North Carolina 6, Western Carolina 5– Another dramatic 9th inning comeback by the Tar Heels. I rushed to this game from my class, and was welcomed in the same way the regional began: a scorching hot and humid day that sent many spectators for the shade of the pavilion in the back of the stadium. Heat aside, it was a near picture-perfect day for baseball.
The Tar Heels got off to an early start, scoring a run in each of the first two innings and ultimately taking a 3-0 lead in the middle of the 4th inning. But then the Catamount offense started clicking in the bottom of the fourth, as starting pitcher Luke Putkonen began to struggle. Two key mistakes, a HBP by Putkonen and a fielding error by 3rd baseman Chad Flack, led to an RBI single by Johnathan Greene and a 2 RBI double in left field by Nick Liles, respectively. Putkonen was able to eventually get out of the inning, but WCU took a 4-3 lead.
After Blake Murphy hit a solo home run and the Catamounts put another player on base, Putkonene was pulled from the game and replaced by reliever Rob Wooten. He did an excellent job keeping the Tar Heels in the game, pitching 3.2 innings of relief without giving up a run.
The Tar Heels floundered offensively until the 7th inning, when UNC loaded the bases for Tim Federowicz, who hit a two-out RBI single to cut the deficit to 5-4. Unfortunately, Josh Horton Struck on the next at bat, stranding all three baserunners and relinquishing a golden opportunity late in the game.
The Tar Heels would get one last chance in the 9th inning. Mike Cavsinni (pinch running for Tim Fedroff) and Dustin Ackley were on second and third with two outs, and Western Carolina brought in pitcher Chris Masters to pitch to Horton. Josh hit a line drive into deep right center, bringing in the two runs to take a 6-5 lead and sending the Boshamer crowd wild. Andrew Carignan slammed the door in the bottom of the 9th, giving UNC the 6-5 win.
The Tar Heels wil host the Super Regional this weekend against South Carolina for the rights to go to Omaha for the College World Series. You can bet that I’ll be there.