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.
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