Band Of Brothers

OMAHA, Neb. --- Almost self-coached, North Carolina's dedication to team, as well as its overall maturity and big game experience, is the catalyst for staving off disaster again and again. There's a lot of luck involved, but one reason the Tar Heels are two wins away from another CWS championship series berth is players continue to pick each other up.

There are no wasted roles among the Carolina's active 25-man roster. From the top to the bottom of the order and deep into the bullpen, someone always seems to step up. During UNC's dramatic 8-5 win over Mississippi State, the unlikely hero was seemingly forgotten undefeated fourth starter Adam Warren.

The sophomore righty from New Bern hadn't thrown a competitive pitch in 24 days, despite his lofty 10-0 record and a microscopic 1.95 ERA. On Friday, he was ready in the nick of time, pitching 4.1 innings of scoreless relief just when it looked like the Bulldogs might tack on another couple to their 4-0 lead.

Warren was called on in the second inning and got a key groundball out to strand MSU base runners in scoring position.

"I was really locating my fastball," Warren said. "And I got a couple of batters to swing and miss at my slider, so that was real effective for me."

So why has his activity dwindled? Simply put, the match-ups with regard to the Tar Heels rotation haven't set up well for him to start. With so much good karma working for his team right now, Mike Fox hasn't seen fit to break from his regular schedule of starters. And, of course, there were no mid-week games during the Regional and Super Regional rounds, where Warren would have certainly been in service.

But that doesn't mean he was overlooked going into the CWS.

"I got the team together and used Adam as an example of staying with it," Fox said. "He's very prepared. He comes out and does his business every day, and doesn't get down that he's not (been) playing in the postseason for us. Then all of a sudden, he's on a big stage for us."

The weapons on the pitching staff may be too much to keep the Tar Heels from capturing their first national title. Having Warren available for long relief is a luxury few of the eight teams in the CWS field have.

"It was exciting to be back out there again and help our team win," Warren said. "I definitely had some adrenaline flowing. We have such a great group of guys, it's just a lot of fun to go out and compete with them. We're never going to give up."

Carolina got another lift from the bottom of its batting order in the form of Benji Johnson – a backup catcher and part-time designated hitter. Johnson has been anything but second-string of late, however.

Prior to 2-for-4 performance against Mississippi State, in which he doubled off the wall in the Tar Heels' decisive sixth-inning burst, Johnson had been 1-for-5 in NCAA play.

Centerfielder Seth Williams usually bats seventh, but entering the CWS, he led UNC with a .444 NCAA average in the tournament, although he had his 16-game NCAA hitting streak snapped versus the Bulldogs.

And ninth-hole-hitting second-baseman Garrett Gore has stepped up to a .333 average – third-best on the team – from a .227 mark last season.

"Look at their bullpen and it is indicative of a good team," MSU coach Ron Polk said. "Not just offensively, but they can do it all."

No. 3 national seed UNC (54-13) will host second-seeded Rice (55-12) Sunday at 7 p.m. (ESPN2).

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