CHAPEL HILL – Every fan who saw it or heard it will remember it for a long time: the No. 1 Carolina baseball team blew a four-run ninth-inning lead, but rallied back from two- and three-run deficits to knock off the Florida Atlantic Owls, 12-11, in an epic 13-inning victory to advance to the NCAA Super Regional.
After a two-hour rain delay, big leads blown by both teams, home run after home run and big play after big play, the hit that won it was a bases-loaded, one-out single off the bat of Cody Stubbs.
The Tar Heels got the scoring started in the bottom of the first, as Colin Moran doubled in Landon Lassiter for a 1-0 lead. The Owls struck back quickly in the top of the second with a two-run homer by Corey Keller—the first of two he would hit in the game—but that would be all the scoring Florida Atlantic would muster until the ninth.
Chaz Frank tied the game in the bottom of the second inning, driving in Michael Russell with an RBI single—and then the Tar Heels appeared to roll from there. Carolina took a two-run lead in the third as Cody Stubbs scored on a Skye Bolt single and Russell scored again on a wild pitch; then the Heels went up 5-2 in the fifth on an RBI single from Mike Zolk. On the mound, Trent Thornton relieved starting pitcher Chris Munnelly in the fourth and shut the Owls down with four scoreless innings.
The Tar Heels took a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh on a Chaz Frank RBI single, and Kent Emanuel took the mound in the top of the ninth needing only to hold a four-run lead. But Emanuel gave up a quick home run to Corey Keller, then loaded the bases and walked in a second run to make it 6-4.
Benton Moss came in to relieve Emanuel with the bases loaded and two outs—Carolina just one out away from the Super Regional—and then Tyler Rocklein stepped to the plate and silenced the crowd with a grand-slam homer to give FAU an 8-6 lead.
For a while, the Heels appeared to be set for a massive upset loss—but Cody Stubbs led off the bottom of the ninth with a double and Russell followed with a single, then Mike Zolk followed two batters later with a one-out, two-run single to tie the score at 8.
Chris McCue took the mound for the Heels and retired six batters through the tenth and eleventh. But Hugh Adams countered with two scoreless innings for the Owls after blowing the ninth-inning save, and in the top of the twelfth McCue ran into trouble, putting two runners on with a hit batsman and a walk. That brought up Levi Meyer, who sent a three-run homer into the seats to give the Owls another big lead, 11-8.
And for a few minutes, it looked like that would be the final nail in the coffin—but the Heels struck back yet again in the bottom of the twelfth, loading the bases on two singles and a walk, then scoring two on a pair of bases-loaded walks to Cody Stubbs and Michael Russell. Two batters later, Mike Zolk stepped to the plate and delivered again, another single to score Brian Holberton.
Stubbs was thrown out trying to score the winning run behind him and the Owls got out of the inning without any further damage, but both teams had tallied three runs in an unbelievable twelfth—and after Carolina used three pitchers to hold Florida Atlantic scoreless in the top of the thirteenth, the Heels loaded the bases again for Cody Stubbs, who delivered the game-winning single.
The final numbers: Carolina scored 12 runs on 21 hits; Florida Atlantic tallied 11 runs on 12 hits. Mike Zolk led the way for Carolina with three hits and four RBIs, including those two clutch game-tying hits in the ninth and twelfth. Landon Lassiter and Cody Stubbs both had four hits and three runs. Reilly Hovis got the win; he was the last man standing on the mound for the Heels, striking out the final batter in the top of the thirteenth (after relieving Hobbs Johnson, who came in to face a hitter even after pitching six innings the day before).
Some bad news came with the good, though: after the game, head coach Mike Fox told reporters that catcher Matt Roberts broke a finger in his throwing hand. The injury had knocked him out of the game.
With the victory, UNC wins the NCAA regional and moves on to the Super Regional, where they’ll host South Carolina. The first game of the best-of-three series begins on Friday at 1:00 p.m. in Boshamer Stadium.