OMAHA, Neb. — When it comes to naming the greatest hitters in College World Series history, the conversation now must include Dustin Ackley.
His numbers certainly back up the argument.
Ackley went 5 for 6 on Tuesday and became the CWS’ career hits leader in North Carolina’s 11-4 victory over Southern Mississippi.
“I think everybody saw today what everybody on our team and myself have seen the last three years with Dustin Ackley,” Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “It was an unbelievable performance, and we’ve seen that before from him day in and day out. He’s one sensational player, and I’m glad the nation got to see a little bit of that today. We needed it.”
The Tar Heels (48-17) will play their next game on Thursday against Arizona State, which lost 10-6 to Texas on Tuesday night.
North Carolina eliminated the Golden Eagles (40-26) and sent Southern Mississippi coach Corky Palmer into retirement.
Ackley has 27 hits in 14 CWS games. The No. 2 overall draft pick by the Seattle Mariners, in his bid to become the second player to have six hits in a CWS game, flew out to left in the ninth inning.
Ackley doubled and hit four singles to all parts of the field. It was the kind of performance put up in the 1990s by Cal State Fullerton’s Mark Kotsay, who batted a combined .517 in two CWS appearances and is widely considered the best pure hitter to play in the tournament.
“The guy can just flat-out hit,” Southern Mississippi second baseman James Ewing said of Ackley. “We always heard about him, but to watch him, the guy hits the ball where it’s pitched. He’s got great hand-eye coordination. You can’t strike him out. The only time we got him out, that ball was hit really hard, also. So we were fortunate to get him out one time. That was a show he put on for us.”
The left handed-batting first baseman, who has hits in 21 consecutive NCAA tournament games since 2007, singled to left in the third inning to break the record of 24 career hits by Stanford’s Sam Fuld (2001-03).
“It was just one of those days,” Ackley said. “I’ve had days where I’ve hit a bunch of balls on the nose and they were getting hit for outs. Today, it seemed like a bunch of the balls were finding holes and I was getting hits.”
The rest of the Tar Heels were pretty good, too. Ryan Graepel added four hits, Ben Bunting had three, and Kyle Seager homered as Carolina banged out a CWS record-tying 23 hits.
The last team to have 23 hits at the CWS was Southern California, which did it against Arizona State in the 1998 championship contest.
“My worst fears came true,” Palmer said. “Carolina is a great club. They can pitch, hit, defense. I was hoping I’d be wrong, but I really worried about our matchup. Seven left-handed hitters in there, and we didn’t have an answer.”
North Carolina’s Adam Warren (10-2) allowed three hits and struck out six in six innings. Warren ran into one rough patch. He threw 44 of his 128 pitches in the fourth inning, when B.A. Vollmuth hit a three-run homer into the left-field seats.
Colin Bates, Patrick Johnson and Nate Striz pitched the final three innings for North Carolina and allowed a total of one run and two hits.
Southern Miss, which walked in the winning run in a 7-6 loss to Texas on Sunday, struggled with its pitching again.
North Carolina scored at least one run in each of the first four innings. JR Ballinger (6-4) was down 6-0 when he left with two outs in the third, marking the shortest of his 16 starts this season.
“JR was a little wild, and when he did get it in there, they hit him so hard,” Palmer said.
The 55-year-old Palmer announced in April he would retire at the end of the season. He was 458-281 in 12 seasons at Southern Miss.
“Magical season,” Palmer said. “You can’t ask for any more than what we’ve done the last three weeks. I was glad to be a part of it, and I’m real happy these guys let me work a little longer.”
Erick Olson/The Associated Press