Chapel Hill Regional: St. John’s Stuns Tar Heels; ECU Survives

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—St. John’s is the lone unbeaten in the Chapel Hill regional after defeating North Carolina in dramatic fashion Saturday night. With the Tar Heel faithful on their feet in the ninth inning, Danny Bathea launched a two-run walk-off home run over the left-field fence at Boshamer Stadium, propelling St. John’s to a 5-4 victory.

Tar Heels closer Michael Morin was the losing pitcher. Having come in to close the game in the ninth inning, Morin gave up back-to-back hits to start the inning. After striking out Zach Lauricella for the first out, Morin left a fastball up in the zone to Bathea and the junior catcher connected.

“He threw me a fastball up and in and I was fortunate enough to get my hands through,” Bathea said. “It’s something I’ll always remember. Right when I rounded first and saw the ball go over his mitt I got really pumped.”

Both starting pitchers were outstanding. St. John’s lefthander Sean Hagan pitched 8.1 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits and walking two. On the other side, Kent Emanuel was even more impressive for the Tar Heels. The sophomore lefthander pitched eight innings, giving up a single run on five hits and walking one batter.

On his decision to bring Morin in for the ninth rather than leave Emanuel in the game, Tar Heels coach Mike Fox admitted that Emanuel still had gas left in the tank.

“I thought he was throwing his best at the end,” Fox said. However, his confidence in Morin remains high. “I make that move every time, without question,” Fox said. “We wouldn’t be playing in this regional without him.”

Morin said after today’s game that he hasn’t felt as comfortable as usual in the past two games. “I wasn’t overwhelmed with the situation or anything like that,” Morin said, “I just wasn’t throwing strikes . . . I just didn’t feel comfortable.”

The game was tight throughout. In the bottom of the second St. John’s leftfielder Jeremy Baltz led off the inning with a hit-by-pitch and eventually came around to score the first run of the day. Carolina and St. John’s traded runs in the third inning, making the score 2-1. The Tar Heels received a major boost in the sixth inning when right fielder Shell McCain blasted a two-run home run over the left-field fence, giving North Carolina a 3-2 lead.

In the top of the ninth inning North Carolina tacked on an insurance run when nine-hole hitter Parks Jordan ripped a double down the right-field line, scoring Grayson Atwood. Things then got interesting in the bottom of the ninth when St. John’s started the inning with back-to-back hits from Jeremy Baltz and Sean O’Hare, setting the stage for Bathea’s heroics.

North Carolina, the No. 6 national seed, will play East Carolina tomorrow at 1 p.m. in an elimination game. The winner of that game will then need to beat St. John’s twice to advance to the Super Regional.

“I think we’re capable of coming back,” Fox said. “It would be a shame after the season that we’ve had if we didn’t come out ready to play tomorrow. That would surprise me.”

East Carolina 10, Cornell 6

East Carolina relied on timely hitting and a solid effort out of their bullpen to stave off elimination and beat Cornell on Saturday afternoon 10-6. Relief pitcher Tyler Joyner was outstanding for the Pirates, pitching 4.2 innings out of the bullpen and allowing no runs while surrendering just one hit.

“He did a good job,” Cornell catcher Brandon Lee said about Joyner. “He threw a little bit harder, had a sharper breaking ball. His fastball had some late life on it.”

Asked about his performance today, Joyner credited his preparation.

“With our staff, we know we have big situations to step into, “Joyner said. “Coach prepares us for that all the time and practice carried over into the game.”

East Carolina got on the board first in the top of the third inning off of a solo home run by DH Drew Reynolds. The Pirates scored another run in the top of the fourth before the Big Red got to senior ECU starter Kevin Brandt. Cornell used four hits and two hit batsmen to score four in the fourth, taking a 4-2 lead. 

The two teams went back and forth in the fifth inning, with East Carolina rallying for five runs in the top half followed by Cornell putting up two runs in the bottom frame. Heading into the sixth inning, East Carolina held a narrow 7-6 lead.

Things fell apart for Cornell in the seventh inning.  Still down a run, the Big Red had two outs when shortstop Marshall Yanzick made a rare error to extend the inning.  East Carolina took advantage, scoring three unearned runs which made the score 10-6. The Big Red bats simply had nothing going for them against Joyner, who continued to shut down Cornell’s lineup throughout the final three innings. 

 East Carolina’s offense had 15 hits in all, and six of the Pirates’ starters had multi-hit games. Center fielder Jay Cannon contributed two hits and two RBIs to the offensive effort.

“It was good to come back and see that out of these guys,” East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said. “They gave everything they had and competed at a high level and I’m very proud of them.”

East Carolina faces host North Carolina in an elimination game tomorrow at 1 p.m.