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‘Cardiac Carolina’ Comes Up Just Short In Special Season

OMAHA, NE – “The end of the year, it always stinks.” 

Those were UNC Head coach Mike Fox’s sentiments following Friday’s disappointing 4-1 loss to UCLA that knocked the Tar Heels out of the College World Series.

Let’s be honest. There is never a good time to lose. But there can only be one team who doesn’t end their season on a loss. It is both the intrigue and cruelty of postseason tournament play. A team that dominates all season (much like Carolina), can see their season end abruptly at any time. And baseball only exacerbates this effect, as sometimes all it takes is a hot ace on the mound to befuddle the best of lineups.

And unfortunately, the Diamond Heels’ designs on getting their hands on the program’s first NCAA College World Series title fell through late Friday evening, but not before an attempt at a signature ninth inning rally that this UNC squad seemingly patented in their 2013 campaign. Heck, the Heels practically turned the miraculous into the mundane with their late-game heroics, especially late in the season.

“What we did in the ninth inning is just indicative of our kids and how we played all year,” Mike Fox reflected postgame.

Boy, that statement could not ring any truer.

Can you recall the ACC tournament? In what felt like a full mini-season all to itself, UNC survived back-to-back extra inning ballgames against Clemson and NC State just to advance to the championship game where they ultimately defeated the Hokies of Virginia Tech. The sheer will and determination of the UNC squad was put on full display in those late night, no, early morning nail biting contests needed just to secure their own conference crown.

And then it was on to the NCAA tournament. As the number one overall seed, the Tar Heels undoubtedly felt a mountain of pressure along with having a gigantic target on their backs for other upstart teams. And it showed. Unheralded Florida Atlantic forced UNC to an elimination game.

The heart of a champion came out once again for the Tar Heels as they rallied back on multiple occasions to survive the home run barrages of the FAU squad to advance and win a game that Fox remarked was one of the greatest ones he had ever been a part of.

Super Regionals came next. North Carolina’s neighbors to the South were on deck. And wow, what a series it was. Not surprisingly, the Tar Heels found themselves knee deep in another elimination game. And they came up with the goods once again, scraping out a 5-4 decision over the ever-tough South Carolina Gamecocks to yet again book their tickets to Omaha.

The adversity the Tar Heels team continually faced this postseason was matched and exceeded by their “never say die” attitudes that cannot be taught. This team had more fight in them than Mike Tyson. The team thrived with their backs against the wall. Houdini-esque escapes were all but routine. And maybe it finally caught up to them on Friday night. Who knows?

But let’s remember the 2013 Diamond Heels for their admirable fighting spirit and all their unbelievable accomplishments including a school record 59 wins, a school record for most runs scored in a season, the ACC regular season and tournament titles, and another trip to Omaha.

Coach Fox, himself, dubbed this year’s squad “a coach’s dream.” He went on to add that it had been one of his most fun seasons. And this is coming from a man who has been at the helm of Tar Heel baseball since 1999. Just think of all the remarkable teams we have witnessed since then.

So let’s take a cue from Mr. Fox and savor what we have witnessed. What a wild ride it has been. Tar Heel nation was treated to so many unforgettable thrills along the way. And yes, there was no championship ring at the end of the day. But sometimes, in life and in baseball, it is the journey it took to even get there in the first place that ends up being the sweetest part of all.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/cardiac-carolina-comes-up-just-short-in-special-season/

UCLA defeats Wolfpack 2-1 at College World Series

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Nick Vander Tuig scattered four hits over seven-plus innings and UCLA produced just enough offense to defeat North Carolina State 2-1 in the College World Series on Tuesday night.

UCLA (46-17) moved within one victory of next week’s best-of-three finals. The Wolfpack (50-15) will play an elimination game against North Carolina on Thursday.

UCLA used two walks, two singles and a wild pitch to scratch out a couple runs and go up 2-1 in the fifth. Two innings before, Vander Tuig tagged out a runner at the plate to keep the Wolfpack from adding to a 1-0 lead.

Vander Tuig (13-4) retired 13 of 14 batters heading into the eighth inning. David Berg came on after Vander Tuig gave up a leadoff single to Bryan Adametz. Berg worked out of trouble in the eighth and earned his NCAA record-tying 23rd save.

NC State starter Logan Jernigan (1-1) took the loss.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/state/ucla-defeats-wolfpack-2-1-at-college-world-series/

Freshman Trent Thornton To Take The Mound

OMAHA, NE – Notwithstanding its loss to NC State on Sunday, the Carolina baseball team is still in Omaha this week in pursuit of its first-ever College World Series title. And quite a few Triangle-area residents made the trip with them–including Tom Jensen, the team’s unofficial “superfan.”

“There’s actually a really positive vibe around the team, even after what happened (Sunday),” Jensen says. “This is a team that has shown an ability to bounce back from adversity all year, and these guys really feel like they can still do this. And we (fans) will do whatever we can to help them.”

Most of the time, Jensen’s better known as the director of Public Policy Polling, the Raleigh-based firm that’s fast developing a reputation as the most accurate pollster in the nation. But during baseball season, he’s more likely to be on national TV as the most visible (and audible) member of the Tar Heel fan base.

“It’s funny,” he says about his dual role. “I definitely have people recognize me on the street (and) in the grocery store as the Superfan–(but) nobody has ever come up to me in the grocery store and been like, ‘oh, man, you’re the pollster!'”

Though he’s the face of the Carolina fandom, Jensen’s not the only one in Nebraska wearing Carolina blue: he says he figures UNC has the second-largest fan base at the College World Series this year, behind only LSU. (Even Roy Williams made the trek to Omaha: Jensen says the basketball coach was in the stands for Sunday’s game.)

And while the Tar Heels have their backs against the wall after Sunday’s 8-1 loss to the Wolfpack, Jensen says he’ll never count out this year’s team after all the adversity they’ve already overcome. Nevertheless, he says even if the Heels don’t come home with a CWS title, it’s been a memorable season nonetheless.

“It’s a wonderful group of people,” he says. I’ve been around this program hardcore for eight years now, (and) we’ve never had a group of kids and parents as special as this year.

“And regardless of what happens the rest of the week, it’s just been one amazing ride.”

The Tar Heels face LSU on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. in a must-win game for both teams; Trent Thornton will get the start for Carolina. WCHL will broadcast the game in full on Tuesday; it’ll also stream live on Chapelboro.com.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-superfan-jensen-its-just-been-one-amazing-ride/

Fans Send-Off Omaha-Bound Carolina Baseball

CHAPEL HILL – The Carolina Baseball team headed out for the College World Series in Omaha Thursday morning. Fans came out to wish the Diamond Heels luck in their journey, with big hopes of bringing home the program’s first NCAA Championship.

“I’m just watching all of our freshman—this is a first time for them. To see how excited they are in the locker room, they don’t know what to expect,” said UNC head coach Mike Fox.

It’s his sixth time in 15 years as Carolina’s head coach to take the team to the CWS.

Freshman Skye Bolt says he’s been to Omaha a few times as a fan, but can’t wait to take to the diamond as a player for the first time.

Female fans, with huge smiles on their faces, crowded around the outfielder before he joined his teammates on the bus.

“It’s a sign of the appreciation that they have for us and we have for them. They’ve been packing the house all year. It’s good to see them come out and be excited like we are too. It’s a family group effort,” Bolt said.

Bolt, who battled back from a fractured right foot this season, drove-in the winning run against South Carolina in game one of Super Regional. He says he’s ready to face ACC rival NC State in Carolina’s CWS opener on Sunday.

“I don’t think we needed to travel 5,000 plus miles to play them. We could just head down the road, but I think it couldn’t have been scripted any better to open up our trip out there,” Bolt said.

UNC claimed the season series against the Wolfpack, 2-1, thanks to a 2-1 win in an 18 inning thriller in the ACC Tournament.

The teams had previously split the regular season series in Raleigh, with game three getting rained out.

“We know each other pretty well. We don’t have to do a scouting report, that is for sure,” Fox said.

One of the fans who will be cheering from home as the Heels face take-on the Wolfpack is six-year-old Will Cooper.

“I wanted to come see the Tar Heels leave for Omaha because I’m a big, huge Tar Heel fan. I love the Tar Heels so much! My favorite player is Cody Stubbs, Cooper said.

Cooper got his wish to meet Stubbs and even get his baseball signed by the first baseman.

Stubbs, a senior who transferred to UNC after for his junior season, will travel to Omaha for the first time

“I don’t know if it will feel completely real until we step off the plane. It’s something I’ve dreamt about since I was a little kid.” Stubbs said.

To make it to the CWS, the ACC Regular Season and ACC tournament Champs have had to make big comebacks, and fight through extra innings, and rain delays during post-season play.

“You can just go back and watch all of our games, from the Regional to the Super Regional, nothing was easy, nothing was given to us. It certainly was a great challenge but it was a special one for me and I’ve enjoyed every second of it,” Stubbs said.

Carolina is no stranger to Omaha, sitting at a record of 15-19 all-time in the CWS.  The Heels advanced to the final series in 2006 and 2007, losing both years to Oregon State.

“Out there on that stage, it’s more about being there and being in Omaha you opponent is your opponent and everyone is good,” Fox said.

First pitch is set for 3 p.m. Sunday against the Wolfpack.  WCHL and Chapelboro.com will be broadcasting and live-streaming all of the action.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/fans-send-off-omaha-bound-carolina-baseball/

Omaha-Bound Heels Def. Gamecocks, 5-4

Photo Courtesy: Go Heels

CHAPEL HILL – UNC rallied with a three-run sixth inning Tuesday to edge South Carolina, 5-4, and earn a trip to the College World Series for the sixth time in the last eight years. By surviving the Super Regional, the top-seeded Tar Heels will travel halfway across the country to face rival N.C. State this Sunday at 3 p.m. in Omaha.

“I just can’t remember some of the other ways we got there [to the College World Series].  This one is sweet. This one is very special,” UNC Head Coach Mike Fox said. “It doesn’t really matter how you get there. Baseball is a tough game and you never know how it will go. At the end of that day, we are going. That is the most important thing.”

It was Colin Moran’s RBI triple that sparked the comeback to give the Heels the victory, scoring Landon Lassiter to cut the South Carolina lead to 4-3.

A throwing error by Gamecock pitcher Adam Westmoreland allowed Moran to score the tying run.

Westmoreland, who had hit Skye Bolt with a pitch, then walked catcher Brian Holberton and second baseman Mike Zolk to load the bases. He was replaced by lefty Tyler Webb, who took left fielder Parks Jordan to a full count before walking him on an inside pitch to force in Bolt with what proved to be the winning run.

The Tar Heels shut out the Gamecocks in their last three at bats, with lefty ace Kent Emanuel coming in to nail down the save by getting the last two outs in the ninth on just two pitches.

“It didn’t matter if I would have given up 20 runs or thrown a perfect game. It’s always going to be the same. I’m there to compete against the batter and get him out,” Emanuel said. “It really doesn’t factor in to how I pitch, what happens before.”

Trent Thornton (11-1) notched the win, allowing one earned run over 4 2/3 innings after relieving starter Benton Moss in the third. None of UNC’s three starters over the weekend made it through three full innings.

UNC faced freshman lefty Jack Wynkoop, who entered the game with a 7-3 record and 2.92 ERA in 61.2 innings for the Gamecocks. Westmoreland went 3 1/3 innings but sealed his own fate as the loser with his errant throw and by hitting Bolt in the sixth.

South Carolina took an early lead with a run in the second, but Holberton blasted a two-run homer over the right field fence in the bottom of the second.

The Gamecocks regained the lead in the fifth when Tar Heel centerfielder Chaz Frank dropped a fly ball, allowing two runs to score.

“I just told them to relax. It’s not a big deal,” Thornton said about how how he maintained his composure following the error. “We knew we would comeback. Everybody wanted to win it for Chaz, especially after that play.”

The visitors from the Southeastern Conference added a single run in the top half of the sixth, setting up the dramatic rally to follow.

After throwing 88 pitches, Thornton was relieved by Chris McCue in the eighth.

In the top of the ninth, after McCue walked the potential tying run, Emanuel got DH LB Dantzler to fly out to left on the first pitch and catcher Grayson Greiner to force the runner at second on his next pitch. Emanuel, who has now thrown 240 pitches in the NCAA tournament, has at least four days rest before his first start in the 2013 College World Series.

Carolina improved to 57-10 while the Gamecocks finish the season at 43-20. The Tar Heels are expected to face N.C. State ace lefthander Carlos Rodon in their CWS opener Sunday at 3 p.m.

 

Hear the full-press conference:

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/omaha-bound-heels-def-gamecocks-5-4-2/