North Carolina Wins Third Straight Regional

CARY, N.C.–North Carolina wrapped up its regional in Cary on Sunday, beating UNC Wilmington 7-3.

Down 1-0, UNC starter Adam Warren was pulled in the fifth inning after the Seahawks loaded the bases with two outs on a Jason Appel double and back-to-back walks. But lefthander Brian Moran came in and induced a ground out to end the inning. Getting out of the jam was the momentum changer, as the Tar Heels went on to score five runs in the bottom of the frame, spearheaded by a two-out, three-run homer by UNC DH Mark Fleury.

The Tar Heels would tack on single runs in the sixth and eighth innings while the Seahawks scored single runs in the seventh and ninth. The game ended with the bases full of Seahawks and the tying run at the plate, as UNC closer Rob Wooten froze Nate Hall with an inside slider for out number two and then got Cody Stanley swinging at a low split-finger fastball for the final out of the game.

The Tar Heels seemed to breeze through the weekend in a businesslike manner, winning their third regional in as many years. The three main storylines from the weekend for North Carolina came from the three major elements of baseball: pitching, hitting and defense.

The UNC starting pitchers allowed just three runs all weekend, and got a complete-game, three-hit performance from righthander Alex White in Saturday’s game against UNCW. At the plate, right fielder Tim Fedroff ended the weekend with nine hits in eleven at-bats and eight RBIs, including a 3-for-3, two-RBI performance in the championship game. However, what might be even more important for the Tar Heels is that they got flawless defense from shortstop Ryan Graepel. UNC has struggled all season with errors at the shortstop position, but this weekend coach Mike Fox made a decision to start Graepel over typical starter Garrett Gore. The junior Gore is a team leader and still started the first two games of the weekend at DH. 

“I felt like going into this weekend, we needed to play good defense to win, and that’s why we made the change,” Fox said.

Graepel played better than good defense as he made every play presented to him the entire weekend. 

Fittingly, White, Fedroff and Graepel each landed on the all-tournament team, and Fedroff was named tournament MVP.

The Tar Heels–back-to-back national runners-up–have been here before, but Fox still knows how tough it is to win in the NCAA tournament.

“We’re thrilled to death to win,” Fox said. “It doesn’t get old and we’re not going to take it for granted.”

UNC will host Coastal Carolina in the super-regionals next weekend for a chance to advance to its third straight College World Series.