UNC's Jacob Stallings slides safely into home past the tag attempt by James Madison catcher Jake Lowery in the eighth inning. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org
updated 10:45 p.m.
CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael had waited all weekend to cross home plate. Sunday, he did it at the right time.
With the score tied against James Madison in the top of the sixth inning, second baseman Tommy Coyle’s RBI single scored Michael – whose double halted an 0-for-11 slump in the three-day NCAA regional. It also began a late-game scoring barrage that pushed the Tar Heels to a 9-3 victory, and to their fifth trip to the NCAA Super Regionals in the last six years.
UNC (48-14), the No. 3 national seed, will face the either Stanford or Illinois out of the Cal State-Fullerton regional in a best-of-three series next weekend for the right advance to the eight-team College World Series. The Tar Heels are expected to host the Super Regional at Boshamer Stadium, although that – as well as game days and times – won’t be officially announced by the NCAA until Monday.
“We’re super excited this year about going to the Super Regional, and we feel confident,’’ said leftfielder Chaz Frank whose program now has 35 postseason victories since 2006 -- leading the nation.
The Tar Heels wore pink socks to honor head coach Mike Fox’s mother, Barbara. She passed away Saturday at age 76 at Hospice of Wake County of cancer, according to an obituary published in the Asheville Citizen-Times. Fox missed his third straight game to deal with that family matter; it’s unclear when he will return to the team.
With its coach in their hearts, the Tar Heels focused their minds – and bats, and arms – on keeping its home regional record a perfect 15-0 since 2006.
UNC, which had outscored opponents 18-0 in its first two regional games, finally gave up its first run of the weekend in the bottom of the first inning, when JMU first baseman Matt Tenaglia drove a hit off starting pitcher Chris Munnelly’s chest, scoring Johnny Bladel to make it 1-0.
UNC shot back in the top of the second, getting an RBI double from designated hitter Brian Holberton, then an RBI single from leftfielder Chaz Frank to take a 2-1 lead. Holberton recorded his second RBI in the top of the fifth, this time a single up the middle, to make it 3-1.
But JMU countered with a two-run homer over the centerfield wall by Jake Lowery, which tied it 3-3 – and set up Michael, a second-team All-ACC selection who was batting .313 this season entering the regionals.
“We talked a little bit in the dugout, and I could tell he [Michael] was pressing a little bit,’’ said UNC associate head coach Scott Forbes, who served as head coach this weekend in Fox’s absence. “He knew he really wanted to help us win – I don’t think it was about being in a slump, I think he felt like he was really letting the team down. And I just told him to do all you can do to get the barrel to the ball; that’s all you can do in a slump.”
“…I think that helped him, when he hit that ball right-handed. But I think it’s good for him and Colin [Moran, the ACC Freshman of the Year] to know they don’t have to put extra pressure on themselves.”
Indeed, Frank drove in three runs to add to Coyle’s and Holberton’s two-RBI outings for the Tar Heels, who outscored their opponents 27-3 in three regional games.
Carolina used seven pitchers, but R.C. Orlan, in for only one inning, picked up his second win of the season.
Alex Valadja (7-5) was the losing pitcher for JMU (42-19), which had to beat Maine earlier Sunday to advance.
BRIEFLY: Coyle, first baseman Jesse Wierzbicki, Frank, designated hitter Jacob Stallings and pitchers Patrick Johnson and Kent Emanuel were named to the all-regional team for UNC.