CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Dustin Ackley led No. 1 seed North Carolina to a second win in the Chapel Hill Regional, as the Tar Heels downed Coastal Carolina, 14-5.
Ackley reached base six times on four hits and two intentional walks and batted in three runs on the day. At this point, Ackley’s extraordinary hitting (7-for-9 in the two regional games) is starting to become routine. He’s hitting .500 this month (30-for-60) to raise his season average to .414, and now has hit safely in 16 straight NCAA tournament games, dating back to the fourth game of the 2007 College World Series.
He wasn’t even called to the post-game press conference, and his coach, Mike Fox, could only throw up his hands and say that he didn’t know what else to say.
"He is the best player in the country. Without a doubt," Fox said. "He has to be."
The game was billed as a pitchers’ duel between North Carolina righthander Alex White and Coastal lefthander Cody Wheeler. But neither pitcher brought his best stuff to the mound Saturday. Wheeler only lasted 2 2/3 innings and gave up six runs on just four hits.
"It gets to a point where you can’t get the ball over the plate anymore," Coastal coach Gary Gilmore said of his starting pitcher. "You get frustrated."
White, a probable first-round pick who has not pitched well as of late, struggled through 4 2/3 innings, throwing 104 pitches and giving up five runs on four hits. According to Fox, White was battling both a tweaked hamstring and a blister on his hand.
Left fielder Ben Bunting broke the game open for UNC with a three-run double in the third inning to put the score at 5-3 in favor of the Tar Heels, who did not trail again.
A large part of that was Colin Bates’ work in relief. The redshirt sophomore pitched 3 1/3 innings of shutout relief, giving up just one hit.
"The biggest thing today was strike one," Bates said. "I feel like when I got ahead of them, they weren’t taking their best swings, when it was my count instead of theirs."
UNC now moves on to play the winner of Coastal and Kansas in Sunday’s morning game. The Jayhawks eliminated Dartmouth 16-0 in the first game of regional play Saturday.