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May 19, 2012Hobbs Johnson progressed from anonymity to being an integral part of North Carolina's plans for making a run at the College World Series, and, most important, the Tar Heels' hope a spot in the two-of-three championship series for the national championship in Omaha, Neb.
Giving talk its proper value and role in accomplishing anything of importance in sports, Johnson did the smart thing and demonstrated to his coaches, teammates, opponents and all the fans who attended Saturday's 6-2 victory for the sixth-ranked Tar Heels against Virginia Tech at Boshamer Stadium just where he is in his career.
He pitched seven perfect innings -- no hits, no runs, no errors -- before Jake Atwell of Virginia Tech hit a hard shot just beyond the reach of Carolina second baseman Tommy Coyle in the eighth inning. Coyle dove for the ball, and it hit the tip of his glove and scooted to the outfield, ending Johnson's run at perfection.
"He dominated," senior catcher Jacob Stallings said. "He was awesome."
It was if Johnson emerged from a hiding place. He threw 3.2 innings a year ago.
"He threw three innings for us last year, and now he is a weekend starter for us," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "He's an incredible story. I will use that for the rest of my career, not to give up and to keep working.
"He deserves it. I'm very happy for that boy."
The team knew what was happening, but in one of the baseball's oldest tradition, the Tar Heels said little.
"Everybody starts getting quiet in the dugout," Fox said. "You don't really talk about it. We're not thinking about that as coaches, but it's in the back of your mind. He was really good. I hate it for him."
Entering this game, Johnson had thrown 43.1 innings this season. Freshman Benton Moss has already thrown 60 innings in comparison.
"He hardly pitched at all for us last year," Stallings said. "But he was absolutely phenomenal today. That was pretty spectacular. He has worked so hard and has gotten a lot better since last year."
Johnson is not an excitable person, which may have been a help in doing what he did on Saturday. He certainly did not appear to be overwhelmed by his accomplishment after the game.
"Today was just one of those days where I had everything as far as location-wise," Johnson said. "I had my pitches working today. It really wasn't just one. It was the majority.
"I never even thought about the [perfect game]," Johnson said. "I had this little routine I was doing. I just kept doing it, and didn't realize until everybody kept standing up.
"Then I looked back at the scoreboard," Johnson said, "and there it was."
The run at perfection added to the uniqueness of the day for Stallings. Saturday was senior day for Jimmy Messer and Stallings.
"That was a pretty cool thing to be a part of," Stallings said. "He was really throwing well inside today. That is probably what made his performance so good is he threw inside with so much effectiveness to lefties and righties. He dominated. He was awesome."
Meanwhile, Stalling had experienced a great many emotions before the game started, with it being senior day. This all came before Johnson staged his heroics.
Stallings mom and dad were on hand, adding to the emotional nature of the day. He graduated last Sunday, but he is not done with baseball. His father, [Kevin Stallings[db], is the head coach at Vanderbilt, and a former assistant to [db]Roy Williams. He will no doubt be watching as the Tar Heels enter the postseason.
"It was a great crowd today, and it was nice thing they did, cheering for me before my last at-bat," Stallings said. "I didn't really think it would be so emotional. But then when I went out on the field and my mom and dad were crying, I kind of made me be a little emotional.
"I got kind of nervous before the game because I wanted to play well. I knew it was senior day. It was definitely a day I will never forget."
The Tar Heels will now move forward to next week's ACC Tournament in Greensboro. As of now, they are not sure when they will play.
But they do know they are going to give the conference tournament their full attention.
"Whenever they tell us we're playing, we're going to line up our pitching, based on rest," Fox said. "We're going to try to win the first game. We're going to try to do everything to win that one. We'll kind of go from there.
"We would like to be ACC champions."