UNC pitcher Patrick Johnson fires one from the mound during the third inning against James Madison. ROBERT WILLETT - email@example.com
CHAPEL HILL -- The one time North Carolina right-hander Patrick Johnson was in trouble Saturday evening, the crowd built to a crescendo in anticipation of his one-ball, two-strike pitch in the sixth inning.
David Herbek, at the plate for James Madison with two runners on base and two out, entered the game with a team-leading .380 batting average. He was no match for Johnson, who blew a fastball past Herbek for strike three on the most important pitch of a dominating performance as the Tar Heels then broke open the game with seven runs in the seventh and cruised to a 14-0 win.
North Carolina (47-14) was playing for the second consecutive night without coach Mike Fox, who is away from the team for undisclosed personal reasons. Johnson, who might be the hottest pitcher in college baseball, made sure things went smoothly for associate head coach Scott Forbes, who ran the team in Fox’s absence.
Johnson held the Dukes (41-18) to three hits in eight innings and stretched his personal scoreless innings streak to 23 over three games in a dominating performance. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior from Conover, N.C., retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out 11 for the game.
The 14 runs represented North Carolina’s largest winning margin in the NCAA tournament since 1978. The Tar Heels, the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, need one win to move on to the super regional round. North Carolina plays at 6 p.m. Sunday and will advance if it defeats the winner of Sunday’s 1 p.m. game between James Madison and Maine.
If the Tar Heels lose Sunday, the deciding game will be at 6 p.m. Monday.
After failing to reach the super regionals last season, North Carolina is attempting to return to the College World Series for the fifth time in the last six years.
In Johnson (12-1), the Tar Heels will have a red-hot starter ready to go for super regional if they advance. His scoreless innings streak began May 19, when he blanked No. 1-ranked Virginia 6-0 to trigger a three-game series sweep.
At 1:55 a.m. on May 28, Johnson’s bid for a no-hitter against Wake Forest was scuttled in the ACC tournament when a rain delay sent him to the dugout after six innings. On Saturday against the No. 3 regional seed, Johnson was similarly effective.
He struck out five of the first nine batters he faced. He extended his streak of consecutive innings without a hit to 13 before Johnny Bladel led off the bottom of the fourth with a single to left field.
James Madison failed to advance a runner past second base for the entire game as Johnson struck out 10 or more for the fourth time this season.
North Carolina scored in the first on an RBI single by Jacob Stallings and in the second on a leadoff home run by designated hitter Greg Holt, who was 4-for-5 and drove in four runs.