Wheeler's wheels never even had time to fall off, as Chanticleers pitching coach Drew Thomas strolled out to the mound just seven pitches into the first inning for a talk. The sophomore lefty (10-1) lost the first game of his career after notching 16 straight victories, lasting just 2 2/3 innings while allowing six earned runs on 68 pitches.
White (7-4) wasn't much better in fighting through a finger blister and a tweaked hamstring, but the junior flamethrower was good enough to hold Coastal to five earned runs on 104 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.
Colin Bates (4-2) picked up the win in relief, allowing just one hit in 3 1/3 innings.
After Friday's opening victory against Dartmouth centered around pitching and defense, Saturday was about reigniting the offensive spark that had merely flickered in producing nine runs over the previous three games.
North Carolina picked up RBIs from seven different batters, including three RBI each by Ben Bunting (2-of-5, walk), Levi Michael (4-of-6) and Kyle Seager (2-of-4, walk). Dustin Ackley (4-4, RBI, two walks) and Garrett Gore (2-of-5, RBI) both added multi-hit performances for the Tar Heels.
Coastal Carolina, on the other hand, scattered five hits by five hitters, highlighted by a three-run third inning – thanks to a wild pitch and a two-run double – that temporarily moved the Chanticleers in front 3-2. The Tar Heels quickly answered with a four-run bottom of the inning to take a lead that they would never relinquish.
North Carolina returns to action on Sunday at 5 pm, awaiting the winner of the 1 pm elimination game pitting Coastal against No. 3 seed Kansas.
INSIDE THE GAME
Battle of the Bullpens
It didn't take long for the hyped gunfight between White and Wheeler to deteriorate into a mere slapping match on the mound. The Big South Pitcher of the Year exited with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning, while the 2008 ACC Pitcher of the Year endured through 4 2/3, combining to cough up 11 runs with the help of 10 walks.
Both hurlers lead their teams in innings pitched (the two straddling 90), so their early exits placed an immense amount of pressure on their bullpens to limit damage during the latter part of the contest.
One succeeded, while the other one did not, as evidenced by the final score.
In Bates' first appearance in 10 days - after throwing 2/3 innings and giving up one hit in the ACC Tournament-opening victory over Duke - the red-shirt sophomore righty plowed through the Chants in dominating fashion through the eighth inning. And despite Greg Holt loading the bases on three walks in the ninth, Nate Striz forced a game-ending double play to hold Coastal to just one hit over its final 4 1/3 innings.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing, I just go out there and try to throw my game, throw strikes and make them hit me," Bates told reporters during the postgame press conference.
The Chants were not as fortunate, sending four relief pitchers to the mound to combine for eight earned runs and 13 hits, effectively ending any chance for a Coastal Carolina rally.
"It's very difficult to match North Carolina with the pitching prowess that they have," Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore said. "... That's probably the best [Bates] has ever pitched against us tonight."
Role Players Deliver
If there has been one constant all season long with regard to UNC's offensive prowess, it's the continuing storyline of the Tar Heel supporting cast needing to provide Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager with added firepower at the plate.
In North Carolina's most important game of the season, the role players rose to the occasion, accounting for UNC's first six RBI. Bunting scored on Ryan Graepel's fielder's choice in the second, quickly followed Michael's RBI single to build the early 2-0 lead.
There was Bunting's three RBI double in the third, as well as Stallings' bases loaded walk that pushed UNC ahead 6-3. Add in a combined four more RBIs from Graepel, Gore and Michael, and the collective group was essential in moving North Carolina into the catbird seat in the Chapel Hill Regional.
"I thought it was a team effort," Michael said. "Everybody pitched in tonight offensively and everybody was getting on base, one way or another -- hits, hit by pitch, walks."
Ackley and Seager, for their part, totaled six hits in eight at-bats and four RBI.
"We weren't trying to put the emphasis just on Dusty and putting the pressure on him," Bunting said. "I think we kind of made it easier on him by getting on base and letting him do what he does best."
Average Day for Ackley
This is how good Dustin Ackley is -- when a UNC official inquired with reporters about players to send to the postgame press conference, the junior first baseman's name never came up.
Never mind reaching base in all six at-bats, as well as setting a UNC record with 221 career runs, surpassing Jarrett Shearin ('96-'99), or that Ackley posted his 15th career game with at least four hits.
"He is the best player in the country without a doubt -- he has to be," UNC head coach Mike Fox said.
These stats seem to back that statement up -- Ackley is batting .500 (30-60) in May with nine multi-hit games in 14 chances.