NCAA Baseball: UNC 7, Stanford 5: Tar Heels headed for CWS
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL —To listen to Mike Fox, his North Carolina players have been a confident bunch that didn’t let many things bother them all season.
The Tar Heels had plenty of chances to prove their coach right Saturday. They blew most of a five-run lead in the eighth inning. They sat through a 31/2-hour weather delay. They came out of the stoppage to face a first-round draft pick on the mound, clinging to a one-run lead.
And yet, the Tar Heels are heading back to the College World Series after a 7-5 win against Stanford in the NCAA Super Regionals.
“I told them three or four weeks ago this was just something I felt, deep inside, that we were going to go back,” Fox said. “And they did it. … It’s kind of fitting. We never have done much the easy way. It’s been the hard way all year long.”
The formula for Saturday’s Game 2 in the best-of-3 series was much the same as in Friday’s 5-2 win in the opener. Starter Kent Emanuel followed a strong performance in last weekend’s regionals with another stellar start for the Tar Heels (50-14). They got enough hits to build a lead behind their starter, then got a timely one — this time from Jacob Stallings — to add some extra cushion late.
The new wrinkle came with the Tar Heels leading 6-5 with two out in the top of the ninth inning. Officials stopped the game shortly before lightning and heavy rain rolled through the region, a delay that ultimately might have drained momentum for Stanford (35-22) after Austin Wilson’s three-run double in the eighth.
Regardless, Fox saw a relaxed team in the locker room. Stallings even joined him in the weight room to watch some of the other televised super regional games, then promised that second baseman Tommy Coyle would find a way to get on base after the restart and he would follow with a hit.
“They don’t let a whole lot faze them,” Fox said. “The 31/2-hour rain delay, I go in there and they’re having wrestling matches. They just find a way to entertain themselves and they really like each other. So that was a fun 31/2 hours for them, I think.”
The scenario played out just as Stallings predicted. Coyle earned a walk against Stanford reliever Chris Reed — the 16th overall pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers last week — and Stallings followed with a liner over the outstretched glove of a leaping Kenny Diekroeger that scored Levi Michael for a 7-5 lead.
The weather delay “wasn’t a problem for their hitter,” Stanford coach Mark Marquess quipped. “It was the same for both teams.”
Stallings also had a two-run single to left field in the seventh inning that pushed the lead to 6-1 for a three-RBI game, while Brian Holberton added a two-run double that hugged the right-field line in the fourth and put the Tar Heels ahead for good.
Reliever Michael Morin closed the game by getting Stephen Piscotty to groundout, sending the Tar Heels spilling out of the dugout to mob each other in a celebration that came more than seven hours after the first pitch.
The Tar Heels reached the College World Series for four straight seasons from 2006-09, but lost in the regionals at Oklahoma last season. They rolled through last weekend’s regionals at Boshamer Stadium by a combined score of 27-3, then rode strong pitching performances from Emanuel (8-1) and Friday starter Patrick Johnson to return to Omaha.
Fox missed the regionals as his mother, Barbara, died after a second bout with cancer. He returned this week to practice and said he just wanted to focus on the Stanford series, though his players knew their coach was still grieving.
“I can’t even imagine going through that and still trying to come out here and give your complete focus to your team,” Stallings said. “It’s something I will always remember, just him doing it.”
It marked only the fifth time the Tar Heels had reached 50 victories while Emanuel became the first freshman in school history to win two postseason games.
Emanuel regrouped after a slow start and held Stanford to five hits and one run with five strikeouts in six innings. But Stanford starter Jordan Pries (6-6) struggled to put the ball over the plate and lasted just 31/3 innings a week after being the Fullerton regional’s MVP.