Posted June 04, 2013

North Carolina beats FAU in the best baseball game all year you didn’t see

College Baseball
North Carolina Tar Heels. Florida Atlantic

The Tar Heels blew a four-run lead in the ninth, then rallied from two down in the ninth and three down in the 11th to win 12-11 in 13 innings. (Ted Richardson/AP)

We don’t typically cover college baseball here, but Monday night’s double-elimination game between North Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, and Florida Atlantic deserves special mention. The two teams were playing the final game of the double-elimination regional round to determine which of the two teams would advance into the eight-team Super Regionals, and the game that unfolded after a two-hour rain delay in Chapel Hill was a classic, 13-inning see-saw battle that stretched past 1:30 a.m.

The lead exchanged hands a few times in the early innings. The Tar Heels, whose star-studded lineup includes third baseman Colin Moran, a likely top-10 pick in Thursday’s Rule 4 draft, scored first but the Owls led 2-1 going into the bottom of the second, where Carolina tied it before taking a 4-2 lead in the third. The Heels stretched their advantage to 6-2 entering the top of the ninth. Three outs from victory, UNC head coach Mike Fox turned to his ace, junior lefty Kent Emanuel, a potential early-round pick on Thursday, who had started Saturday’s game against Towson and thrown 124 pitches across 7 2/3 innings.

Emanuel stranded both runners in the eighth, but things got away from him in the ninth. After a leadoff homer made it 6-3, he loaded the bases on a single and two walks and got a strikeout for the second out but then walked in another run to make it 6-4. By that point, Emanuel had thrown 51 pitches on just one day of rest, so Fox went to righty Benton Moss to face FAU righty Tyler Rocklein needing just one more out to advance. Instead, Rocklein hit Moss’s 2-1 offering over the leftfield fence for a grand slam to give FAU an 8-6 lead.

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Carolina entered the tournament with the nation’s best record and had not lost back-to-back games all season, but after losing 3-2 to FAU on Sunday, the Tar Heels were suddenly three outs from elimination. Somehow, Carolina shook off the body blow of Rocklein’s grand slam to tie the game via a double, a single, a stolen base and a two-RBI single by sophomore second baseman Mike Zolk, but left two runners on and the game headed to extra innings.

The game remained tied at 8-8 until the top of the 12th, when the Owls’ junior catcher, Levi Meyer, smoked a three-run homer to make it 11-8.

For the second time, FAU was three outs from advancing, and for the second time, North Carolina came back to tie almost immediately. The first three batters in the bottom of the 12th loaded the bases on a single, a walk and a single, after which two different Florida Atlantic pitchers walked in a run to make it 11-10. Then, for the second time in four innings, Zolk singled home the tying run. Fox, who is his own third base coach, sent Cody Stubbs to the plate on the hit, but Owls leftfielder Geoff Jimenez threw Stubbs out to keep FAU’s season alive. Carolina, as it had done in the 11th, left two runners on in the 12th and the game moved to the 13th.

The Owls got a one-out double but stranded runners at the corners in the top of the 13th and the Tar Heels once again loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning. That brought up Stubbs, a senior first baseman. Stubbs took a 1-2 fastball away and sent it down the leftfield line to drive in the winning run and send the Tar Heels to the Super Regionals with a 12-11 victory.

Here, courtesy of GoHeels.com, UNC’s official athletic site, are North Carolina’s highlights (which, sadly, omit that ninth-inning grand slam by Rocklein):

It wasn’t the prettiest ballgame—FAU gave up 34 baserunners via 21 hits, 11 walks and a pair of hit batsmen—but then neither were some of the great postseason games in major league history. (Everybody remembers David Freese’s heroics in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series; few remember that he dropped a routine pop up in that game). A good comparison might be Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series. That game between the Mets and the Astros, like this one between the Tar Heels and Owls, featured five lead changes from the ninth inning on, and that Mets-Astros game only had one team, the Astros, facing elimination. That sort of insanity may not be more common in college baseball, but it led to a game that may have overshadowed all nine of the games played around the majors last night and was one that won’t soon be forgotten.

7 comments
Zakopane67
Zakopane67

I was in attendance at the game and pull for the Heels, but you have to give FAU credit.  The Heels made several base running errors that kept FAU in the game, and then FAU hit Carolina pitching mistakes out of the park.  Your comment about the MLB draft being today might explain by Moran seems to be trying to hard at the plate.  The Heels will need to clean up all the little mistakes they are making if they want to be beat South Carolina.  

John NoLastName
John NoLastName like.author.displayName 1 Like

"We don’t typically cover college baseball here"

And why the hell not?

Craig
Craig like.author.displayName 1 Like

@John NoLastName   The problem is not this writer, it's the WE!  SI doesn't think college baseball exists, so they can't be bothered.  Right now the college world series is headed into the Super Regionals, with just 16 teams left playing.  Can you imaging SI not covering the Sweet 16?  But, these players who will soon populate the teams of MLB (which they can be bothered to cover) but watching them, or even reporting scores, is too much to do while they're still in college.

Jacoby Elsbury, who just broke a Boston Red Sox team record with 5 stolen bases played at Oregon State.  It's probably easy to say "so what" but...Oregon State won the national championship in back to back years less than 10 years ago, and guess who was on those teams.  BTW, Stutes, the Philly pitcher when he stole those bases, also played for Oregon State.

It's sad that SI can't even be bothered to report scores, but it's even more sad to read a story like this, look at the headline, and then realize that at least part of the reason you didn't see the game and likely knew little about it is that SI doesn't think it matters enough to share the with you.

If they want to ignore the regular college season, that's one thing, but when the College World Series ramps up it seems like somebody ought to notice.  When those Top Ten picks show up in MLB uniforms, they "might" mention the college program that produced them, but otherwise...SI doesn't care!