Heels Storm To CWS Finals

OMAHA, Neb. --- And then there were two. In its best performance of the 2007 College World Series, North Carolina exploded for four home runs on Thursday in a 7-4 win over Rice. Thus, the Tar Heels set up an anticipated championship series rematch with Oregon State beginning Saturday.

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    "To say we're playing for the College World Series title right now is surreal," said UNC coach Mike Fox, who is 29-16 in eight NCAA Tournament appearances. "I owe a lot to my players to just how resilient they are. They've done this all year long, so it doesn't really surprise me."

    The Tar Heels (57-14), who fought off elimination games in three consecutive days, have unfinished business with the Beavers (47-18).

    They'll engage in a best-of-three series for a national championship on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (if necessary). All games begin at 7 p.m. EST and will be televised on ESPN (Sat. & Mon.) and ESPN2 (Sun.).

    Carolina is also challenging for the ACC's first national title since Wake Forest claimed the crown in 1955.

    "This team has done it all year long," Fox said. "It doesn't surprise me we were able to come back and win three games. We're thrilled and happy to be playing for the national title."

    Warren (12-0) was magnificent again, allowing just three hits over six innings. Later, Carignan would close things out for an 18th time this season, surrendering nary a hit over 2.1 innings.

    But it was a Carolina power surge that set the tone, as four different Tar Heel batters went yard.

    "North Carolina hit the long ball, and that's fun to watch if you're on the other side," said Rice coach Wayne Graham.

    "The No. 1 thing is North Carolina is a fantastic team."

    UNC struck first in the second inning on a tape measure shot over the center field wall. Dustin Ackley's ninth homer of the season was his second in two days, and it gave the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.

    "We haven't been doing things any differently," Ackley said. "Everyone is clicking at the same time."

    But in the top of the third, Warren, who is the only pitcher in this CWS to have thrown a hitless first and second inning, gave up a pair of runs on a two-out single by Rice third baseman Diego Seastrunk.

    However Warren recovered to strand two Owl runners to keep the score at 2-1. That was important, because the Tar Heels answered quickly with a two-run blast by Tim Fedroff.

    Just like that, Carolina led again, 3-2, as Graham went to the mound to settle down Owls' starter Matt Langwell.

    But maybe the veteran coach instead should have talked up his shortstop Brian Friday, who before Graham could get back to his seat on the bench and cross his legs, had kicked his second grounder of the game (his third error in two days), and threw the ball away at first.

    It enabled Josh Horton to advance to second base with no outs, though Langwell got Ackley and Flack to fly out, and the Owls avoided further damage in the bottom of the third.

    Langwell gave up three runs on two hits – both homers – before giving way to top reliever Bobby Bramhall in the fourth.

    Still, Graham couldn't get comfortable, because Seth Williams mashed Bramhall's first pitch over the left field wall and extending UNC's lead to 4-2.

    "I'm not sure where the home runs came from tonight," Fox said. "We saved them all up."

    Rob Wooten was warmed and ready in the Carolina bullpen, but Fox opted to stay with Warren for the fifth. The New Bern sophomore didn't let his coach down, as he retired the side in order on six pitches.

    Next up was Horton, who laced a first pitch fastball over the right centerfield wall to make it 5-2.

    Graham visited Bramhall but left him in with no outs. It was yet another costly miscalculation by Graham, as Federowicz and Ackley then walked.

    Following a sacrifice by Chad Flack, enter Cole St. Clair, the Owls' regular closer, who promptly gave up a two-run single to freshman designated hitter Kyle Seager.

    It was now a 7-2 Carolina lead with Warren cruising. The Tar Heels didn't need to save any pitchers with a day off on Friday, but Warren kept his bullpen in spectator mode most of the night.

    Still, Rice was not done.

    Wooten came in one on in the top of the seventh and gave up a pair of RBI singles. With the UNC lead down to 7-4, Fox motioned for Carignan to face Philadelphia Phillies' first-round draft pick Joe Savery.

    The hard-throwing Carignan set Savery up with a 0-2 pitch that was outside for a ball. At 1-2, he tickled the outside corner with another fastball, which left Savery standing at the plate the victim of a called strikeout.

    Whether Carignan's pitch was a strike may be debated, but nevertheless, Rice's most serious comeback threat of the night had been neutralized.

    "The ball was six inches outside of the strike zone," Savery said. "It is disappointing to go out like that, but I'm not going to sum up my college career by that one at-bat. That's a crime to do that."

    Fox said he expects to start Greenville freshman Alex White on Saturday.

    "If we didn't use him today, and we were fortunate enough to win, we thought we would use him," Fox said.

    "We just want to take a deep breath. We're happy to still be playing."


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