It’s been nearly five full years since North Carolina made it to the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals. After a few down years and shocking first-round exit in 2017, the Tar Heels had all the motivation need coming into the series against Stetson.
But things did not start as planned. After getting the first man out, UNC starter Cooper Criswell allowed a ringing home run to dead right field to put the Tar Heels in an early hole.
However, the Diamond Heels brought the bats to this one. After a HBP to Kyle Datres and walk to Michael Busch to lead off the bottom of the first, Cody Roberts ripped an RBI double down the left field line to tie up the game.
Stetson starter —and 14th overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft— Logan Gilbert proved to be a formidable opponent, settling in after the first to keep the Tar Heel bats at bay in innings 2-4. The fifth brought much of the same, until a two-out single by Datres started a rally.
Busch followed the single with a walk, working the count to 3-2 before doing so. This put Gilbert’s pitch count over 70, paving the way for UNC to break it open — and they did.
Roberts got the count to 2-2 before drilling a hanging 76 mph breaking ball well over the fence in left field to give North Carolina a 4-1 advantage. This marked only the third time this season Gilbert had been touched for 4-plus runs, and only the tenth time he had served up a longball to a right-handed batter.
While Gilbert was able to retire the following hitter, the damage had been done. His Hatters were now down 4-1 heading into the top of the sixth. Stetson worked in a small rally to chase Criswell, but that was stifled by reliever Caden O’Brien. In total, Criswell worked five innings, ceding one run, while also striking out three.
After a leadoff walk in the top top of the seventh — aided by the at-bat starting with a 1-0 count due to a wardrobe malfunction — UNC turned to Rodney Hutchison to get out of another tough spot.
This one was not so simple. A Stetson single, followed by a wild sacrifice bunt attempt turned pinball led to a Hatter run. The Tar Heels then turned to Josh Hiatt. After retiring the first two he faced, a wild pitch led to another run for the visiting Hatters.
With the score now 4-3, UNC came up in the bottom half of the seventh needs to take the wind out of the Stetson sails. After the first batter got out, Datres was hit by a pitch again, sending Busch up to the plate.
The Tar Heels RBI leader did not disappoint, pummeling a 3-2 pitch deep into the former Ehringhaus field to give UNC a 6-3 advantage. UNC was not done there, as a walk to Roberts and a double from Brandon Riley gave UNC two runners in scoring position with only one out.
A walk to Zack Gahagan brought in another to push the score to 7-3, before a strikeout ended the threat.
The Hatters tried to mount a rally in the top of the ninth, but Austin Bergner came on for his second career save to secure the win.
The Diamond Heels need only one more win to advance to Omaha, and they will try to get it done tomorrow at 12 PM.