CHAPEL HILL — After the initial euphoria and ensuing dogpile of victory in Tuesdays Super Regional final, the announcer at North Carolinas Boshamer Stadium read aloud the Tar Heels next opponent: N.C. State.
The crowd booed.
And that was the beginning of the build-up to Sundays College World Series game between the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack, likely a final chapter in the 2013 edition of the long and storied rivalry.
Lose the first game in the double-elimination tournament, and the path to a title becomes much tougher. So the stakes are arguably the highest for any State-Carolina game, in any sport, since the days when only the ACC Tournament champion in basketball advanced in postseason play.
Ive enjoyed that rivalry for a long time, N.C. State head coach Elliott Avent said. Youve got to understand, I grew up an N.C. State fan. State-Carolina basketball games, football games, Ive been there. Its fun.
Avent attended State during the 1970s, some of the prime years for rivalry games between the two schools. North Carolina head coach Mike Fox, who played for the Tar Heels in the late 1970s, has fond memories of that era, too.
In order to have the special rivalries, youve got to have both teams at a high level, said former star Wolfpack point guard Chris Corchiani. For the most part, we havent held our side of the bargain.
Tweets from Scotty
That hasnt been an issue this year, which has been a renaissance of sorts for the rivalry. Tar Heel head football coach Larry Fedora started a public countdown months (or 184 days, to be exact) before the two teams met on the gridiron last fall.
That game turned into an instant classic when North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard scored the game-winning touchdown on a punt return in the final seconds. On the hardwood, N.C. State beat UNC in Raleigh, ending a 13-game losing streak.
The three baseball meetings, too, have lived up to the hype. The series in Raleigh sold out days in advance, and the two teams split the first two games before rain washed out the third. The rubber match came in the ACC Tournament, where North Carolina prevailed 2-1 in 18 innings in front of more than 11,000 people, the largest crowd ever for a college baseball game in the state.
For older Carolina and State fans, its always a big game when we play each other in any sport, said former North Carolina basketball star Phil Ford. To me, its always been a big game.
The current Wolfpack and Tar Heels baseball players have embraced the rivalry, just like their predecessors. N.C. State watched the end of the North Carolina-South Carolina Super Regional before practice Tuesday. Senior centerfielder Brett Williams, a New Bern native, said he had watched every second and prayed the Tar Heels would win, setting up the Omaha meeting.
Back in Chapel Hill, Tar Heels shortstop Michael Russell was still riding the emotional high when he checked his phone. He saw this tweet from singer (and N.C. State student) Scotty McCreery: And here we go. Go get it done @NCStateBaseball! #BeatUNCCH.
Without much thought, Russell fired back his public response to McCreery: I thought you were a singer, not a comedian.
There were a few more tweets between the two.
Its a personal type of rivalry on top of it being a school rivalry, Russell said. For football and baseball, Id have to say State is our big-time rival. A ton of kids, most of our team is from North Carolina, a ton of our friends go to N.C. State and Carolina.
Rekindling the memories
The back-and-forth between N.C. State and North Carolina faithful plays out online, in schools and in workplaces full of alumni from both universities. On Sunday, it will continue into area households, restaurants and bars throughout the state, among the young and old, as one team will send the other to the losers bracket and perhaps walk away with bragging rights for the summer.
At Amedeos, off of Western Boulevard and not far from N.C. States campus in Raleigh, the TVs will be turned to baseball come 3 p.m. The longtime Wolfpack hangout, with its floor-to-ceiling displays of historic N.C. State photos and memorabilia, will host a party for fans, some of whom are old enough to remember the days of David Thompson and Dereck Whittenburg, and some who arent.
Longtime Wolfpack supporters such as Dave Parker, who assembles the Wolfpack displays at Amedeos, have told stories to the younger generation about what the rivalry once was. Sunday will serve as an example of what it could be again, as the states two most prominent public universities take their game to a national stage.
Its a huge rivalry, said Wolfpack shortstop Trea Turner, a Florida native who quickly learned its significance. Everyone, regardless of where youre from, everyone gets into it. Its special. Its really fun to be a part of. Im glad I am.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley