “It's obviously very difficult to win the national championship, and we gave it all we had.

“I'm proud that we were able to end our season in Omaha in the College World Series, and these guys got to experience it. I had a great group. I had a great group. They were fun to be around, and they taught me a great deal, especially our seniors. They taught me a lot.’’

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