#1 national seed North Carolina showed again Saturday afternoon in game one of the Super Regional with USC that to beat them, you have to take advantage of all your opportunities and not let them off the deck.
USC could not come up with the clutch hit late in the game, and the Tar Heels did, in a 6-5 victory at Boshamer Stadium. Rightfielder Skye Bolt singled thru the right side off of Gamecock closer Tyler Webb to score Parks Jordan from second with the winning run in the bottom of the 9th.
The Tar Heels improve to 56-9 and can advance to the College World Series with a victory Sunday afternoon. A Gamecock win would force a decisive third game on Monday.
The loss snaps a USC 20 game winning streak in regional and super regional games. The Gamecocks’ last loss at this stage of the tournament was to East Carolina in Greenville, NC in 2009.
Jordan led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and was sacrificed to second. Landon Lassiter flied out to right field for the second out. The Gamecocks walked the lefthanded hitting Colin Moran to get to the switch hitting Bolt who had one hit on the day. He got an 0-2 pitch he could handle from Webb and pushed it into right field. Sean Sullivan, who went into the game at start of the inning as a defensive replacement for Connor Bright, came up throwing but was not close to nailing Jordan at the plate.
The game may not have come down to the bottom of the ninth had the Gamecocks not committed errors in the first and third innings that allowed two unearned runs to score, and if they had come up with the clutch hit with runners in scoring position. The Gamecocks were 3-17 in that category and seven of the 12 they left on were in scoring position. They had a runner on in every inning except the ninth, and left a combined six on base in the 6th-8th innings.
(Chad Holbrook, Nolan Belcher, LB Dantzler, Grayson Greiner)
(Mike Fox, Skye Bolt, Parks Jordan, Trent Thornton)
The Gamecocks quickly jumped on Tar Heel starter Kent Emanuel for two runs in the first. Graham Saiko and Chase Vergason opened the game with back to back singles. With one out, LB Dantzler drew a walk to load the bases. Grayson Greiner then delivered a single thru the hole at short that scored Saiko and Vergason. Emanuel got out of the inning by striking out Max Schrock looking and inducing a line drive to second by Connor Bright. It was a 33 pitch inning for Emanuel was coming off a 175 pitch regional.
The Tar Heels bounced right back to tie the game in the bottom of the frame. With one out, Lassiter singled and scored on a double to the left field wall by Moran. A wild pitch moved Moran to third and with two outs he scored when Saiko dropped a fly ball in left for an error.
The Gamecocks went back on top in the second. Kyle Martin led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Tanner English. Saiko delivered the run with a single to center. He was cut down by the catcher trying to take second on the throw to the plate. Vergason fouled out to third to end the inning.
Joey Pankake led off the Gamecock third with a towering home run over the left field wall. That was his 11th homer of the season. Dantzler followed with a single and Greiner reached on an error by the shortstop. Emanuel got Schrock to fly out to center, and that was his final pitch of the game. He was lifted after 63 pitches and the two and one third innings of work was his shortest outing since his freshman season. Chris Munnelly retired the next two Gamecocks on ground balls to third and short to get out of the trouble.
The Tar Heels scored another unearned run in the third to get back to within a run. Moran singled with one out. With two outs, Cody Stubbs doubled down the right field line. Connor Bright fielded the ball along the bleachers and fired towards no one in particular in the infield. That allowed Moran, who would have stopped at third, to race home to make it a 4-3 game.
The game held at 4-3 until the sixth when the Tar Heels took their first lead. Gamecock starter Nolan Belcher was lifted after giving up a single and double to the first two batters. Adam Westmoreland retired Michael Russell on a grounder to first for the first out then gave up a two run single to Brian Holberton that put the Heels up 5-4. A double play grounder to second ended the inning.
The Gamecocks tied things in the eighth. Martin led off with a single and later went to second on a one out single by Saiko. Vergason drove in Martin with a double to make it 5-5. The Gamecocks loaded the bases with two outs but Greiner flied to center to end the threat, which turned out to be the last one for the Gamecocks as they went down in order in the top of the ninth.
Webb took the loss to fall to 3-3. Trent Thornton, who worked the final three innings for UNC, erned the win and is 10-1. Saiko, Vergason and Martin each had three hits for USC. Greiner had two hits and two RBIs.
USC will start lefthander Jordan Montgomery Sunday. He’s 5-1 with a 1.67 ERA. UNC will counter with lefthander Hobbs Johnson. He’s 4-0 with a 2.49 ERA.