CHAPEL HILL — When South Carolina shortstop Joey Pankake hit a two-out fly ball, everyone at Boshamer Stadium assumed North Carolina centerfielder Chaz Frank would catch it to strand two runners and end the fifth inning.
After all, Frank had made just three errors in 172 chances entering the game, and he was camped under this one.
Pankake slowly jogged out of the batter’s box, frustrated that he had missed a chance to cut into the Tar Heels’ 2-1 lead.
Except Frank dropped the ball. Two Gamecocks runners scored on the error, giving South Carolina a 3-2 lead.
“It was a routine fly ball and I thought I had it,” Frank said. “It just hit the bottom of my glove and slipped out. Crazy things like that happen. It was bad timing.”
In the decisive game of the best-of-three Super Regional, that could have been the last memory for the senior at Boshamer Stadium.
After South Carolina added another run in the top of the sixth inning, it looked bleaker for the Tar Heels. After being shut out for the first time in 96 games on Sunday, North Carolina had mustered three hits through the games first five innings.
“It’s the worst feeling ever.” Frank said.
But Frank’s teammates made sure Frank’s college career didn’t end with the dropped fly ball.
“I really didn’t want the play with Chaz to decide the game,” third baseman Colin Moran said. “Knowing it was his last home game for him and all the seniors, the last thing I wanted was something like that to be the last memory.”
After North Carolina designated hitter Landon Lassiter began the bottom of the sixth with a leadoff single, Moran laced an RBI triple down the right field line.
The Tar Heels sent nine hitters to the plate and scored three runs to regain the lead.
“Everybody came up and said, ‘We’ve got you, we’re going to pick you up, we’re going to win this ballgame.,” Frank said. “It’s very comforting to feel that.”
Now Frank and the Tar Heels are headed back to the College World Series.
“Everybody wanted to win for Chaz, especially after that play… really all the seniors,” Moran said. “We really wouldn’t have been here without Chaz, so it was important to pick him up.”
North Carolina will play rival N.C. State in the first game of the College World Series. This trip to Omaha will be the second for Frank and the other North Carolina seniors. In 2011, North Carolina went 1-2 in Omaha.
“Right now he’s [Chaz] the happiest person on the planet, there’s not question about that,” coach Mike Fox said. “I felt sadness at the time because Chaz has meant a lot to our program in four years and I knew how he felt. I’m so glad we got it done.”
Frank says the only play he can remember that was as embarrassing as Tuesday’s error was during the College World Series in 2011 where he sent a throw sailing into the stands.
“It ended up on the (SportsCenter) ‘Not Top 10,’” Frank said with a laugh. “I’ll probably find myself there again.”