North Carolina dispatched one familiar foe Tuesday only to set up a meeting with another.
The Tar Heels scored three runs in the sixth inning to pull out a 5-4 win against South Carolina in the decisive third game of the Chapel Hill, N.C., Super Regional. The win puts North Carolina in the College World Series for the sixth time in eight years while denying the Gamecocks a fourth straight trip to Omaha.
“It's almost unimaginable that if you go back to 2006 that one of the two programs have been in Omaha the last eight years,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “And sometimes both of us were there at the same time.”
The Tar Heels will now travel more than 1,200 miles to Omaha to play a school that sits 28 miles from their Chapel Hill campus. North Carolina faces fellow Atlantic Coast Conference member North Carolina State in Sunday's 2 p.m. game at TD Ameritrade Park.
The teams have played 286 times, most recently in last month's ACC tournament with North Carolina winning 2-1 in 18 innings. Fox joked that his assistants — Scott Forbes and Scott Jackson — might be the people in the state of North Carolina most excited about the matchup.
“They don't have to do a scouting report,” Fox said. “That's the first thing Coach Forbes said when he came in, but they'll watch every game and we know a lot about them.”
The Tar Heels' super-regional win that was twice delayed by weather completed the CWS field. For the third time since the NCAA went to the present tournament format in 1999, the College World Series will include just three of the eight national seeds.
North Carolina's past three wins of the tournament have come by one run apiece. The overall No. 1 seed defeated Florida Atlantic 12-11 in a 13-inning battle in the regional championship game.
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The Tar Heels won the super-regional opener when Skye Bolt drove in the winning run for a 6-5 victory on the game's final pitch. After South Carolina evened the series with an 8-0 win, North Carolina squeezed out a 5-4 win to claim its spot in Omaha.
“This one is sweet,” said Fox when asked about the thrill-a-minute journey through the tournament. “This one is really special.”
Oregon State, the No. 3 national seed, opens the tournament at 2 p.m. Saturday against Mississippi State. Indiana and Louisville play at 7 p.m. Saturday.
No. 4 national seed LSU concludes the first round with a 7 p.m. game Sunday against UCLA.
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On the rewind: Tyler Webb walked North Carolina's Parks Jordan with the bases loaded to force in the winning run as the Tar Heels denied South Carolina a fourth straight trip to Omaha. Jordan's walk capped North Carolina's three-run, sixth-inning rally that overcame the Gamecocks' 4-2 lead.
Big boppers: Brian Holbertson gave North Carolina its first two runs with a homer, but it was Colin Moran's triple that was the big hit in the winning rally. Moran's hit scored Landon Lassiter to trim the deficit to 4-3, and Skye Bolt was hit by a pitch. Cody Stubbs followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Two walks loaded the bases, and Webb, the Gamecocks' relief ace, came on and walked Jordan to finish off the inning.
King of the hill: Freshman Trent Thornton allowed one run over 4 2⁄3 innings to pick up the victory and improve to 11-1. Kent Emanuel finished off Thornton's win by getting two one-pitch outs to record his first career save.
Stat of the day: The teams combined for five errors, including one by North Carolina center fielder Chaz Frank. He dropped a routine fly ball in the fifth inning, allowing the Gamecocks to score two runs.
Quote to note: “I told him to relax, it's not a big deal and we'll come back. Everybody wanted to win for Chaz, especially after that play. We really wouldn't have been here without Chaz, so it was important to pick him up.” — Moran, on how the Tar Heels responded to Frank's costly error.
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