Tar Heels edge Gamecocks 5-4 to reach Omaha
Colin Moran hit an RBI triple in a three-run sixth inning and staff ace Kent Emanuel picked up his first career save by getting the final two outs to help North Carolina beat South Carolina 5-4 on Tuesday, sending the No. 1 overall seed to the College World Series.
Brian Holberton hit a two-run homer for the Tar Heels (57-10), who trailed 4-2 before pushing ahead for good in the sixth to win the decisive third game in the weather-delayed super regional series. It will be the Tar Heels' sixth trip to Omaha in eight seasons.
Reliever Trent Thornton (11-1) earned the win, allowing one earned run over 4 2-3 innings. Then Emanuel — who had thrown 238 pitches in the NCAA tournament — came on for a pair of one-pitch outs that sent the UNC players spilling out of the dugout and onto the field to celebrate.
North Carolina will see a familiar opponent in Omaha — the Tar Heels will open CWS play Sunday against instate and Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina State. The last time the teams met, UNC won an 18-inning marathon on the way to the ACC tournament title over Memorial Day weekend.
South Carolina (43-20) had won the national championship in both 2010 and 2011, then finished second last year. The Gamecocks were back within a win of Omaha under first-year coach Chad Holbrook, a former UNC player who had also worked as an assistant under Tar Heels coach Mike Fox.
UNC won Saturday's series opener 6-5, then South Carolina won Sunday's elimination game 8-0. But on a mistake-filled Tuesday for both teams, Holbrook and the Gamecocks will be left to wonder what-if after the sixth inning.
After Moran's triple scored Landon Lassiter to cut the deficit to 4-3, the Gamecocks made a throwing error that brought home Moran to tie it. A few batters later, reliever Tyler Webb entered the game with the bases loaded and walked in Skye Bolt to give UNC the 5-4 lead.
Reliever Adam Westmoreland (7-4) took the loss, allowing two hits and three runs in 3 1-3 innings.
The teams combined for five errors. That included UNC center fielder Chaz Frank dropping a routine two-out fly ball in the fifth, allowing the Gamecocks to score a pair of unearned runs against Thornton for a 3-2 lead.
The Gamecocks tacked on another run in the sixth when Tanner English's RBI double made it 4-2, further draining the energy from a Boshamer Stadium crowd that had quieted after Frank's drop before Moran's big hit changed everything.
UNC's win closed a series delayed two days by weather. Friday's opener was postponed due to heavy rain from Tropical Storm Andrea, then Monday's third game was postponed to Tuesday due to rain and thunderstorms in the area.