CHAPEL HILL, N.C.–Play resumed in the seventh inning at the battle of the Carolinas this afternoon, and South Carolina held off North Carolina to force a decisive third game of the Chapel Hill super-regional. The Tar Heels made USC reliever Jeff Jeffords sweat in the eighth inning, pushing across one run and putting runners on second and third before Jeffords got Garrett Gore to chop out to third base and end the inning. Jeffords was more in control in the ninth, working a one-two-three inning to preserve South Carolina’s 8-6 win.
“Obviously I am delighted we were able to win this game and force a Game Three,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “We battled after the tough loss on Friday night and forced a third game, which is certainly never easy against a team as good as the Tar Heels. We hung in there and now we get to play a Game Three.”
That decisive game will start at its regularly scheduled time, 7 p.m. ET. It will be the last game ever for UNC’s Boshamer Stadium, which will be torn down and rebuilt on the same spot starting later this month.
North Carolina will send a power arm to the mound tonight in Luke Putknonen, while South Carolina will go with a finesse pitcher in Mike Cisco. Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said he’s like to grab an early lead so his team doesn’t have to try to come from behind yet again.
“It might be new territory for us–I don’t think we’ve done that yet in the NCAA tournament,” Fox said of the prospect of taking an early lead. “We might like to try it.”
Fox said the key for Putkonen will be throwing first-pitch strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to just nine of 23 batters last week against Western Carolina.
“The good thing about Luke is I don’t know if Luke has a heart rate,” Fox said. “He’s going to stay the same. I don’t think he’ll stress out over tonight. I haven’t seen him stress out over anything. I think he’ll be even-keeled tonight.”
Cisco has pitched well down the stretch, and he has pitched in big games before. He’ll rely on spotting his fastball to both corners and mixing in his curveball, changeup and occasional slider. But he’s not overpowering, with a mid-80s fastball, and UNC tends to hit righthanded finesse pitchers pretty well.
“Mike Cisco is a poor man’s Greg Maddux,” Tanner said. “He has to have it working for him. He has to use both sides of the plate well. He has to have everything working against a lineup as good as the Tar Heels. He’s been in this position before. He pitched in a regional last yearand a super-regional last year. He has to give us a quality start.”