UNC downs Houston to move to NCAA baseball super regionals
After winning its game against Purdue Sunday afternoon at 4:44 p.m., Houston had until 6 p.m. to prepare for its next game against top seeded North Carolina.
Houston seemed prepared, but UNC was too.
The Tar Heels had nearly 24 hours to rest after beating the Cougars the night before. UNC scored nine runs in the first four innings and held on to beat Houston 19-11 on Sunday evening.
The 19 runs was the most UNC had ever scored in a NCAA tournament game.
The win means UNC (41-18) will advance to the Super Regional Round of the NCAA tournament, a feat that has eluded it for the last five years. It is the first time UNC has advanced this far in the tournament since 2013. Last season, as a No. 2 national seed, the Tar Heels were expected to advance from its regional but was upset by Davidson.
For many of the players on that team, it was their first time in the NCAA tournament. Before 2017, UNC hadn't made it to the tournament since 2013.
Many of the players on that team returned for this season with the experience from last year.
"Quite honestly I think everybody is just sick and tired about hearing about last year," UNC coach Mike Fox said after the win. "2017 is over. It's officially over now...We knew the only way we can get past that was to win a Regional. And maybe that will be flushed forever."
In order to get to the Super Regional Round, No. 1 UNC had to win three games. On Friday, it beat No. 4 N.C. A&T 11-0. On Saturday, it beat No. 3 Houston 4-3, and then Sunday's result of 19-11 over Houston again.
Sunday's game was much different than the first matchup between these two teams. The first game was a pitcher's duel. The latter was a slug fest.
On this day, hits were plenty. The two teams combined for 35 hits. The Tar Heels had 18, while the Cougars had 17.
UNC led after one inning 1-0, after junior Kyle Datres hit a solo home run to lead off the game. Houston answered back in the top of the second inning with two runs of its own. The Cougars added another run in the top of the third inning after Jared Triolo hit a solo home run.
But the Tar Heels answered back in a big way in the bottom of the inning. The answer started with junior outfielder Josh Ladowski, who led off the inning with a double to left field. Datres hit a single to left field to advance Ladowski to third base.
Sophomore first baseman Michael Busch hit a single that drove in Ladowski. Datres scored on a wild pitch. And two batters later, junior outfielder Brandon Riley hit a single that drove in Busch, as UNC took the lead back 4-3.
It didn't stop there.
The Tar Heels added two more runs after an error by Houston's second baseman Connor Hollis to take a 6-3 lead after three innings.
The Tar Heels added three more runs in the fourth inning to go up 9-3. Houston would add more runs, but each time it did, UNC would answer. From there, the Cougars never got closer than three runs.
"It was a crazy game, but we did what we needed to do to win a regional here," Fox said. "So it's exciting."
UNC pitcher Austin Bergner was credited with the win. He pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up eight hits and three earned runs, while striking out three batters.
No. 6 national seeded UNC (41-18) will next host No. 11 national seeded Stetson (48-11) in the Super Regionals in a best of three game series next week.
Datres said the team is no longer worried about what happened last season.
"We're just focused on this team," Datres said. "We're not done yet. We still got Super (Regionals) to take care of, and we want to get to Omaha and make some noise there."
Senior infielder Zack Gahagan agreed.
"This team is amazing. We just keep battling and sticking together and the bond we have is pretty good," he said, "and hopefully we'll keep it going."