2018 NCAA Tournament: Chapel Hill Regional Day Two Roundup
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—North Carolina, the No. 6 national seed, produced a 4-3 win over third-seeded Houston Saturday night in a chaotic affair in front of a raucous crowd at Boshamer Stadium.
The Tar Heels are now a win away from advancing to their first super regional since 2013, when they qualified for the College World Series at the No. 1 national seed.
“We haven’t won many games like that throughout the course of the year,” head coach Mike Fox said. “There were some key plays in the game, some key swings of the bat. Obviously (senior) Zack (Gahagan) with the two-run home run there to give us the lead, which is always important in games like that.”
The game, which was originally slated for a 6 p.m. start time, was pushed back to an 8:04 p.m. first pitch thanks to lightning and rain that caused a delay over two hours.
Just as Cooper Criswell delivered six innings of shutout ball in yesterday’s win, Gianluca Dalatri delivered a solid performance in front of a crowd that roared with delight any time a UNC player made a positive play.
The imposing 6-foot-6, 256-pound righthander allowed one run over five strong innings to earn the high-pressure victory against the Cougars, much like he earned a victory against Michigan in last year's Chapel Hill Regional.
Dalatri stayed with a fastball that routinely sat in the low 90s, as well as utilizing a changeup to strike out three batters while walking just one on four hits.
Since his return from an elbow injury that plagued him for almost three months, Dalatri has pitched 14 innings and allowed just the one run in three starts. The win tonight was his second of the season.
But the sophomore was not without help.
Gahagan delivered the initial run support for Dalatri in the second inning. On the 10th pitch of his at bat, the senior second baseman crushed his sixth home run of the season—a line drive two-run shot over the left field fence.
“It’s pretty big,” Gahagan said. “I’ve been here four years, so I just try and stay calm in there and use my experience. I battled a few pitches and he left one inside in my sweet spot and I was able to get a good swing on it.”
Third baseman Kyle Datres continued to show why he’s ranked No. 180 on the BA 500 by reaching base twice and picking up his 11th stolen base of the season. Datres seems to have found a new home in the leadoff spot for Fox’s club and the junior is now 3-for-9 in two regional games with two runs scored and two RBIs.
Houston starter Trey Cumbie had a solid outing, striking out nine batters and allowing three runs in seven innings. The lefthander used a high-80s fastball with a sidearm delivery that seemed to fool Tar Heel hitters, but Cumbie was unable to get much help from his offense, which was stifled by the UNC arms for much of the game.
Later in the game, UNC faced adversity when Houston put runners on first and second and no outs in the seventh inning. Junior closer Josh Hiatt entered the game for Brett Daniels and immediately threw a wild pitch that allowed both runners to advance before picking up a strikeout for the first out.
A passed ball allowed the Cougars to score their second run and it looked like they had seized momentum with a runner on third and just one out. But the next batter hit a fly ball to medium depth in right field, and North Carolina right fielder Josh Ladowski unleashed a laser to home plate as catcher Cody Roberts applied the tag for the third out to preserve the lead.
“Well before the play I pictured in my head and told myself I wasn’t going to get really excited and if I did, try and act cool,” Ladowski said. “It happened and I saw Ike Freeman’s face freaking out and I had no choice but to go crazy.”
In the eighth inning, Freeman did his part and gave his team an insurance run with a line drive single to left field, scoring Roberts.
Hiatt pitched the next two innings to earn his fifth save of the year, though not without turbulence. Houston designated hitter Joe Davis crushed his 11th home run of the season with one out in the ninth, but Hiatt recorded the next two outs—the last via strikeout—to give his team the narrow victory.
Purdue 14, North Carolina A&T 4
In No. 2 seed Purdue’s Friday night loss to No. 3 Houston, the Boilermakers struggled to put runs on the board. Houston lefthander Aaron Fletcher held Purdue to only four hits, one walk, and one run in a 9-1 blowout.
Entering an elimination game against No. 4 seed North Carolina A&T on Saturday, the Boilermakers had to get their bats going. Thankfully for Purdue, its bats were scorching hot.
The Boilermakers crushed the Aggies in an offensive explosion. Purdue totaled 14 runs on 14 hits in a 14-4 victory over North Carolina A&T. Freshman Ben Nisle led the way for the Boilermakers, driving in four runs on four hits.
“I challenged the guys to act like they’ve been here before,” Purdue head coach Mike Wasikowski said. “Which is kind of amusing to me, because they haven’t. So how do you act like you’ve been here before when you haven't? You gotta fake it sometimes till you make it.”
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Purdue jumped out to a quick start in the first inning. Outfielder Skyler Hunter ripped a double down the left field line, bringing home Harry Shipley for the game's first run. Later in the inning, Purdue tacked on another run when Nisle hit a single up the middle to score Hunter, giving the Boilermakers a 2-0 lead.
North Carolina A&T battled back, however, eventually tying the game. In the bottom of the first, Dawnoven Smith hit a single through the left side of the infield that scored Forest Kimbrell from second base. An inning later, Kimbrell hit a bloop single to left field that brought home Justin Williams, tying the game at two.
The Aggies took their first, and only, lead of the game when Dawnoven Smith opened the third inning with a leadoff triple to center field, eventually scoring on a wild pitch.
Unfortunately for North Carolina A&T, it wouldn’t have the lead for long.
Purdue loaded the bases with only one out in the top of the fourth and immediately took advantage of this scoring opportunity. The Boilermakers scored four runs in the inning thanks to RBI singles from Nick Dalesandro, Justin McGowan and Ben Nisle, along with a sacrifice fly from Skyler Hunter. As a result of the offensive outburst, Purdue took a 6-3 lead into the fifth inning.
Similar to the fourth inning, Purdue had another big inning in the sixth. After loading the bases with no outs, the Boilermakers plated six runs, including two runs off back-to-back, bases-loaded hit by pitches.
“I think what was big for us today was we got two out hits,” Niles said. “We couldn’t get that yesterday; it was just a tough pitcher. But today we came out with a lot more energy. Like I said, we battled a lot and the plate and just continued to be competitive.”
Purdue received production throughout its entire lineup; every batter reached reached at least once and only one batter didn’t come around to score.
Having that said, Ben Nisle stood out as Saturday's star. The freshman outfielder led his team in both hits and RBI, with four apiece, including an RBI double. The Big Ten all-freshman honoree improved his batting average to .298, and he brought his RBI total up to 42.
“I’ve just been more patient, I think,” Nisle said. “I struggled last week in Omaha (in the Big Ten Conference Tournament), but I just stuck with it, came back, and just continued to battle, be competitive at the plate as much as I can, and just fight off pitches until you get one to hit.
For North Carolina A&T, this loss means it’s the end of the road. The Aggies enjoyed a successful season, winning a 32 games and a MEAC Championship. However, after going 0-2 in the Chapel Hill Regional, their season is over.
“I told them in the huddle, ‘This is a tough pill to swallow today,’” North Carolina A&T head coach Ben Hall said. “And they may not really have the ability to reflect on it for a few days. But this fight, having your season ended and not playing the way you wanted to. We still won a championship. Not many teams get to win a conference championship.”
With the win, Purdue lives to fight another day. The Boilermakers will play No. 3 seed Houston in an elimination game Sunday at 1 p.m. The winner of the Purdue-Houston contest will advance to play No. 1 seed North Carolina in the regional finals Sunday at 6 p.m.