The Jayhawks (39-24) were hoping their 5-1 victory over Coastal Carolina earlier in the day would provide some momentum in the nightcap, but the well-rested Heels (45-16) sent Adam Warren (8-2, 0 runs, 5 hits, 6 2/3 innings) to the mound and continued their offensive onslaught from Saturday night, etching seven runs in the third.
The 2-3-4 segment of UNC's batting order delivered seven RBI as Dustin Ackley (3-of-5, 2 RBI) added his 21st homerun of the season – three short of the school record – while Kyle Seager and Ryan Graepel combined for five RBI on 3-of-9 hitting. After posting the touchdown in the third, the Tar Heels scored single runs in each of the fifth, sixth and ninth innings, in addition to tacking on two more in the eighth.
Kansas, on the other hand, struggled to find hits, let alone runs, against North Carolina. Six different players earned hits in seven different innings, highlighted by Tony Thompson's ninth-inning solo shot off Patrick Johnson.
Ackley was tabbed the Chapel Hill Region's Most Valuable Player, with Gore, Warren, Ben Bunting and Levi Michael joining him on the All-Tournament Team.
The Tar Heels must now wait until Monday night to see whether its South Carolina or East Carolina that will travel to Chapel Hill next weekend for a best-of-three Super Regional. The prize for that series, of course, is a golden ticket to Omaha.
INSIDE THE GAME
Gore the Giant
Garrett Gore is not known for his power, boasting just three homeruns and seven extra-base hits entering Sunday's contest. But the senior right fielder essentially announced his squad's return to a fourth-straight Super Regional with a grand slam blast over the centerfield wall for a 7-0 lead in the top of the third inning.
But even if you didn't know Gore's statistics before that at-bat, his reaction gave away his hitting prowess, as the Wilmington, N.C. native rounded first base at top speed. You can't blame him – after all, he's not used to hitting the ball over 400 feet.
"For instance, when Dusty hits the ball good, he can walk out of the box and say, ‘I got it,'" Gore said. "But me, I've got Coach [Mike] Fox yelling, ‘Get your [rear] to second.' It is what it is. But I didn't know it was gone until I got to about first base."
Assistant coach Scott Jackson advised his No. 7 hitter to sit on a slider in the first at-bat, but Gore jumped on a high fastball for the grand slam. He finally followed his coach's advice in the fifth inning.
"The next at bat, [Jackson] said, ‘You're going to get a slider,'" Gore said. "And I said, ‘I'm sitting it,' and I got it. I was legitimately sitting the slider that time and it went out."
That second homerun flew over the 375-foot marker in left-centerfield, but it easily flew just as far as the first one. Gore indicated that he didn't even know the second blast was over the fence until he got to first base, but his head coach disagreed.
"I don't think there was any doubt that the second one was out," Fox said. "He knew it – he was just pulling your leg. That's as good as he can hit a ball."
The Trouble with the Losers' Bracket
Sunday's victory may have clinched the region for North Carolina, but Saturday's win over Coastal Carolina built the coffin and began the hammering process.
Kansas may have entered the weekend ranked 32nd nationally in ERA (4.39), but those numbers don't typically reflect converting a middle reliever to starting pitcher to face someone of Adam Warren's caliber. The Jayhawks – nearly out of starter options – countered the Tar Heels' No. 2 option with lefty Travis Blankenship, whose only other start this season occurred on Mar. 4 against Div. II North Dakota, giving up one run on three hits in 5.0 innings for a 6-3 victory.
Granted, the Jayhawks set themselves up nicely in the losers' bracket by winning on Saturday behind a complete game by Shaeffer Hall before getting six strong innings from Cam Selik in Sunday's victory.
"Shaeffer did a great job and Cam did a great job [in two victories this weekend], so we felt like our pen was there," Blankenship said. "We played hard the first game and we were ready to play again, but just playing two games always takes a lot out of you when you're used to playing one a day."
But throwing out a pitcher with a 7.71 ERA in Big 12 play and 34 hits and 20 earned runs in 37 2/3 innings against North Carolina's bats is simply too tall of a task to overcome.
A Senior Decision
When Warren jogged off the mound with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the senior righty received a loud ovation from the 2,707 fans in attendance. After all, the New Bern, N.C. product prevented the Jayhawk bats from developing any rhythm at the plate through nearly seven innings.
In two postseason victories, Warren has only given up three earned runs and 11 hits in 15 innings, thanks to 15 strikeouts against just one walk.
"I'm throwing strikes and I haven't walked many people," the senior said. "I kind of had a revelation during the 11 days that I had off this week and found my cutter, my slider. It was a lot better for me today."
Thompson, Kansas' third-team All America third baseman, described the trouble he and his teammates were having with Warren, saying, "I think he really spotted up nice. He has pretty good velocity, too, and he was painting the corners all day."