Border War

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- In what just might be the most important series ever played at North Carolina's current Boshamer Stadium – as well as the last – before wrecking balls begin the major renovation project as early as next week; the Tar Heels finally host South Carolina in an NCAA Super Regional for the right to go to Omaha and play for a national championship.

"Maybe we've learned how to win a little bit," UNC coach Mike Fox said referring to the Tar Heels' baseball resurgence over the past two seasons.

In the first of the three-game series starting tonight at 7, UNC will send senior right hander Robert Woodard (10-2, 3.02 ERA) against USC junior righty Harris Honeycutt (8-5, 3.59).

The Tar Heels hold a 58-33-1 lead in the all-time series, including a 25-10 mark when the Gamecocks were in the ACC. But USC has taken seven of the last eight and eliminated North Carolina from the NCAA Tournament in three of the last five seasons.

UNC (51-12), the second-highest overall seed (behind No. 2 Rice) remaining in the postseason, is 104-16-1 (.864) at home over the last three seasons. On paper, it appears the Heels slipped ahead of their SEC rival, but the Gamecocks (45-18) are still a major college baseball force to be reckoned with.

"They have a great program and they play in a great league," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "They're tournament-tested. We've played some close games with them but just haven't been able to get it done. It's a credit to them. They just beat us down there."

Carolina has plenty of momentum and cause in its corner. Coming so close to the College World Series title last season, the recent series record with South Carolina, and the desire for a triumphant sendoff of the Old Bosh; are intangibles working in the Tar Heels' favor.

"We hope that's going to help us; it's always good to play at home," Fox said. "It's comfortable and you get to sleep in your own bed, but I don't think that' s going to be enough. We're still going to have to play well and get it done on the field."

UNC assets you can put a finger on include 19 wins in its last 22 games, a 2007 ACC Tournament title and a penchant for clutch hitting and pitching late in games. UNC advanced to the Super Regional via two dramatic ninth-inning comeback wins over East Carolina and Western Carolina.

The Tar Heels have an abundance of star power as well in Josh Horton, who delivered the game winning hit on Monday; Woodard, 22-0 at home since 2004 and 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA in NCAA games; Andrew Carignan, possibly the nation's finest closer with 14 saves in 15 chances this season; 1B Dustin Ackley, the best freshman hitter in the country batting .427; and RHP Luke Putkonen, who along with Horton and Carignan, was selected in Thursday's Major League Baseball Draft.

Those are just a few of the names that make up a complete UNC team devoid of any apparent weaknesses.

The UNC pitchers will need some run support, however, as the Gamecocks head into NCAA Super Regional with 110 home runs on the season, while the Tar Heels haven't homered since May 19 at Maryland. Four Gamecocks have at least 10 or more for the season.

USC swept its Columbia Regional last weekend beginning with a 9-1 win over Wofford. With 12 runs in the first five innings, the Gamecocks defeated Charlotte, 12-8, and then closed out the 49ers in the title game, 11-6.

A cavalcade of 600 or so ticketed USC fans and likely hundreds more, who will be hoping to scalp along the Ridge Road sidewalks, are on their way to Chapel Hill. and the Tar Heels hope to be just as inhospitable on the field as the Gamecocks have been to them in recent years.

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