CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—No. 6 national seed North Carolina needed every bit of its vaunted bullpen to put away pesky Cornell, champion of the Ivy League, in the NCAA tournament opener for both teams.
No. 1 seed North Carolina won a 7-4 game against No. 4 seed Cornell in game two of the Chapel Hill regional led by a strong pitching effort from Hobbs Johnson. The sophomore lefthander threw five innings, giving up two runs and surrendering six hits while striking out five Cornell batters. It was Johnson's seventh win of the season.
After getting on the board for the first time in the second inning, the Tar Heels really took control in the fourth inning. With one out North Carolina pieced together four consecutive hits, including an RBI triple by Parks Jordan and an RBI single by Adam Griffin. With two outs Colin Moran and Jacob Stallings hit back-to-back RBI singles, putting the Tar Heels up 5-0. That would mark the end of the day for Cornell's Rick Marks, who pitched 3.2 innings and gave up five runs (four earned) as well as nine hits in the loss.
The Cornell offense got going in the sixth. Marshall Yanzick led off the inning with an infield single. Brian Billigen stepped to the plate next and hit a towering two-run home run to right field, making the score 5-2. Billigen was the final batter that Johnson would face on the day, as Carolina head coach Mike Fox called in R.C Orlan from the bullpen. Just as Orlan was finishing his warm ups in the sixth inning, lightning crashed the party, and with it the rain. Tarps were brought on the field and action was delayed for a little over an hour.
Cornell's offense was unaffected by the time off. Play resumed and with two outs the Big Red put together a rally and were able to score one more run courtesy of Kevin Tatum's RBI single to make it 5-3.
The Tar Heels responded whenever they needed to in this game, as they showed in their half of the sixth inning. The Heels wasted no time getting men on base and Stallings drove in his second run of the day with nobody out. Then with two outs Carolina was the beneficiary of a bases-loaded error by Cornell third baseman Ben Swinford, giving the Heels a 7-3 lead.
Cornell showed some more life in the eighth inning and scored a run off the bat of Brenton Peters. The Big Red got two on with none out in the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate, but North Carolina closer Michael Morin was able to shut them down and record his 18th save to tie a school single-season record, held by Thad Chrismon (1993) and Andrew Carignan (2007).
Third baseman Colin Moran had the hot bat for Carolina today, going 4-for-5.
"We need him big time today," Fox said about Moran. "He's our best hitter, and we need him to get to were we want to go."
Stallings was also impressive, recording two hits and two RBIs, and Griffin contributed to RBIs of his own.
Despite the loss, Cornell hit the ball hard all day. Their 13 hits in the game were two more than Carolina had.
"I'm surprised we didn't get more runs," Billigen said after the game. "Nobody was afraid to get up there and swing and be aggressive."
Cornell head coach Bill Walkenbach seemed happy with the way his team played, if not with the end result.
"I was pleased with the effort our guys gave today," Walkenbach said. "We hung with them offensively. I thought our pitchers did a good job keeping them off balance. If we make a few more plays, I think the game is a little closer and maybe we can get out in the end. I expect our guys to come out tomorrow with the same kind of effort and give East Carolina a run."
Both teams will be back in action at Boshamer Stadium tomorrow, with Cornell squaring off against No. 2 seed East Carolina at 1 p.m. and North Carolina facing No. 3 St. John's at 6 p.m.