"We came from behind again, didn't we?" UNC coach Mike Fox asked rhetorically.
It doesn't seem to matter how far behind Tar Heels (52-12) get these days; they find a way to win. Carolina miraculously snatched another NCAA Tournament victory from the snapping jaws of defeat. And this comeback may have been the most magical.
All of UNC's nine runs were scored with two outs in the sixth and seventh innings, with Horton starting both rallies with two-out doubles. But before that, the Tar Heels had managed just one hit over the first five frames.
"We knew that they were a great team," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "They pitched and they played defense. They come from behind and have done it before. Credit them for coming up with a big hit when they needed to."
Carolina's win snapped a six-game skid against the Gamecocks, including a five-game losing streak in the postseason. The Tar Heels are 7-0 over the past two years in tourney games played in Chapel Hill, and 13-2 overall.
Horton, the Tar Heels MVP of the ACC Tournament and last weekend's regional, simply won't let his team lose, going 3-for-5 with three doubles, two runs and an RBI. Meanwhile Flack was 2-for-5 with two runs and two RBI.
"They did a great job, I give a lot of credit to them – those first couple of innings jumping on top," Horton said. "We just had to change our approach and make the adjustments we needed to make and have a couple breaks here and there."
In his final start at Boshamer Stadium, senior right-hander Robert Woodard appeared headed for his first career loss at home. He left the game 6.1 innings with the Tar Heels trailing 6-3, but UNC wasn't left for dead.
After Woodard gave up a two-run homer on just his second pitch of the game, he retired 10 Gamecock batters in a row. He set down 10 straight after allowing James Darnell's two-run homer in the first.
"That definitely was not the plan," Woodard said of giving up the two early runs. "The plan was to come out and attack the zone, which I did. They just happened to attack the ball a little harder. They're a great hitting team as advertised, but I had so much faith in our guys that we were going to score runs tonight."
Perhaps the unsung hero of the Tar Heels' postseason has been junior reliever Rob Wooten, who has pitched six innings of shutout baseball while striking out 10 of the 24 batters he has faced.
Closer Andrew Carignan struck out two in the ninth to earn his 15th save of the season (in 16 chances) and the 30th of his career. He has saved four games over the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
"My kids have a lot of heart," Fox said. "We had some guys step up and just have some great at-bats for us in a couple of innings. Terrific win for us, we're happy to have gotten off to a good start."
The Tar Heels won't deviate from their regular weekend pitching rotation by sending freshman right-hander Alex White (6-4, 3.87 ERA) on Saturday. The Gamecocks (45-19) will start lefty Arik Hempy (6-3, 3.38).
First pitch is at 7 p.m., and the game will be televised by ESPN.