NCAA Baseball: UNC 10, ECU 1
By Aaron Beard
Associated PressCHAPEL HILL ó Mike Fox walked to the mound in the ninth inning to pull starter Alex White after a terrific performance from North Carolina’s ace. He just wasn’t quite prepared for White’s reaction.
“Thanks,” White told him. “I really needed this.”
White stuck out a career-high 12 batters for his first win in six weeks as the Tar Heels beat East Carolina 10-1 to open their NCAA super regional series Saturday. It was a big day for the junior right-hander, who also earned his sixth career NCAA victory to become the program’s winningest postseason pitcher and became just the second Tar Heel to amass 300 career strikeouts.
But more importantly, it was the kind of game White had been waiting for after a frustrating month that included some shaky performances and nagging injuries.
“There was never an option for me not to pitch him if he was healthy,” Fox said. “Our guys feed off of him. He’s a competitor and he doesn’t back down. He wants the ball whether or not he feels good or he’s pitching well. That’s part of the quality of a good leader.”
Kyle Seager had four hits and a home run for the Tar Heels (46-16), the No. 4 national seed. North Carolina went ahead with a pair of runs in the third inning, then blew the game open with seven more in the sixth and can clinch another trip to Omaha by beating the Pirates (46-19) again Sunday in the best-of-three series.
UNC picked up where it left off in last weekend’s romp through the regionals, finishing with 17 hits and scoring at least 10 runs for the third straight game.
White hadn’t won a game since beating Maryland on April 24, and lost his last two starts of the regular season. Then came his worst start of the season when he allowed six hits and eight runs in 2 1-3 innings against Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Things didn’t get much better afterward. He injured his hamstring before the regional, then suffered a blister on his pitching hand in a no-decision against Coastal Carolina.
But White (8-4) went 8 1-3 innings and threw 128 pitches Saturday before leaving the game to a standing ovation from the Tar Heel fans. It might be his last start at Boshamer Stadium since White is projected by many to be a first-round pick in Tuesday’s amateur draft.
“Obviously I always want to go back out, no matter the pitch count,” White said. “I think Coach Fox did a great thing letting me go back out. It’s possibly the last time I’ll play here, who knows? It was just great with the crowd and everything. It was an emotional moment and I enjoyed it.”
Brandon Henderson hit a solo home run in the second for the Pirates, who didn’t get much else against White. East Carolina led off the sixth with consecutive singles, but White got out of the jam by striking out Devin Harris then forcing Dustin Harrington to ground into a double play.
“We’re talking about one of the best pitchers in the country,” East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said. “That’s what we were up against. Heck, once he settled in he may have beaten the Yankees today.”
Levi Michael added three hits for North Carolina, which improved to 17-1 at home in the NCAAs over the past four years.
Seth Maness (9-3) took the loss, allowing 13 hits and six earned runs in five innings.
The game between instate rivals drew a sellout crowd of 4,316, a Boshamer Stadium record.
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