The hits started rolling early and often for North Carolina, led by Dustin Ackley's RBI single in the top of the first inning. The All-American first baseman was 5-for-6 with three RBI, and in the process blew past the previous College World Series record for career base hits (24) in notching No. 27.
The Golden Eagles trotted right-hander J.R. Ballinger (6-4) onto the mound with minimal success. The sophomore lasted just 2 2/3 innings, coughing up six earned runs on nine hits and four walks, throwing just 37 strikes in 73 total pitches.
"I was hoping not to be wrong, but I really worried about our matchup [with] seven left-handed hitters in there," Southern Miss head coach Corky Palmer told reporters in the postgame press conference. "We didn't have an answer."
As a team, North Carolina batted .511 (23-of-45) with an on-base percentage of .644. The Tar Heels scored in six different innings, and the final margin could have been even worse, as they left 14 men on base.
Ryan Graepel shifted from the four-spot to the seven-spot in the lineup on Tuesday, and responded with a 4-of-5 display with two RBI – one of six Heels to notch a RBI.
Southern Miss, on the other hand, could not get anything going against UNC hurler Adam Warren (10-2, 6.0 innings, 3 ER, 6 so, 5 bb), who won his fourth-straight postseason outing. B.A. Vollmuth provided a three-run homer in the fourth inning for the Golden Eagles, but by that time UNC was already up 8-3.
"I think my grasp on my command in the first four innings was pretty bad," Warren said. "I just had to battle through it. With the homerun, I hung a slider, which was unfortunate. It was just one of those outings where your command is not there, but you've got to get through as many innings as you can."
North Carolina is now 6-1 in bracket elimination games over the past three seasons in Omaha, and will face the loser of Tuesday night's matchup between No. 1 Texas and No. 5 Arizona State.
INSIDE THE GAME
Ackley Being Ackley
The junior from Walnut Cove, N.C. posted RBI hits in each of the first three innings on Tuesday, but while the national media could only laugh about the first baseman's complete wizardry at the plate, the local media and fans watching had more mundane reactions.
After all, this isn't the first time Ackley has put on a show like this one.
"It was an unbelievable performance, and we've seen that before from him, day-in and day-out," UNC head coach Mike Fox said. "He is one sensational player and I'm glad the nation got to see a little bit of that today."
From someone with less exposure to Ackley, the response was a little different.
"The guy can just flat out hit," Golden Eagles second baseman James Ewing said. "We always heard about him. Coming into this game, we had heard about him numerous times. To watch him, the guy hits the ball where it's pitched, he's got great hand-eye coordination [and] you can't strike him out… That was a show that he put on for us today."
His five base hits equal his career high established earlier this season against VMI on Feb. 22, while also setting a UNC record in the College World Series. In seven 2009 NCAA Tournament games, Ackley is batting a team-best .576 (19-33) to boost his career postseason average to .419 (54-129).
As for snapping the CWS hits record, Ackley delivered a response that we've also grown to expect.
"Going into this game, I had heard that I was three away from the record, so when I finally got it, it was definitely exciting to get that record," Ackley said. "But we needed to do more than that and get a win today."
Saving the Bullpen
Despite losing their first game against Arizona State, the Tar Heels have to be feeling good about the status of their pitching ranks. Alex White's nine-inning showcase on Sunday allowed Colin Bates and Brian Moran to throw a combined 32 pitches against Arizona State, and Warren's six innings on Tuesday left 37 pitches on the table for Bates, Patrick Johnson and Nate Striz.
The latter two were put into the game not because UNC needed them, but because they needed the reps.
"We tried to run some guys out there in the last inning just to get them on the mound in Omaha and get their feet wet and let them get used to it," Fox said.
What's left is a rested bullpen behind Thursday night starting pitcher Matt Harvey, with plenty of options left in the tank for a legitimate run at the championship series early next week.