Tar Heels Bite Bulldogs, 8-5

OMAHA, Neb. --- Mike Fox knows his team can't continue to rely on miraculous comebacks if it expects to advance to another College World Series championship series. But right now he finds himself in a familiar situation – thanking his lucky stars the Tar Heels bounced back again from a substantial early deficit, only to rally and top Mississippi State on Friday, 8-5.

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  • The Tar Heels fell behind by two or more runs for the sixth consecutive game, though UNC won five of those.

    "Once again, we were able to come from behind," Fox said. "(I'm) not sure how long we will be able to do it; hopefully until the 2008 season."

    No. 3 national seed UNC (54-13) will "host" second-seeded Rice (55-12) Sunday at 7 p.m. (ESPN2). In the losers' bracket, Mississippi State (38-21) plays Louisville (46-23) at 2 p.m. in an elimination game.

    Trailing 4-2, Carolina benefited from an error and a hit batter, and got a big blast RBI double by designated hitter Benji Johnson on a ball that bounced off the top of the centerfield wall. Following a two-run single by Dustin Ackley, the Tar Heels turned the game over to their stellar bullpen.

    "We're a mature team, and we have a lot of experience with the World Series last year," said Johnson, who went 2-for-4 from the eight spot in the batting order. "We have learned to have confidence in ourselves all the time."

    But the Tar Heels fell behind 4-0 before putting six runs up in the sixth inning. In his shortest outing in 51 career starts, UNC pitching ace Robert Woodard surrendered seven hits and four runs – all earned – in just 1.2 innings of work.

    "Robert will be fine," Fox said. "He missed on some pitches and they're a good offensive team. There's a fine line with him. He has to hit his spots."

    Enter Carolina's fourth starter Adam Warren, who allowed just three hits in 4.1 scoreless innings of relief. His longest outing from the bullpen all season paved the way for UNC setup stalwart Ron Wooten and star closer Andrew Carignan.

    The only blemish came via a Mitch Moreland homer off Wooten, who gave up just his first run in 10.1 postseason innings.

    Carignan then struck out two of the three batters he faced, picking up his third save of the NCAA Tournament and a career high 16th of the season.

    It was Carolina's sixth win over MSU in eight meetings. The Tar Heels eliminated the Bulldogs from the 1989 and 2003 CWS.

    "[UNC's] bullpen was the difference," MSU coach Ron Polk said. "They have strong arms. We got their ace out early but we found holes and got the lead at that point. It is a sign of a good ball club and it shows."

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