North Carolina (46-14) only managed five hits against the Black Bears (32-23), but capitalized on two walks with a Jesse Wierzbicki RBI single and a Jacob Stallings three-run home run in the first inning. With the scoring finalized in the first frame, starting pitchers Kent Emanuel (W, 8.0 IP, 7 hits) and Keith Bilodeau (7.0 IP, 5 hits, 4 ER) and relievers Michael Morin (1.0 IP) and Stephen Perakslis (1.0 IP) breezed through the final eight innings to complete the game in two hours and 17 minutes.
INSIDE THE GAME
Smack Talk Fizzles Out
Most coaches prefer the old school method of letting your play on the field do your talking, but Maine head coach Steve Trimper went in a different direction, providing plenty of bulletin board material as his fourth-seeded Black Bears entered Friday night's contest with the Tar Heels.
"I guarantee they're shaking in their boots right now because they know we have some good arms going down there," Trimper told the Bangor Daily News on Monday.
He added to those remarks on Thursday, telling the Kennebec Journal that starting pitcher Keith Bilodeau wanted to prove that he was best pitcher in the Regional.
"Don't be surprised if he goes out there and shoves it to North Carolina," Trimper said.
Bilodeau (10-2, 2.87 ERA, five complete games) has been impressive all season long in America East play, winning eight straight while striking out 77 batters heading into the NCAA Tournament, but North Carolina wasted little time in welcoming the junior righty to Boshamer Stadium.
Chaz Frank opened the bottom of the first inning with a seven-pitch walk, but Bilodeau appeared to settle down by striking out Levi Michael and Colin Moran. Trouble ensued soon after, however, as a balk moved Frank to second and Wierzbicki singled in UNC's first run of the game.
Tommy Coyle walked on five pitches to give Stallings runners on first and second with two outs and the junior catcher delivered his blast over the left field wall to increase the Tar Heels' lead to 4-0 less than 20 minutes into the contest.
"He hung a slider," Stallings told reporters in detailing his home run. "He was throwing a lot of breaking balls early and I just saw it up and was able to put a good swing on it."
For Bilodeau, that pitch was one of only a handful of mistakes all evening, but against elite-level competition like North Carolina, those miscues are often the difference in wins and losses.
"We called for a cutter outside and I missed middle in," Bilodeau said. "He couldn't have taken a better pitch to hit. It was just one bad pitch."
Emanuel Strong in NCAAT Debut
Emanuel became the first freshman to start a NCAA Regional for UNC on Friday since Matt Harvey in 2008, but the Woodstock, Ga. southpaw turned in a more memorable performance. Harvey only threw 3.0 innings as UNC quickly built an 8-1 lead over Mount St. Mary's, but Emanuel delivered eight strong innings to save North Carolina's bullpen for the remainder of the weekend.
"Obviously, I thought the story of the game for us was Kent Emanuel," associate head coach Scott Forbes said. "He pounded the strike zone. I thought he got better as the game went and you could see that. It was tempting to possibly leave him out there for one more inning, but the pitch count was too high."
The Black Bears managed to put runners on base in each of their first six innings, including four leadoff singles, but were only able to advance one of those runners past second base. Maine's seven hits on Emanuel were all singles.
"He's got a downward plane – he's tough to hit," Trimper said. "He's tall, but he throws downward. He's got a good arm slot. He threw strikes and he pitched backwards to our better hitters, so they were well prepared."
Heels Rally Behind Fox
North Carolina officials would only say that Fox missed Friday's game, as well as practice on Wednesday and Thursday, due to a personal matter dealing with a family member. The UNC head coach missed the bus ride home from Georgia Tech nearly three weeks ago to visit his mother in the hospital.
Forbes assumed the managing duties on Friday and told reporters that he was "not sure" if he would coach the team for the remainder of the regional.
"I would be where he is, so it is what it is, but I think he trusts me," Forbes said. "I've been around him a long time, playing for him and coaching with him at North Carolina Wesleyan and then coaching with him here, so I'm prepared for it if that's what we need to do."
Players tend to rally around teammates and coaches that need their support, and the Tar Heels are no different.
"We all wanted him to be here and we all know how bad he wants to be here, so I think it kind of pushed a couple of us," Wierzbicki said. "I know it pushed me a little bit more to just go out there and give it our best. We want to play the best we can every day, but we definitely wanted to get that win for him."
North Carolina advances in the winners' bracket to face No. 3 seed James Madison on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Dukes (41-17) overcame a 6-5 deficit through six innings with a six-run seventh inning to upset No. 2 seed Florida International on Friday afternoon.
JMU starting pitcher Sean Tierney only last 1.2 innings, giving up five earned runs and eight hits on 55 pitches before reliever D.J. Brown closed the game in strong fashion, allowing two earned runs on three hits in 7.1 innings.
CAA Player of the Year Jake Lowery (.357, 22 HR, 83 RBI) and senior shortstop David Herbek (.374, 15 HR, 74 RBI) lived up to their billing as offensive juggernauts by posting a combined 6-of-9 hitting display with five runs batted in. Lowery added his 23rd home run of the season (2nd nationally) on his second pitch of the day to give the Dukes a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.