For a team that prides itself on finding ways to win, USC found a way to lose Tuesday in the deciding game of the Chapel Hill Regional. North Carolina rallied for three runs in the sixth inning and blanked the Gamecocks over the final three innings to earn a trip to Omaha and the College World series with a 5-4 win at Boshamer Stadium.
The #1 seeded Tar Heels improve to 57-10 and are headed to the CWS for the sixth time in eight years. They will play arch-rival NC State Sunday afternoon in their opening CWS game. And they still haven’t lost consecutive games this season.
The Gamecocks finish their season at 43-20 and are denied a fourth straight trip to Omaha. They have no one to blame but themselves. They lost game one in the series thanks to a pair of unearned runs. In game game three, the Gamecocks committed three more errors (they had 9 for the series), one leading directly to the tying run, and they walked in the winning run with the bases loaded.
Chad Holbrook, Tyler Webb, Adam Westmoreland, Tanner English
Mike Fox, Colin Moran, Trent Thornton, Kent Emanuel
The Gamecocks threatened in the top of the first getting the first two batters on. Tar Heel starter Benton Moss was struggling and two relievers were up in the bullpen. And the Tar Heel pitching coach Scott Forbes came to the mound to settle him down. The key moment was Joey Pankake, one of the Gamecocks’ top power hitters, laying down a bunt, but it went directly to Moss who gunned down Graham Saiko at third. That seemed to calm Moss down and he got the next two hitters to end the inning.
But the Gamecocks came right back in the second to take the lead for the third straight game. With one out Connor Bright doubled, and with two outs Tanner English singled to center to score the run. English was later thrown out trying to steal second to end the inning.
The lead didn’t stand up for long. With two outs in the bottom of the second, Gamecock starter Jack Wynkoop hit Michael Russell and Brian Holberton followed with a two run homer to right, the first homer allowed by Wynkoop all season. That put the Tar Heels up 2-1.
A huge mistake by the Tar Heel’s centerfielder Chaz Frank in the fifth allowed the Gamecocks to retake the lead. With runners on second and third and two outs, Tar Heel reliever Trent Thornton got Pankake to loft one to right center. Frank circled under the ball and dropped it for a two run error that put the Gamecocks back on top 3-2.
USC made it 4-2 in the sixth. With two outs and runners on first and second, English singled to score the run from third. Saiko grounded to third to end the inning.
The Tar Heels batted around in the bottom of the inning scoring three times to retake the lead. Landon Lassiter led off with a single and scored on a triple into the right field corner by Colin Moran. Skye Bolt was hit by a pitch putting runners on the corners. Cody Stubbs then hit a shallow fly ball to center. English made the catch but on the cutoff throw, Kyle Martin tried to nail Stubbs s at second. He threw wildly and Moran scored to tie the game with Stubbs going to third. With two outs, Westmoreland walked Holberton and Mike Zolk to load the bases. Tyler Webb was brought in and after getting ahead of Parks Jordan 0-2, he walked him on a 3-2 pitch to force in the go ahead run. Frank flied to left to end the inning with a 5-4 Tar Heel lead.
USC threatened in the eighth getting runners on first and second with two outs. But Saiko flied to center to end the threat. And in the ninth, Pankake walked with one out. LB Dantzler flied to left for the second out, and Grayson Greiner, the Gamecocks’ last hope, hit a ground ball to short to force Pankake at second and end his team’s season.
Westmoreland took the loss to finish the season at 7-4. UNC closer Trent Thornton, who came in in the third and worked 4.2 innings, picked up his 11th win in 12 decisions. The Tar Heels brought in their ace Kent Emanuel to get the final two outs and he earned his first save of the season.