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June 1, 2012CHAPEL HILL--- Friday's NCAA Tournament opener for North Carolina against Cornell was an interesting experience---a game against a tough opponent who refused to give up amidst a volatile weather situation that included a 71-minute rain delay.
But in the end, the result was the same as each of the previous 15 Chapel Hill Regional games the Diamond Heels have played at Boshamer Stadium dating back to 2006---a win for the home team.
Behind four hits from Colin Moran and clutch pitching by multiple UNC hurlers, the Tar Heels prevailed 7-4 against a game Cornell squad that didn't make it easy for them.
The victory moves UNC back into the Winner's Bracket, where they'll play St. John's Saturday evening at approximately 6:00 pm, back at the Bosh.
"I don't want to take anything away from our team because the first game in a regional is always that one you just have to work really hard to get the win and get past this one, but I really thought Cornell just played outstanding," said UNC head coach Mike Fox shortly after the game.
"They were excited to be here, and I'm not sure our team matched that. I think you have to be really careful about being in a regional and being at home and being complacent and just not locking in and bringing it."
The Diamond Heels struck first blood in the top of the second, pushing across a run on a fielder's choice by Adam Griffin that plated Brian Holberton, who led off the inning with a walk.
The score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fourth, when Carolina pushed across four runs to take a commanding 5-0 advantage.
Parks Jordan tripled home Michael Russell to push across the second run, and Chaz Frank promptly singled to drive in Jordan and make it 3-0.
Moran then drove home Frank with an RBI single, making it 4-0, and catcher Jacob Stallings drove in Tommy Coyle with UNC's fifth run on the sixth hit of the inning for the Tar Heels.
UNC starter Hobbs Johnson, picking up from where he left off in his stellar recent outings against Virginia Tech on Senior Day and N.C. State in the ACC Tournament, hurled five-plus innings of scoreless baseball before Cornell finally reached him in the top of the sixth.
Center fielder Bryan Billigen tagged a 2-0 pitch out of the yard for a two-run homer, pulling Cornell within 5-2 just minutes before the rains came and brought out the tarp and the hour-plus long rain delay.
"I was able to get into the hitting count," Billigen said of his homer off Johnson. "He got ahead of me in those first two at-bats. I was fighting, and I was able to get to 2-0 and saw a fastball. He left one up and in, so I got a nice swing on it. I was comfortable being in the hitter's count and I just got a good swing on it."
R.C. Orlan came on to pitch for Carolina after the rain delay, and he would allow a third Cornell run to cross the plate, making the count 5-3.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, they were able to push across two more runs of its own in the bottom of the sixth, and while Cornell added another run in the eighth and brought the tying run to the dish in the top of the ninth, UNC All-American closer Michael Morin slammed the door shut, completing a four-out save with two key strikeouts to end the game.
The save was Morin's 18th of the season, which ties UNC's single-season school record. He'll have a chance to shatter that particular record in the coming games.
"It (setting a new school record is) not something I was thinking about out on the mound, but it was one of my goals at the beginning of the year and it always feels good to accomplish your goals," Moran said.
Given the rapid-turnaround nature of the NCAA Tournament, UNC gets less than 24 hours to celebrate this particular triumph before it turns its focus to St. John's, and a huge game in which the winner will hold a major advantage come Sunday.