With their backs against the wall, the Diamond Heels came through in the clutch.

Colby Wilkerson hit a game-tying RBI single in the top of the ninth and Alex Madera singled home the go-ahead run in the 10th to give Carolina an unforgettable 4-3 win against LSU in the NCAA Regional Final on Monday night at Boshamer Stadium. UNC will host West Virginia in the Super Regionals this coming weekend.

Carolina took an early 2-0 lead, but the Tigers steadily clawed back with a run in the first, second and third innings to take a 3-2 lead. The score stayed that way all the way until the ninth, as the Tar Heel bats couldn’t find any inroads against LSU reliever Will Hellmers. Hellmers finished the night with 5.2 shutout innings and just two hits allowed.

In the ninth, LSU brought in ace Gage Jump, who had started the Tigers’ regional opener on Friday. Gavin Gallaher immediately took advantage, lacing a double down the line to lead off the frame. He stayed at second base after an Alex Madera bunt with two strikes trickled just foul down the third base line — in other words, a strikeout. But Gallaher would come home to score when Wilkerson worked an eight-pitch at-bat into a soft single to left field, scoring the tying run and sending Boshamer into a frenzy.

In the bottom of the ninth and with LSU at bat with a chance to walk it off, Dalton Pence kept the Tigers off the board despite a one-out single. That set the stage for more Tar Heel heroics in the top of the 10th, as Johnny Castagnozzi – who was only in the game because he pinch hit for Luke Stevenson in the eighth inning – sent a deep fly ball to right field. The LSU right fielder tracked the ball but then appeared to lose it in the lights; he leapt to catch it and it glanced off his glove. Castagnozzi ended up at second base, and the Tigers intentionally walked Gallaher to face Madera. The Division 3 transfer made them pay, sending a single back up the middle to give Carolina its first lead since the second inning.

Pence strode back out to the mound, facing top of the Tigers order, starting with hard-hitting slugger – and former NC State standout – Tommy White. Pence induced fly outs from White and Steven Milam (who’d hit a walk-off home run for LSU on Friday) before issuing a walk to Jared Jones. The regional-winning run came to the plate in the form of Josh Pearson, and he sent a deep fly ball to center field. But it died short of the fence, and Vance Honeycutt corralled it for the final out of the game.

UNC will move into the Super Regionals for the second time in the last three seasons. The Tar Heels bring with them a 45-14 overall record and a 35-3 mark at Boshamer Stadium. Carolina is seeking its first College World Series appearance since 2018.

The Diamond Heels will face the Mountaineers on Friday and Saturday in Chapel Hill, with a third game on Sunday if necessary. Game 1 will have a first pitch at 6 p.m. and Game 2 will begin at 8 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium, with both games being broadcast on ESPN2 and streamed on the ESPN app.


Featured image via UNC Baseball on Twitter

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