Heels Outlast Stanford

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 3 national seed North Carolina built a three-run lead through seven innings and withstood a late rally by visiting Stanford to secure a 5-2 victory in Super Regional action. The win moves the Tar Heels to within one victory of their fifth College World Series in six years.

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North Carolina (49-14) opened its scoring with the help of Stanford third baseman Stephen Piscotty, who threw wide right on a routine 5-4-3 double play to give the Tar Heels runners on the corners with no outs. Senior Ben Bunting scored the unearned run on a chopper to second base.

Seth Baldwin added two needed insurance runs with a bomb over the left field wall in the seventh inning. Brian Ragira knocked in two runs with an infield single in the top of the eighth for Stanford (35-21), but UNC responded in the bottom half of the inning with a Baldwin RBI walk and a Chaz Frank RBI sac fly.

Patrick Johnson (13-1) earned the win for the Tar Heels while the Cardinal's Mark Appel (6-7) was saddled with the loss.

North Carolina has now won 15 straight postseason games that it has hosted.

Game two is Saturday at 3 p.m. on ESPN.


Johnson's Dominance Continues
Patrick Johnson entered Friday's Super Regional looking to become just the fourth pitcher in school history to earn his 13th win of the season. As impressive as that may be, the statistic drawing the most national attention is the Conover, N.C. native's string of 23 innings without allowing a run.

All Johnson did under the intense heat of 94-degree June weather and the national television spotlight is add 7 2/3 innings to his streak. He picked up the win after allowing one earned run on five hits, while striking out seven and walking one.

"The difference was Johnson," Stanford head coach Mark Marquess said. "I think he was phenomenal. I think he did a great job. He was ahead most of the time, threw basically two – sometimes three – but basically a fastball and a slider over the plate on any count. He did a great job."

The senior righty's scoreless inning streak ended at 30 2/3 innings after he exited in the eighth with two outs and a runner on first base. Closer Michael Morin took the mound and gave up a double on his first pitch to Piscotty. Ragira singled in both runs, stopping the streak, in the next at-bat.

"In hindsight, we probably should have left him out there," UNC head coach Mike Fox said. "That's easy to say, obviously, after the fact, but we debated on it over there. Of course, we really like how Michael Morin has been throwing the ball… It's hot, his pitch count is up there [and] he had done, in our minds, everything we needed him to do to give us a chance to win. We like our bullpen, but after the fact, we probably would have liked to see him finish the inning."

During his scoreless inning streak, Johnson posted a 4-0 record with a 0.29 ERA while striking out 35 and walking just four batters.

A Struggle to Score
The Tar Heels led, 1-0, through six innings, but had plenty of opportunities to build a more substantive margin up to that point.

In the second inning, Brian Holberton stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and one out and grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. In the third, Jesse Wierzbicki grounded out to end a scoring threat with runners on second and third.

In the fifth inning, Chaz Frank sacrifice bunted Baldwin to second base to give Levi Michael and Colin Moran potential at-bats with a runner in scoring position. Michael singled into right field and Moran walked to load the bases for Wierzbicki with one out.

The senior first baseman knocked it back to the Appel for an easy 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.

The Tar Heels finally broke through with Baldwin's two-run home run in the seventh, but Fox admitted nerves may have played a role in the early struggles to plate runs.

"We were a little anxious," Fox said. "We hit into three double plays. That happens, but I think we're swinging the bat better now than we were three weeks ago. That's a good sign. We've got some guys that look like they're locked in. A little bit of anxiousness today when guys got into scoring position."

North Carolina left nine men on base in addition to the three double play balls.

Fox Returns
The Boshamer Stadium crowd made sure Fox felt appreciated in pregame warmups after the UNC head coach missed last weekend's regional due to his mother's passing on Saturday.

His players offered their opinions on his return during the postgame press conference.

"It's always good to have your head coach back, because I remember thinking in the regional that it was weird looking and not seeing him there," Baldwin said. "But I'm glad that he's back for us. We definitely need him a lot."

Johnson added, "He's been there all year. He's the leader of our team and it's nice to have things back to normal."

Fox, of course, deflected the attention away from himself as he always does.

"It's good to be back," Fox said. "I want to focus on our players. This program has never been about me. This program is about our players. We preach that from Day One. What they did last weekend did not surprise me at all. I think I have the best coaching staff in the country."

Success in the Seventh
North Carolina has found postseason success in the seventh inning, scoring 13 runs in that frame in seven outings. The Tar Heels scored two in the seventh against Stanford.

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