Carolina's Most Memorable Regional Wins
By Bobby Hundley, UNC Athletic Communications
For many followers of the Carolina baseball program, the year 2006 serves as a line of demarcation of sorts. It was, of course, the year that saw the Tar Heels return to the College World Series for the first time since 1989 and the first time under head coach Mike Fox. But it also marked Carolina's first time hosting in the current regional format - a four-team, double-elimination tournament that was first implemented in 1999. Here's a look back at some of the most memorable Carolina home wins of the "modern" regional era.
June 2, 2006
Carolina 15, Maine 7
The 2006 campaign that culminated in a run to the CWS Championship Series almost got derailed from the very start against a Maine program that actually had a more storied NCAA history than Carolina at the time. The Black Bears, who had seven all-time CWS appearances compared to UNC's four, rode the bat of infielder Kevin McAvoy (two HRs, four RBIs) to leads of 4-1 and 6-4 before Carolina took an 8-6 lead in the sixth. But junior Jay Cox fueled a 7-run seventh and the Tar Heels pulled away for a 15-7 win.
June 4, 2006
Carolina 14, Winthrop 2
Carolina completed a sweep of the 2006 Chapel Hill Regional in emphatic fashion with a 14-2 thumping of the second-seeded Eagles. Regional MVP Cox led a Tar Heel attack that pounded out 19 hits and effectively put the game away with a 6-run fourth. The junior outfielder finished 8 for 13 over the three games with two doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs as Carolina advanced to the Super Regional round for just the second time in program history. Daniel Bard pitched into the seventh for his eighth win and closer Andrew Carignan capped the final home game of the season with three strikeouts in a perfect ninth.
June 2, 2007
Carolina 11, East Carolina 10
After outscoring regional opponents 43-13 in 2006 and opening the 2007 Chapel Hill Regional with a 6-0 win over Jacksonville, Tar Heel fans could have been forgiven for getting comfortable heading into a showdown with local rival East Carolina. After all, this was a Pirate team that hadn't beaten UNC since 2002 and hadn't won at Boshamer Stadium since 1994. What transpired was one of the great games in Carolina history and the breakout game for one of the best postseason players ever to play college baseball.
Freshman starter and Greenville native Alex White had his worst start of the season to date, allowing seven runs in five-plus innings, but four Pirate errors leading to five unearned runs kept the Tar Heels in it. With the game tied at 8, UNC turned to Carignan in the eighth, only to have Kyle Roller go deep to open the inning. ECU tacked on another and led 10-8 going to the ninth. Two walks, a sacrifice, a wild pitch and a Reid Fronk single tied it, and Dustin Ackley - who would go on to break the CWS record for career hits - singled home Fronk to set off a wild on-field celebration that left Rob Wooten without a front tooth and Fronk with five stitches in his head.
June 4, 2007
Carolina 6, Western Carolina 4
After rain pushed the regional final to Monday, Carolina faced another in-state foe for the chance to host a Super Regional for the first time. Western Carolina, who had eliminated ECU a day earlier, got to UNC starter Luke Putkonen for five runs and led 5-3 before handing the ball to closer Greg Holland in the seventh. Holland, who is now the closer for the Kansas City Royals, limited the damage and carried a 5-4 lead to the ninth. After a pair of one-out walks, Western lifted Holland for lefty Chris Masters, and Josh Horton greeted him with a two-run single that would prove to be the game-winning hit. Wooten, who went 3.1 scoreless while wearing a mouthpiece to protect his tooth, got the win and Carignan picked up his 14th save.
May 31, 2008
Carolina 5, UNC Wilmington 1
Due to the renovation of Boshamer Stadium, Carolina played its entire 2008 season at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary. Despite the challenges of having to travel for every home game and practice, the Tar Heels won 54 games and once again earned the right to host a regional. Carolina faced yet another in-state rival that year in UNC Wilmington, and the winners' bracket game on Saturday featured a truly rare occurrence. UNC's White - now a sophomore in the midst of an All-America season - and UNCW's Jeff Hatcher tossed matching complete games, with Carolina prevailing in a crisp two hours and seven minutes. White allowed just one run on three hits and struck out eight to out-duel Hatcher, who allowed just seven hits. The key blow was a two-run Kyle Seager homer in the fourth that provided all the support White would need.
May 29, 2009
Carolina 5, Dartmouth 2
By the time regionals rolled around in 2009, Carolina was back in newly-renovated Boshamer Stadium and Ackley was on his way to earning national player of the year honors. The Tar Heels opened their first regional in the "new" Boshamer against Ivy League champ Dartmouth, winning 5-2 with Matt Harvey picking up the win. But the story of the day was Ackley, who went 3 for 5 in his 200th consecutive start to become Carolina's all-time leader in hits.
May 31, 2009
Carolina 12, Kansas 1
Carolina's fourth consecutive regional title was secured in dominating fashion, as the Tar Heels raced out a 7-0 lead after three and never looked back in a 12-1 win over Kansas. Appropriately it was a pair of seniors - Adam Warren and Garrett Gore - that helped UNC improve to a perfect 12-0 in regional play over four seasons. Warren went 6.2 innings without allowing a run and Gore finished 3 for 5 with five RBIs in his first career two-homer game. Ackley took home regional MVP honors after hitting .714 (10-14) over three games.
June 5, 2011
Carolina 9, James Madison 3
UNC's fifth regional title in six years was unique in that the Tar Heels were without their head coach for the duration of the weekend. Fox spent the weekend tending to his mother Barbara, who passed away that Saturday. Under the leadership of associate head coach Scott Forbes, Carolina outscored Maine and James Madison 27-3 over three games and honored the late Barbara Fox by wearing pink socks in the title game win over JMU.
June 3-4, 2013
Carolina 12, Florida Atlantic 11
"That might have been the greatest baseball game I've ever been a part of. I said after the 18-inning game against State that I didn't have any words to describe that game, and I certainly don't have any to describe this one."
The opening words of Fox's press conference late into the Chapel Hill night are simultaneously insufficient and perfect. It was a game that defied description, full of such drastic swings of momentum that the collective gasps of the Boshamer Stadium crowd in the top of ninth and 12th were somehow as loud as its cheers in the bottom of the ninth, 12th and, finally, the 13th.
The ACC Pitcher of the Year and the Sun Belt's career leader in saves both allowed five earned runs. Trent Thornton, who is fast becoming one of the most important pitchers in the country, recorded 12 outs on 48 pitches and missed the strike zone just nine times in four-plus innings of work. Regional MVP Cody Stubbs' game-winner in the 13th evoked at once exhilaration, relief, heartbreak and sadness.
Florida Atlantic, who looked largely toothless against Towson's Mike Volpe on Friday, showed a grit and determination that matched its veteran coach John McCormack. The talented Owls delivered two near-knockout blows through Tyler Rocklein in the ninth and Levi Meyer in the 12th, but somehow Carolina survived both. Reilly Hovis needed just five pitches to strike out Rocklein in the 13th and got the win despite being involved for mere moments of the game's four hours and 58 minutes.
Seven years and two days after Carolina defeated Maine for just its second-ever postseason home win, the Tar Heels wrote the latest chapter in an ever-expanding tournament history.