With the aid of a fielding error at second base, the Tar Heels trimmed the deficit to one run in the top of the ninth inning and had runners on first and second base with just one out.
However, rather than pulling right-hander Ryan Williams, who had not allowed a base runner prior to the ninth, in favor of ECU's all-time saves leader, Drew Reynolds, Head Coach Billy Godwin stayed with Williams and it paid off for the Pirates.
Pinch-hitter Joe Dudek flew out to centerfield and then Skye Bolt struck out to end the game. And before a season-high 4,307 at Clark-LeClair Stadium, ECU secured a 3-2 victory against the Tar Heels exactly five years removed from its last win in head-to-head series.
Pirates' (25-17) third baseman Zach Houchins led the way offensively – going 4-for-4 with two doubles at the plate – but facing UNC (23-18) was personal for the Wilson N.C. native, who was short for words in the aftermath.
"Growing up I've always wanted to play for them, but now that I get to play against them and beat them, it's awesome. I'm speechless," said Houchins.
A night removed from a sloppy 5-3 loss against Old Dominion in which they had three errors, the Pirates' defense was in large part the difference against UNC. There is no better example of this than Ian Townsend's home-run preventing catch in the fourth inning.
"We always look back and play the ‘what if' game when you lose," said Godwin. "That play was a big play in the game, there's no doubt about it. From a momentum standpoint, it was huge."
After UNC tied the game in the fifth on Landon Lassiter's solo home run, the Pirates coupled back-to-back doubles from Houchins and Townsend put the Pirates in front once more in the bottom of the sixth. It was also Townsend's team-high 29th RBI of the season.
ECU gained an insurance run in the eighth on Hunter Allen's RBI single that plated Ben Fultz and proved to be the decisive run.
Following Tom Zengel's groundout to lead-off the ninth inning, Zach Daly bounced what seemed to be a routine ground ball to freshman second baseman Charlie Yorgen, but he couldn't make the play and was charged with an error.
Looking to make the most of its break, UNC notched back-to-back singles to make it a one-run game, prompting Godwin to check on Williams with Reynolds warming in the bullpen.
"I just felt like it was a time to calm things down," said Godwin. "The game can get fast on you and playing against a good opponent in this environment, I thought it was really important for me to step out there."
Williams's 10 wins are the most in the nation and he is the first ECU pitcher to win double-figure games since Seth Maness in 2011.
The Pirates and Tar Heels will meet again at Boshamer Stadium next Tuesday night in Chapel Hill. But before then, ECU travels to Boca Raton, Fla. for a three-game series at Florida Atlantic that starts Friday night.