CHAPEL HILL – In the Disney movie Remember the Titans, Will Patton’s Coach Bill Yoast turns to Denzel Washington’s Coach Herman Boone late in the Virginia state semifinal playoff game as their T.C. Williams Titans are cruising to a victory.
Yoast smirks as Boone pumps his fist as the Titans run for another score, before he looks over at his coach and exclaims.
“Run it up Herman! Leave no doubt!”
It took a 53-minute rain delay, 19 runs, 19 players, and one final long night at the Bosh. But when Rodney Hutchinson got Jared Triolo swinging on an 0-2 pitch for the last out in UNC’s 19-11 win over the Houston Cougars, there was no doubt of where the Tar Heels stood.
Regional champs, for the first time since 2013.
"What we just did is really hard," Coach Mike Fox said. "You look at some teams out there now that went to four world series and they don't get in the tournament the next year. That's college baseball, there's such parity its extremely difficult to do what we just did."
There’s been a lot of doubt around the Diamond Heels program over the last few seasons. Missing out on post-season glory will do that to a team. The regional exit as a no. 3 seed in the Gainesville regional in 2014. Missing out entirely on the tournament in 2015 and 2016. And of course, the face-plant in 2017, falling to the No. 4 seeded Davidson in their own regional as the No. 2 seed in the whole freaking nation.
Yeah, the Tar Heels remember that loss. They know you do, too. And now that they’ve won a regional, they really hope you’ll forget all about it.
"2017, it's over. It's officially over now," Fox said. "I think everybody just got sick and tired of hearing it. And we knew, those kids in there knew that the only way we could get to past that was to win a regional.
"Maybe that will be flushed forever."
And after the performance UNC put on this weekend, one may be inclined to oblige to that request.
The Tar Heels blew out who they were supposed to, a No. 4 seeded NC A&T in the midst of their most successful season in program history, but still significantly outclassed on the field by a Power 5 program firing on all cylinders.
They won close, squeaking by in a 4-3 pitcher’s duel against the Cougars the night before.
And they won the Sunday night shootout, walking nine times, driving in 16 runs (with three more off of Houston errors) and hitting two homeruns to power themselves to victory.
"We just wanted to take it one game at a time and something we haven't been able to do around here for a while," third baseman Kyle Datres said. "The guys responded well."
It was a classic Game 6 of an NCAA regional, with both team’s pitching staffs slowly drifting toward the backend of their bullpens. That lead to walks, meatballs over the middle of the plate, and lots and lots of hard hit baseballs. The combined 30 runs were the most scored in an NCAA tournament game the Tar Heels participated in, and the 19 scored by the Tar Heels were as the most ever scored by UNC in the NCAA tournament.
You could tell the team wanted to make sure they left nothing to chance. Their pitching at times didn't hold up it's end of the bargain, most notably when Josh Hiatt gave up a grand slam on his second pitch of the game out of the bullpen to cut the Tar Heels lead to 14-11.
But when the opportunity came, UNC took the extra base. Coach Fox wheeled his arm, sending people home again and again. The Tar Heels scored. They were patient enough to let Houston walk in two runs in the bottom of the eighth coming out the rain delay, before driving in some with their bats as well for good measure.
Yes, this team doesn't have the high end draft prospects the 2017 Tar Heels did, with J.B. Bukauskas on the will, Logan Warmoth at shortstop, Brain Miller in the outfield or at first base. On paper, you should doubt this team, with it's streaky bullpen, thin rotation, and streaky, at times this season, hitting.
But when Michael Busch goes 7-for-11 with an OPS of 1.773 in the series, diving head first through the knees of a catcher blocking the plate without the ball, when Cooper Criswell and Gianluca Dalatri and Josh Hiatt are dealing, when UNC sweeps the infield positions of the all-regional team, you can't doubt what this team has accomplished this weekend.
They're not done yet. The No. 11 seed Stetson Hatters await next weekend in Chapel Hill.
And the Tar Heels plan on leaving no doubt about where they stand against that team, too.