The Tar Heels were never as close as 12 years ago.
I will never forget driving home from the beach on Sunday night, June 25, 2006, and feeling on top of the world. I was listening to the radio broadcast of Cinderella Carolina leading Oregon State 5-0 in what would have been the deciding game of the College World Series.
Then I heard one of the Tar Heel Sports Network announcers utter a statement that I hoped wouldn’t be the kiss of death: With a five-run lead and Robert Woodard on the mound, Carolina is in pretty good shape. “Don’t say that!” I yelled into the radio.
Sure enough, the Beavers – having reached the finals from the losers’ bracket – rallied to score seven runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, knocking Woodard out of the game and going on to win 11-7. The teams met in the win-take-all championship game Monday night at the old Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha.
Oregon State jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but the Tar Heels tied the score in the next inning, as the tension mounted. Daniel Bard and Andrew Miller, who would both go one to the Major Leagues, pitched for UNC as the game wound into the eighth inning. The Beavers finally pushed across the winning run on Carolina’s fourth error of the night.
In five subsequent trips to the College World Series, Mike Fox’s teams have never gotten that close again. Now, after a five-year absence, the Diamond Heels are back in Omaha trying to take care of unfinished business against Oregon State.
All the players from that 2006 heartbreaker are gone, and Woodard is now Carolina’s pitching coach. He will be asked about that fateful game, when the radio guys all but pronounced the Tar Heels national champs.
Woodard will say exactly the right thing. It was a long time ago. That was then, and this is now. And he will join his head coach in saying, “Let’s take care of Oregon State right out of the gate Saturday” and move on toward the best-of-three championship series.
Same teams but different decade. Let’s Go Heels!