June 6, 2009

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White Leaves Lasting Impression


Little Guys, White Come Up Big for Tar Heels

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


Sean Ryan is a co-founder of CollegeBaseballInsider.com who works in public relations for a living and also coaches high school baseball. He was a three-year starter at third base and two-time captain for the University of Richmond Spiders.


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Move aside Dustin Ackley. Pardon me Kyle Seager. Coming through Alex White (left).


On a day when North Carolina welcomed in-state rival East Carolina to the Chapel Hill Super Regional, it was the Tar Heels’ mighty mites – Levi Michael, Garrett Gore, Mike Cavasinni and Seth Baldwin – who transitioned from supporting to starring roles in a 10-1 win Saturday before a sold-out crowd at Boshamer Stadium. North Carolina (46-16) scored seven times in the sixth inning (46-19) to break from a 2-1 game and move within one win of its fourth straight trip to the College World Series. 


It wasn’t as if Ackley, Seager and White were invisible – Seager went 4 for 5 with a late homer and two RBI, and White struck out a career-best 12 in a 8.1 innings before leaving to a raucous standing ovation. It was more that the bottom four in the Tar Heels’ lineup – a group that averages a whopping 178 pounds – stood out against the Pirates, who start only one player (Trent Whitehead) who weighs 178 or less.


Michael went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a pair of RBI, Gore drove in two with a clutch two-strike single, Cavasinni had two hits and two runs and Baldwin, starting for only the seventh time, went 2 for 3 with a run and a RBI.


“Our bottom-of-the-lineup guys are really good hitters, too,” said Seager, who singled his first three times to the plate before homering into the trees in right in the eighth. “It’s not like they’re giving outs away.


In the bottom of the sixth, it was East Carolina that was in the giving mood.


Sophomore ace Seth Maness (9-3) had kept the Tar Heels off balance with a steady diet of breaking balls and changeups. Ryan Graepel led off the frame with a single and moved to third on Michael’s double down the right-field line. Gore then stuck his bat out on a two-strike Seth Maness offering and dunked it into right field for a 4-1 lead.


“We haven’t had many big innings,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “You have to get a little lucky to have big innings…I thought Garrett’s swing with two strikes was probably the biggest hit of the game.”


Cavasinni then bunted toward first, where the Pirates were slow to react, and the speedy centerfielder beat the throw to put runners on first and second.


Baldwin, who entered with eight hits on the year and delivered two hits in his first two-at bats, bounced to second, where Ryan Wood botched it, allowing Gore to score from second and Cavasinni and Baldwin to advance to third and second. Ben Bunting bunted on a safety squeeze back to reliever Patrick Somers, but Wood was late to cover at first, loading the bases.


“When you start giving teams five outs, especially at this level and against a team like the University of North Carolina, you’re asking for trouble,” Pirates coach Billy Godwin said.


After an Ackley sacrifice fly, Mark Fleury drove in a run and Michael plated two more with a two-strike soft liner that dropped in front of right fielder Devin Harris.


“It’s frustrating of course, but you really can’t harp on just one hit,” Maness said of North Carolina’s dinks and dunks. “If you do that you’re going to start making bad pitches… You have to have a short-term memory and go after the next guy and try to put it behind you. When they did have a couple of them in a row, it is frustrating.”


East Carolina took a 1-0 lead in the second on Brandon Henderson’s 13th homer of the year.


It was short-lived as Cavasinni hit a bloop, two-strike double down the left-field line in the third and scored on Baldwin’s single to left to tie it at 1. Bunting beat out a potential double-play grounder to third to extend the inning, giving the big bats of Ackley and Seager a chance with two outs. Both singled, with Bunting coming in on Seager’s hit for a 2-1 lead.


White (8-4) was just getting started.


The junior right-hander from ECU’s hometown of Greenville, struck out two apiece in the second and third and then struck out the side in the fourth.


“Usually when I struggle, it’s when I can’t hit a spot,” said White, expected to be drafted in the first 10 picks in next week’s Major League Draft. “I found the strike zone late and put my fastball where I wanted to. Obviously, when you do that and throw a secondary pitch behind it, you’re going to have a good day.”


But the Pirates made him work, scratching for nine hits and three walks.


East Carolina put two runners on in the top of the sixth when Roller (2 for 3) and Henderson (2 for 4) singled to lead off the inning. White turned it up a notch in blowing Harris away, then induced Dustin Harrington to bounce into a double play to end the threat.


“He has a very good fastball, and he was working it all day,” Henderson said. “He was throwing a very heavy fastball, and he kept it down on the knees on the outside corner. We had a few opportunities, but we couldn’t cash in on him. To his credit, he got out of all those jams.”




·        The Chapel Hill Super Regional features the “baseball” names: Ryan Wood (ECU), Stephen Batts (ECU), Kyle Roller (ECU), Shawn Armstrong (ECU), Mark Wilder (ECU) and Ben Bunting (UNC).

·        Former UNC star Chad Flack serves as a volunteer assistant for the Tar Heels.

·        Both teams ended the first with a caught stealing, meaning ECU’s Brandon Henderson and UNC’s Mark Fleury got sneak peeks at the opposing pitchers. Henderson was late on two fastballs from Alex White when Kyle Roller was thrown out on a delay steal. Henderson led off the second and blasted a 1-0 fastball over the wall in left. Fleury was down 0-1 on a breaking ball when Kyle Seager was picked off first to end the first. He opened the second by singling to left on an 0-2 fastball that Maness left up got too much of the plate.

·        Kyle Roller and Brandon Henderson singled to open the sixth, putting Pirates coach Billy Godwin in a tough spot. With runners on first and second, up stepped Devin Harris in what could have been seen as a bunt situation. Harris, who singled in his previous at-bat, does not have a sacrifice all year and entered with 61 strikeouts in 204 at-bats. White struck him out for the second time before getting a double-play grounder to get out of the jam.

·        UNC made several solid plays behind Alex White, including Levi Michael ranging far to his left and deep into the outfield grass to rob Jared Avchen of a RBI single in the second inning.


(photo courtesy of UNC Media Relations Office)