North Carolina capitalized on two outstanding pitching performances against Coastal Carolina, a team that entered the Super Regional with a reputation as an offensive juggernaut. Alex White started the first game Saturday, allowing one run in seven innings. And it was more of the same on Sunday from Adam Warren, who pitched six innings of shutout baseball, allowing two hits and walking four batters. The Heels' offensive production played a role as well, as it helped take the pressure off the starters.
"It's always easier when the offensive scores six in the second," Warren said Sunday postgame. "After about the third inning I started thinking to just go right at the hitters and let them put it in play."
The Tar Heel starters had an earned run average of 2.08 this weekend, along with a 1.154 WHIP, a 2.77 DICE rating, and 63 percent of their pitches were strikes. "They kept us off balance," CCU outfielder David Sappelt reflected on the Tar Heel pitching. "We got kind of frustrated and ended up having to swing at pitches that they kept changing up [speed and location] to keep us off balance."
Offense Across the Lineup
After a strong offensive showing on Saturday, the Tar Heels were even better on Sunday – when all nine batters recorded hits (six of which had a multi-hit game). They sent 10 batters to the plate in a six-run second inning on Sunday and scored eight of their first nine runs with two outs. The Tar Heel bats were as hot as the thermometer this weekend, as they hit .338 while getting on base at a .418 clip. The Heels got ahead in the early innings in both games with big hits, while also taking advantage of numerous Chanticleer errors and defensive miscues.
Tim Federowicz had five hits in the two games, scoring twice and knocking in three runs. Dustin Ackley and Seth Williams had four hits, while Williams hit the Tar Heels only home run of the weekend. Ackley reached base seven times on the weekend, drawing postgame praise from head coach Mike Fox: "You saw Dustin Ackley at his best today - he's something special - you saw it the last couple days. That kid is absolutely unreal."
The Tar Heels did not commit an error during the two-game series, while Coastal Carolina committed nine. Not recorded in the box score was the fact that the UNC fielders took advantage of their experience with the ballpark, getting the right jumps, taking the right angles and making the smart plays --- while the Chanticleers struggled mightily all weekend.
While the outfielders made key players, shortstop Ryan Graepel was stellar in the infield. And the catchers also got involved in the action: Mark Fleury threw out Coastal Carolina's standout base-stealer Scott Woodard in the fifth inning of the Saturday game, while Federowicz added a pickoff on a snap throw behind Adam Rice in the second inning of the Sunday game. The Chanticleers were unable to steal a base after coming into the Super Regional with 105 thefts on the season.
"I think we just took it as another day," senior third baseman Chad Flack stated about the Tar Heels defense this weekend. "If you play it just one inning at a time, one game at a time, you are a lot better off than looking ahead. [The coaching staff] helped us focus and let us know that we had a chance to go back [to Omaha] and do something special. We had a chance to work on the little things this week - that helped us a lot."
Welcome to Omaha
North Carolina heads back to the College World Series for the third straight year. The only other ACC team to accomplish this feat was Florida State. It's an accomplishment that is not to be taken for granted, even if it's becoming commonplace for the Tar Heels.
"It's a great feeling," Federowicz said. "It's getting to the point where we're expected to be there and that's where we want to be as a program."
Fox was confident his team would reach this point, having hinted it to his players during the season.
"You have to believe, I think deep down you have to feel it," Fox said. "Occasionally I would drop a couple of hints that I know that we were going back. I think we all sort of thought that if we do our part and we are lucky and don't have any injuries we could [get back there]."
The Tar Heels had to play away from their home field of Boshamer Stadium as the venerable baseball park was undergoing a season long renovation. But while a season of traveling to ‘home' games in Cary was an obstacle, it was one the team embraced.
"It has really been special, we not concerned but were all kind wondering what would happen being in a new place," Fox said. "Some new people found us, some of our fan base obviously came out. To look up and see the place packed [this weekend] with the temperatures being around 100 degrees … Everyone came together to put on a great event...it is a pretty special place. We have had a good time out here."
The dimensions of Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha are similar to the Heels adopted field this season at the USA Baseball Training Facility - so they should be well prepared offensively and defensively for the park at the College World Series.