June 8, 2008

2008 Super Regionals

UNC Accepts Coastal’s Gifts

Tar Heels eye return to Omaha


By Keith Parsons

Keith Parsons is a former sports writer for The Associated Press in Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C. He counts covering North Carolina’s run to the 2005 NCAA basketball championship as perhaps the highlight of his journalism career. He gave up full-time writing in 2006 to enter the world of banking.

CARY, N.C. - Everything seemed to go against Coastal Carolina, from two close plays at first base in the first inning to a pair of pitchers tossed from the game for arguing balls and strikes in the eighth.

In between, there were five errors by a normally reliable middle infield and no extra base hits by its powerful offense.

That hardly gave the Chanticleers much chance against Alex White and North Carolina.

White, the pitcher of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, pitched seven strong innings in brutally hot conditions, and Seth Williams had a solo home run among his three hits as the Tar Heels beat Coastal Carolina 9-4 Saturday in the opening game of this NCAA Super Regional.

Kyle Shelton and Tim Federowicz added two hits apiece for North Carolina (50-12), which can advance to the College World Series for the third consecutive year with a victory Sunday in the best-of-three series. Game 2 is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
Williams, Shelton and Kyle Seager each drove in two runs, and the Tar Heels didn’t commit any errors.

“The strength of our team all year long has been pitching and defense,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “I thought that was the case today.”

With the Chanticleers seemingly falling apart in the triple-digit heat, White (10-3) was steady during his 105-pitch outing. He allowed three runs on eight hits and struck out six, surrendering only one walk while North Carolina took control early, then left after giving up back-to-back singles to start the eighth.

Brian Moran and Rob Wooten finished out the dominating performance.

“It helps out a whole lot when you’ve been here before and other teams haven’t,” Shelton said.

Perhaps that would explain Coastal Carolina’s poor effort. Shortstop Tyler Bortnick booted a grounder by Dustin Ackley to lead off the first, and one out later, Tim Fedroff beat out a dribbler to Bortnick to put the Tar Heels in scoring position.

Both Ackley and Fedroff were called safe on bang-bang plays, much to the chagrin of the Chanticleers faithful, who berated umpire Steve Mattingly with criticism from a location behind the first-base dugout.

Seager followed with a long drive off the wall in right to score two runs, and North Carolina was on its way. And, by the same token, so was Coastal Carolina.

“You’ve got to keep your head up, you’ve got to deal with it,” Chanticleers center fielder David Sappelt said. “Maybe it was too much for us.”

Bortnick added another error in the seventh when he threw wildly toward second on a force play to let the final two runs score for the Tar Heels. Second baseman Rico Noel actually fared worse than his double-play partner, finishing with three errors.

The first helped lead to North Carolina’s third run when he bobbled a roller hit by Mark Fleury to leave runners at first and second. Starting pitcher Bobby Gagg (6-3) made the next blunder, whirling to make a pickoff throw to first with no one covering and allowing Federowicz to score from second.

Gagg eventually departed the game after giving up consecutive doubles to start the fifth and was replaced by Joey Haug. Then both left the playing field three innings later for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout, and they were forced to make the long walk down the right-field line to the exit.

“They were in the wrong,” Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore said. “The emotions of competing and being a kid, it just got the best of them. We’ll handle it.”

Unfortunately, the Chanticleers couldn’t handle White. But few have. His ERA actually rose slightly to 2.75, even though none of his teammates was complaining.

“Throwing strikes, pounding the zone, getting ahead of guys,” said Williams, who enjoyed the show from his position in the outfield. “Pretty special today watching that from centerfield.”

Now the Tar Heels need to do it again for a return trip to Omaha, Neb., where they’ve lost in the championship game the past two seasons.

“It’s a great feeling, but we still have to win one more game to get there,” White said. “We’ve got to play well.”