THE GAME AT A GLANCE
Turning Point: North Carolina thwarted a safety squeeze attempt by Blake Davis in the bottom of the eighth inning, with closer Andrew Carignan fielding a bunt and throwing out John Curtis--the tying run--at the plate.
The Hero: Junior left fielder Jay Cox homered twice and drove in four runs for North Carolina. His three-run homer in the third inning put UNC ahead 4-2. The two-homer game was the second of the NCAA tournament for Cox, who has hit six home runs in the postseason. His four RBIs set a program record for a CWS game, knocking out current coach Mike Fox, who drove in three runs against St. John's in 1978.
You May Not Have Noticed: Cal State Fullerton DH David Cooper singled in the second inning against Daniel Bard to notch his seventh consecutive base hit. That moved him into a tie with Terry Francona (Arizona) for second in CWS history. Dave Magadan (Alabama) and Barry Bonds (Arizona State) each strung together eight straight hits.
OMAHA--Maybe North Carolina is Titanproof.
Cal State Fullerton won 50 games this season and scored two comeback wins in the College World Series, but the Titans couldn't find a formula for success in two games against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina beat Fullerton in 13 innings to open the CWS and earned a 6-5 win Wednesday to advance to the best-of-3 championship round. The second win came in a game in which UNC countered everything Fullerton threw at it.
Ace Andrew Miller recorded the last out to earn a save in his first relief appearance of the year after North Carolina already had received a leaping grab at the left-field wall from Jay Cox in the bottom of the ninth inning. The catch thwarted a game-tying safety squeeze bunt play in the eighth and the Tar Heels battered ace Wes Roemer for the second straight game.
"That's an outstanding club, and one of the best we've played all year," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said of Fullerton. "We feel fortunate to have won today and beat them twice and to move on.
"We made some key pitches and plays to hang in there and we got some big swings of the bat by Jay Cox."
Cox' two hits were both opposite-field home runs in front of an estimated crowd of 17,000 at Rosenblatt Stadium. They came in consecutive at-bats, with a three-run home run in the third inning to give his team a 4-2 lead and a solo shot in the fifth inning that came one pitch before catcher Tim Federowicz followed him out of the yard for the first back-to-back homers at the CWS since 2003.
Cox entered the CWS with .545-4-15 numbers in five NCAA tournament games. The home runs helped him break out of a 1-for-10 start in Omaha.
"I was kind of beating myself up a little bit, and I felt like I was letting the team down," Cox said. "Coach came to me and said you'll get your hits when it counts. I just put the bat on the ball and it went out. Twice."
Fullerton (50-15) trailed 6-3 before scoring twice in the seventh inning. The Titans had catcher John Curtis on third base with one out in the eighth inning and looked ready to execute yet another comeback. Shortstop Blake Davis bunted a 3-1 pitch back to UNC closer Andrew Carignan, who fielded it and threw home to get Curtis out at the plate and kill the squeeze attempt.
"I thought it was a pretty good bunt and I thought I got a pretty good jump," said Curtis, who went 3-for-4. "They just had a good athlete on the mound and he made a good play."
North Carolina (53-13) trailed 2-0
before it got to Wes Roemer. He entered the CWS having allowed four
homers all year, but gave up two to the Tar Heels on Friday and three
more Wednesday, both totals set season highs.
Roemer (13-2), who retired two batters for a save Tuesday against Clemson, was chased from the game in a season-low 4 2/3 innings after allowing five runs on 10 hits. He said he felt 100 percent when he started the game, like he had in every other start this season.
"I got through the first two innings and then they started getting hits," Roemer said. "I made a (throwing) error and that kind of led to quicksand. Things went wrong and eventually Cox hit a home run. After that I had two bad pitches, one to Cox and then to the next batter."
Meanwhile, North Carolina starter Daniel Bard (9-3), the second first-round draft pick the Tar Heels started against against Fullerton in two games, allowed three runs over the first three innings before settling down. He used a 98 mph fastball to work out of jams caused by his season-high 12 hits allowed, the final two of which came to open the seventh inning and ended his day. His final line included five earned runs over six-plus innings, but he did his job in getting deep enough into the game to let his bullpen take over.
Righthander Jonathan Hovis, the
nation's leader in ERA, didn't allow a run in 1 1/3 innings, though
he allowed two runners he inherited from Bard to score. Carignan
worked 1 1/3 perfect innings, however, and the last batter he faced, DH
David Cooper, smoked a line drive toward the wall that looked like
extra bases before Cox hauled it in.
That was enough to move Fox to bring in Miller, who laced up his spikes in the late innings and told the coaching staff he was ready to get a couple outs if needed. Miller threw three pitches in his first relief appearance since 2004, getting pinch-hitter Bryan Harris to ground out to shortstop Josh Horton to end the game and Fullerton's season.
"We came up a little bit short," Fullerton coach George Horton said. "But even the way we approached the ninth inning showed that North Carolina and us were evenly matched. It's a difficult pill to swallow."