CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—The two previous times the ball had come off Seth Baldwin’s bat, it had rolled up the third-base line only to drift into foul ground. Unable to get the sacrifice bunt down and facing a two-strike count, Baldwin looked to North Carolina coach Mike Fox for instructions.
Fox took the bunt sign off, letting his right fielder swing away with no outs and a runner on second base in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“He’s not the best bunter in our locker room,” Fox would later say.
Given another chance to move the runner up, Baldwin took a full swing and sent Mark Appel’s fastball over the left-field fence for a two-run home run. The blast gave North Carolina a three-run lead and all the separation it would need as it went on to a 5-2 victory against Stanford to open the Chapel Hill Super Regional.
Neither Baldwin nor Fox was sure the ball was a home run off the bat, but it was hit just hard enough to carry over the fence.
“He’s the one guy on our team that can do that—that can hit a ball up off the net opposite field,” Fox said. “It didn’t really sound like he’d squared it up, but he’s strong as a bull.”
Baldwin’s home run had even greater importance after Stanford scored two runs in the top of the eighth inning, the first time it had been able to scratch out any runs. Tar Heels righthander Patrick Johnson saw his scoreless innings streak end at 30 2/3 when shortstop Levi Michael couldn’t make a barehanded play on first baseman Brian Ragira’s infield single, scoring two runs.
Though Stanford closed the deficit to one run in the top of the eighth, North Carolina scored two more runs in the bottom of the inning and closer Michael Morin eliminated any drama with a perfect ninth.
North Carolina’s victory makes Stanford’s path to Omaha that much tougher. The Cardinal must win back-to-back games in Boshamer Stadium, a place the Tar Heels don’t often lose. North Carolina is 34-3 at home this year and is on a 13-game home winning streak that dates back to April 23 against Miami. And UNC has won its last 14 postseason home games by three or more runs.
With his team one home win from Omaha, Baldwin made it clear the Tar Heels aren’t going to get ahead of themselves and will bring the same mindset into Saturday’s game they had Friday.
“We’ve just got to go out there and get it done,” Baldwin said. “We can’t relax. We’ve got to get it done.”
No one expects Stanford to go back to California quietly, however. Fox said he thinks North Carolina will have to play better tomorrow if it wants to win.
And Ragira isn’t ready for his season to be over yet.
“We’re not getting down on ourselves,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and play with effort, play with a little attitude like we always do.
“We know we’re a good team, so I think you’ll see something out of us the next two days.”