Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
June 2, 2012North Carolina aided and abetted the enemy on Saturday, and the penalty could be an end to the Tar Heels' season this weekend.
St. John's Danny Bethea, the eighth-place hitter in the lineup, drilled a home run over the left-field fence in the bottom of the ninth to shock UNC, its fans and send the Red Storm into a delirious celebration on Carolina's home field on the second day of the NCAA baseball tournament.
"It's a crushing loss; there is no question about it," UNC coach Mike Fox said.
UNC (45-14) drops into the loser's bracket and must play East Carolina (36-23-1) at 1 p.m. in hopes of earning the right to play St. John's at 6 p.m.
To win the regional and advance to the Super Regional next week, the Tar Heels will have to win three straight games instead of just winning one as it has in past Chapel Hill regionals.
The Red Storm is undefeated team at 2-0, and it has the chance to advance by winning Sunday's 6 p.m. game against the winner of the UNC-East Carolina game.
"At first I was in shock at what happened," Bethea said. "Right when I rounded first and saw the ball go over [the left fielder's] mitt, I got really pumped.
"I was excited that we're making it to the championship game. When I rounded third, I just remember all my teammates surrounding me. It was just a great feeling. I will always remember that."
The Tar Heels are not likely to forget how this one felt for a long, long time. Pitching and defense have been the strengths of this team throughout the season. Those two traits carried the Tar Heels to the sixth seed nationally in the NCAA Tournament.
But those two facets are what cost the Tar Heels this game and possibly the regional.
All-American closer Michael Morin struggled from the very first pitch when he came in to relieve starter Kent Emanuel in the bottom of the ninth.
Emanuel had done what he has so many times during his two years at UNC. He got stronger as the game progressed and handed Morin a 4-2 lead with three outs remaining before Carolina could celebrate.
"I wasn't overwhelmed with the situation or anything like that," Morin said. "I just wasn't throwing strikes. I wasn't comfortable.
"It didn't have anything to do with the opponent; I just didn't feel comfortable."
Fox did not feel comfortable with how his defense played. St. John's took a 2-1 lead after UNC let a short fly ball drop between left fielder Shell McCain and second baseman Tommy Coyle. Then the next batter hit a hopping ground ball to short, and Michael Russell could not make the play.
Rather than get out of the inning still tied at 1, St. John's had runners at first and third with two outs. The next batter drilled a single to the outfield, and the Red Storm moved back into the lead.
"I think our defense cost us the game," Fox said. "I really do. We're not a great offensive team. We haven't been all year long. We have a small margin of error for us winning and losing.
"We can't afford to let a fly ball drop and then misplay a ground ball, especially against [St. John's starting pitcher Sean] Hagan when he's throwing well. Our team was ready, but I'm disappointed we didn't play better.
"But I don't want to take anything away from St. John's. They outplayed us, and they got it done in the end."
Now the Tar Heels must play nearly flawless ball for three straight games, and find enough energy, pitching, defense and runs to survive a difficult road.
"Right now it's one game," Fox said. "Our [pitching] depth is only good for nine innings tomorrow against East Carolina. We have Benton Moss going, and we'll use everybody we can to try to survive and turn around and go from there.
"You can't think about winning three games. You have to think about winning one."