Game Day: UNC vs. OSU

OMAHA, Neb. --- It isn't often a team gets another shot at the chance of a lifetime. But North Carolina will return to the College World Series Finals again – to meet Oregon State again – and just one year removed from the Tar Heels' heartbreaking series loss to the defending national champion Beavers.

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    "This is a tough bunch," closer Andrew Carignan said. "We have all the confidence in the world in ourselves and in each other. We know how much of a challenge this but we've come together for it."

    The best-of-three series for the national championship will take place 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.).

    UNC (57-14) wants what OSU has. The team has coveted it ever since a 5-0 lead in Game Two last season was squandered, and costly mistakes ended what was the Tar Heels' winningest season to date.

    "A lot of that is just how the ball bounces," shortstop Josh Horton said. "We caught some bad breaks last year. We've been fortunate enough to play great defense this year. We're going to try the best we can to keep that up."

    For a year, they have savored what the Beavers snatched away from them. Now the Tar Heels get a rare opportunity at redemption on the ultimate stage.

    Still, Horton insists there is no déjà vu afoot.

    "We forgot about last year a long time ago," he said. "We're just ready to get back on the field and play for the national championship again. We're a totally different team this year."

    But while many of the names are the same, roles have been reversed.

    Last season it was UNC that swept three games in the double elimination bracket and waited on Oregon State to emerge as its challenger. The Beavers came back to win it all after losing 11-1 to Miami in the CWS opener.

    This time OSU (47-18) needed just three games in seven days to set up the weekend, while the Tar Heels had to win three elimination games in three days.

    "We'll obviously use their example from last year, and they'll use ours," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "There is something to be said about playing three games to get here but the rest is also very important.

    "I think just the fact that we're here is good enough for us at this point."

    While there is plenty of CWS experience in both locker rooms, two rookies make up the starting pitching match-up in Game One.

    Carolina will go with Alex White (6-6, 4.74 ERA) – he's next in the rotation and has the most rest. However, like senior teammate Robert Woodard, White will look to rebound from a forgettable last outing – Sunday, when he gave up six runs in an inning and a third in the Tar Heels' 14-4 loss to Rice.

    Recently, Woodard had some advice for White.

    "He's my roommate," Woodard said. "I told him we wouldn't be here without him. I told him we need him to win the national championship and that you'll get your chance to help."

    OSU will send 6-foot-2, 175-pound righty Jorge Reyes (6-3, 3.00) to the mound.

    When asked if he had any reservations about starting a freshman in such a big game, OSU coach Pat Casey replied, "We put [Reyes] in the rotation about six weeks ago. He's been our first starter for the regional, super regional and first game of the College World Series. By now we feel these kids have been through it pretty good. They have enough poise to get through it."

    Whatever was ailing the Tar Heels in the first two games of the CWS – they're over it now. Struggling starting pitching, large early deficits and lack of home runs seem to be a thing of the past.

    Carolina had momentum but faltered down the stretch in 2006. The Tar Heels have found their niche again just in time. This year they hope they can hold onto it and bring home the biggest trophy.

    "It's about putting together a solid game one through nine innings," Woodard said. "It's a tribute to how tough this team is. It is nice to rally in the sixth or seventh inning for runs, but you have to have a complete solid game to be successful here."


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