CHAPEL HILL, N.C.–For the third time in three games, North Carolina pulled out a gritty come-from-behind postseason victory. UNC fell behind 6-0 against South Carolina on Robbie Grinestaff’s pinch-hit grand slam in the sixth inning, but the Tar Heels rallied for nine runs over the next two innings and went on to a 9-6 win in Game One of the Chapel Hill super-regional. All nine UNC runs were scored with two outs.
“There was never any doubt in my mind that the Tar Heels would come roaring back on us, and they did just that,” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said.
“They put balls in play, they came up with some big two-strike hits; that’s what happens when you play a good team–you’ve got to be at your best.”
Junior shortstop Josh Horton continued to serve as UNC’s big-hits king. Last week against Western Carolina, Horton’s two-run single capped North Carolina’s comeback; today, his two-out double in the bottom of the sixth sparked the comeback. With the bases empty and the Tar Heels trailing by six runs, Horton lined a ball into the right-center-field gap. He came out of the box hard and never hesitated rounding first base, and the throw from the outfield was cut off by USC second baseman Travis Jones.
“I guess I probably shouldn’t have run; if they wouldn’t have cut it, I probably would have been hosed,” said Horton, who doubled three times in the game. “I guess I tried to spark the team a little bit.”
That’s exactly what happened. Chad Flack followed with an RBI double, Kyle Seager reached on an error by shortstop Reese Havens, and Seth Williams and Garrett Gore each came up with singles, knocking USC starter Harris Honeycutt out of the game. The Tar Heels had stolen the momentum, and they exploded for six more runs against the South Carolina bullpen in the seventh.
“It turned out, we just needed something to get our crowd going a little bit,” said UNC coach Mike Fox of Horton’s rally-sparking double in the sixth. “It’s a little bit of a gamble when you’re behind, but sometimes ou have to do those things. You’ve got to give Josh a lot of credit for being aggressive.”