CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—While North Carolina’s pitching staff proved to be human Sunday night, it was still good enough to see the Tar Heels through to super regionals. After 18 straight innings of scoreless baseball, North Carolina finally gave up a run in the Chapel Hill Regional when James Madison, the nation’s highest scoring team, broke through in the first inning.
But North Carolina defeated James Madison 9-3 to claim the Chapel Hill Regional and win its 14th straight NCAA tournament game as a host, a streak that stretches back to super regionals in 2007. Even more impressive, the Tar Heels have won their last 13 postseason home games by three or more runs.
The Tar Heels will return to super regionals for the fifth time in six years. Though the Tar Heels didn’t dogpile Sunday night, left fielder Chaz Frank said they were excited to be back in super regionals after their season ended in the Norman Regional last year.
“It was tough for us to end the streak,” Frank said. “We’re super excited this year about going to the super regional.”
The Tar Heels played and won their third game without coach Mike Fox. It was announced Sunday that his mother, Barbara, died Saturday. Previously, it had only been disclosed Fox was dealing with a personal matter.
To honor Fox’s mother, North Carolina wore pink socks, with the whole team sporting the “socks-up” look. Associate head coach Scott Forbes, who has led the team in Fox’s absence, said the socks were a team decision, though he also credited catcher Jacob Stallings and equipment manager Tyson Lusk.
“We wanted to honor a great lady and a huge supporter of our baseball program,” Forbes said. “Once I got the OK from the head dog last night—he thought she would appreciate that—so we went with it.”
With Forbes at the helm, the Tar Heels cruised through regionals, outscoring their opponents 27-3 in three games.
James Madison was twice UNC's victim, falling 14-0 Saturday night. The Dukes had a brief lead Sunday, and the game was tied as late as the fifth inning. Catcher Jake Lowery evened the score at three with a two-run home run to dead center off Chris Munnelly. The home run was Lowery’s second of the regional and gave him 91 RBIs this year.
Sunday was likely Lowery’s last game at James Madison. He figures to be drafted sometime on Tuesday when rounds 2-30 are held.
“I think it’s going to be pretty stressful, but pretty exciting at the same time,” Lowery said.
Lowery’s home run wasn’t enough to keep the Dukes in the game. Coach Spanky McFarland tried six different pitchers Sunday, but the Tar Heels were too much. They scored the final six runs of the game to remove any drama from the late innings.
“When you get in the loser’s bracket and you have to re-use guys and they get tired, things happen,” he said.
North Carolina will remain home for next weekend’s Chapel Hill Super Regional against the winner of the Fullerton Regional. Forbes and the rest of the Tar Heels will be able to remain comfortable as they prepare to face either Stanford or Illinois.
“I think it’s awesome because, No. 1, I get to sleep in my own bed,” Forbes said. “It’s a credit to these guys. They got a taste of what the postseason was like last year and they didn’t want to go on the road.”