See also: Box Score
OMAHA–North Carolina’s march through the 2007 postseason has been accompanied by an air of unfinished business.
No matter what kind of adverse circumstances the Tar Heels found themselves in, nothing could deter them from their mission to get another crack at the national championship that barely escaped their grasp a year ago. Even after losing to Rice in their second College World Series game Sunday, the Tar Heels were confident they could win three straight games and find their way back to the finals.
They completed that mission with a 7-4 win against Rice on Thursday night, leaving just one more goal yet to be checked off. Fittingly, UNC will get another crack at defending national champion Oregon State in the best-of-three CWS finals this weekend, starting with Saturday’s opener at 7 p.m. ET.
“To be saying we’ll be playing for the national championship again is really kind of surreal,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “I’m just glad we’re playing. I’m sure everybody else obviously is going to be thrilled the matchup is the same as last year, but we’ll think about that maybe a little bit later. But right now we just want to take a deep breath and be glad we made it through our four-team bracket.”
The Tar Heels did not have an easy road to get through that bracket, having to win three straight games, two of them against the top-ranked Owls. But UNC’s strong starting pitching took most of the drama out of all three victories. Thursday, righthander Adam Warren delivered UNC’s third straight quality start, holding the Owls to three runs on three hits over six-plus innings. Warren (12-0) broke the UNC record for most wins in a season without a loss by inducing eight ground-ball outs.
“The game plan was to let our defense do the work, they’d been doing it all year,” Warren said. “I threw a lot of fastballs tonight, probably 80 to 90 percent fastballs. My two-seamer was really diving, moving a lot, so that’s how we got a lot of ground balls, and our defense came through.”
North Carolina’s bats also came through for Warren. The Tar Heels had mustered just two home runs in their previous 14 games entering Thursday’s game; they smashed four homers in the first five innings against Rice starter Matt Langwell (8-2) and lefthanded reliever Bobby Bramhall. Freshman Dustin Ackley’s second home run in two days gave UNC a 1-0 lead in the second inning, and after Rice took a 2-1 lead on Diego Seastrunk’s two-run single in the top of the third, freshman Tim Fedroff answered with a two-run homer to left in the bottom of the frame to put the Tar Heels ahead for good. Seth Williams and Josh Horton added solo shots in the next two innings to pad the lead.
“I’m not sure where all the home runs came from tonight, but they came at the right time,” Fox said. “I guess we were saving them up.”
Rice did make things interesting in the seventh, scoring two runs on Tyler Henley’s two-run double and putting runners on second and third with two outs for cleanup hitter Joe Savery. Fox summoned closer Andrew Carignan to relieve Rob Wooten, who was running on fumes after appearing in his 11th straight postseason game. Carignan got ahead of Savery with some fastballs, then caught him looking on another fastball that appeared to be well off the outside corner.
“It’s tough to end your career on a ball that’s six inches outside,” Savery said. “For them to show it on the board, that ain’t even complaining–it was up there in front of God and everyone.”
The Owls came up with just one more baserunner over the final two innings against Carignan, who picked up his 18th save of the season, tied for the national lead with Sam Houston State’s Luke Prihoda. For the second consecutive season, the Owls started 2-0 in Omaha and then went quietly in the next two games. The Owls, who entered the CWS ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row, scored just five runs in their four CWS losses over the last two years.
“I refuse to look at my career personally and my career with the team as any sort of disappointment, because that’s a crime,” Savery said. “A lot of people are going to try to make us feel like we blew it, or we succumbed to pressure, all of these things, and that’s just not true. Yeah, it’s disappointing to go out like that, you want to win, but you know, top three in the country isn’t bad.”
Rice coach Wayne Graham echoed those sentiments.
“We had a year that we only dreamed of 16 years ago,” Graham said. “It was that good–we could only dream of that year. I’m as proud of my team as I could possibly be.”
And now North Carolina will get the chance to put the perfect ending on its dream season.
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog