North Carolina (48-14) wore its road blue uniforms with pink socks in honor of head coach Mike Fox's mother, Barbara, who passed away Saturday, according to school officials.
James Madison (42-19) got on the scoreboard in the first inning when Matt Tenaglia fired a shot that caught UNC pitcher Chris Munnelly in the chest, allowing Johnny Bladel to plate the run from third. North Carolina answered in the top of the second inning with a pair of RBI hits from Brian Holberton and Chaz Frank.
Holberton added a RBI single to his second-inning double in the fifth inning before CAA Player of the Year Jake Lowery tied the game with a two-run bomb over the center field wall in the bottom half of the inning. Tommy Coyle regained the lead for the Tar Heels with a RBI single in the sixth to score Levi Michael. Jacob Stallings followed Coyle with a ground-rule double to score Colin Moran.
Frank drove in Holberton from third with a RBI single in the seventh. The Tar Heels scored the final three runs of the night in the eighth with RBIs by Coyle, Ben Bunting and Frank.
R.C. Orlan (2-0, 1.0 IP, hit) picked up the victory for UNC, while Alex Valadja (7-5, 0.2 IP, 2 hits, 2 ER) was saddled with the loss.
Coyle, Frank and Stallings joined Jesse Wierzbicki, Patrick Johnson and Kent Emanuel on the All-Regional Team.
INSIDE THE GAME
Bullpen Completes the Job
After a solid first three months of the season, North Carolina's bullpen encountered some late-season turbulence with losses in the collapse at Georgia Tech and the pair of defeats in the ACC Tournament to Miami and Virginia. With Kent Emanuel and Patrick Johnson on cruise control on Friday and Saturday, respectively, the only relievers to see action in UNC's first two games were Michael Morin, R.C. Orlan and Andrew Smith and they combined for a grand total of 26 pitches.
But the Tar Heels needed the bullpen to contain the nation's highest-scoring team on Sunday after starter Chris Munnelly allowed three runs and a career high-tying eight hits in 4.2 innings, and the relievers delivered despite James Madison having other plans.
"We've been able to do that all year," right fielder/pitcher Johnny Bladel replied when asked if the Dukes were expecting to attack UNC's relief pitchers. "Any time that we're down, we're not scared at all. We know we have the bats to come back, especially when you get into the bullpen."
Orlan replaced Munnelly in the fifth inning with two outs and a runner on first, and the sophomore lefty promptly forced a groundout. When Orlan and Greg Holt struggled in the sixth, Tate Parrish picked them up by forcing Jake Lowery to foul out with a pair of runners on and two outs. Andrew Smith assisted Parrish in working through the seventh inning and then retired the side in the eighth.
Morin assumed his closer role in the bottom of the ninth inning to retire the side.
"They've [gained] experience throughout the year and they've had some ups and downs and they've had to learn from some failure, and they've done a really good job of that," said pitching coach and associate head coach Scott Forbes, who manned the head coach position for the third day in a row in Fox's absence.
UNC's young crop of pitchers gained valuable NCAA Tournament experience that could factor into play later this month.
Role Players Step Up
Mike Fox has built the North Carolina program on pitching and defense with an effective offensive approach. The Tar Heels have been able to lean on junior Levi Michael (.300, 48 RBI) and freshman Colin Moran (.336, 48 RBI) when the bats were needed, but in Sunday's regional final, that duo combined for 2-of-9 hitting with no RBI and two runs scored.
North Carolina's firepower came from the other guys. A trio of underclassmen – Chaz Frank (2-of-5, 3 RBI), Tommy Coyle (3-of-6, 2 RBI) and Brian Holberton (3-of-5, 2 RBI) – combined for eight hits and seven RBI. Veterans Ben Bunting and Jacob Stallings each added RBIs to round out the scoring.
While Michael and Moran will have to be significant contributors if UNC hopes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, it's promising that other Tar Heels displayed an ability to deliver in a critical postseason situation.
"I think it's good for our whole offense," Forbes said. "These two guys [Coyle and Frank] obviously had huge RBIs tonight and then we felt like Brian Holberton was starting to get hot and he had some really big hits for us tonight."
Disarming an Offensive Weapon
James Madison catcher Jake Lowery entered the Chapel Hill Regional with a .357 batting average, 22 home runs, 51 extra base hits and 83 RBI. The CAA Player of the Year continued at that torrid pace against Florida International and Maine, hitting 4-for-7 with six RBI, two walks and no strikeouts.
In two games against the Tar Heels, however, Lowery managed just two hits in nine at-bats with three strikeouts. The junior catcher tied Sunday's game at 3-3 with a towering two-run home run over the 400-foot mark in the center field, but was unable to deliver by fouling out with two runners on base in the bottom of the sixth after UNC had regained the lead in the top half of the inning.
The Tar Heels will host Stanford, which was the winner of the Fullerton Regional in a best-of-three series next weekend. Stanford was the No. 2 seed in its regional.
The winner of next weekend's Super Regional advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. that runs June 18-29. The NCAA will make the official host announcements late Monday night, but North Carolina is essentially guaranteed to be playing at home.