By The Associated Press
The North Carolina Tar Heels dashed onto the field, thrilled to advance in the NCAA baseball tournament and relieved to avoid a massive upset.
Cody Stubbs singled with the bases loaded in the 13th inning to help No. 1 overall seed North Carolina edged Florida Atlantic 12-11 on Monday night in a wild Chapel Hill regional championship game.
“It might’ve been the greatest baseball game that I’ve ever been a part of,” coach Mike Fox said.
On a long night that started with a two-hour rain delay, North Carolina (55-9) avoided elimination twice by pulling off comebacks.
Stubbs’ hit down the left-field line in the 13th scored Landon Lassiter from third base to cap a game filled with momentum swings, sending the Tar Heels spilling onto the field.
“I was going to get the job done no matter what,” said Stubbs, the regional MVP. “I was mad at myself. I had chased a couple of bad pitches. But there was no way I wasn’t going to put the ball in play right there. I told myself, ‘No matter what, you’re putting the ball in play.’”
UNC took a 6-2 lead into the ninth inning, but gave up six runs —including a grand slam by Tyler Rocklein — to trail 8-6. But the Tar Heels tied it to send it to extras, but fell behind again in the 12th after the second-seeded Owls (42-22) got a three-run homer by Levi Meyer — who was 0 for 5 before that hit — in the top of the inning.
The Tar Heels came back yet again, and then won it to advance to the best-of-three super regionals against South Carolina, starting Friday at Chapel Hill.
North Carolina narrowly avoided joining Oregon — No. 8 overall — as national seeds to fail to get out of the regional round.
Florida Atlantic was trying to reach the super regionals for the first time since 2002.
“They kept battling back and battling back,” Owls coach John McCormack said. “They made pitches when they had to and got big hits. Congratulations to them. It was an unbelievable game, something I don’t know if this stadium has ever seen or might ever see again. It’s just a shame we’re on the short end of it.”
Vanderbilt, the No. 2 overall seed, also avoided elimination by beating Georgia Tech 7-1 in the Nashville regional.
Philip Pfeifer scattered four hits in five scoreless innings as the Commodores (54-10) tied the program record for single-season wins claiming their fourth regional championship and third in four years. They advance to host Louisville in a super regional.
Coach Tim Corbin notified Pfeifer (4-0) earlier Monday morning he would start the winner-take-all game after Vanderbilt lost to the Yellow Jackets 5-0 on Sunday.
“It was my turn to defend the program,” Pfeifer said. “You’ve got people who stuck around and came back for this moment. Just being able to be a part of making it worth it for them is a huge deal to me.”
Buck Farmer (9-5) was tagged with the loss despite allowing just two runs on five hits in four innings for Georgia Tech (37-27), which had won three straight elimination games after dropping the NCAA tournament opener.
Meanwhile, Oregon was upset by Rice, which scored seven runs in the first three innings in the Owls’ 11-4 victory in the Eugene regional.
Rice (44-18) advanced to its first super regional since 2009, and will play at North Carolina State this weekend.
Hunter Kopycinski had four hits and four RBIs to lead the Owls’ 15-hit attack against the Ducks (48-16). Ford Stainback also had three hits.
Playing for the fourth time in as many days, the Owls gave Zech Lemond his first start of the season and the sophomore closer delivered with an eight-hit, four-run performance over 6 2-3 innings that included seven strikeouts and one walk.
“The feeling that we all have is a feeling of emptiness,” Oregon coach George Horton said. “We didn’t pitch very well and they hit the ball hard.”
Hunter Renfroe had three hits and two RBIs, Alex Detz and Adam Frazier each added two hits and Mississippi State easily beat Central Arkansas 6-1 to win the Starkville regional.
Mississippi State (46-18) scored in four of the first six innings against Central Arkansas (42-22).
“We got the timely hits — the two-out hits,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “That seems to be our trademark. It’s something that we’ve excelled at when we’re going good this season.”
It’s the second time in three seasons Mississippi State has advanced to the super regional round. The Bulldogs will travel to face No. 6 national seed Virginia.
Mississippi State’s Chad Girodo (7-1) pitched 6 2-3 innings of stellar relief, striking out a career-high 12.
LB Dantzler drove in two runs as South Carolina overcame a 16-hour wait to beat Liberty 6-4 and win the Columbia regional, the Gamecocks’ 27th straight NCAA tournament victory at home.
The Gamecocks (42-18) advanced to the best-of-three super regional round for the fourth straight season and 11th time since 2000.
This contest was halted Sunday night because of rainstorms in the fifth inning with South Carolina ahead 4-2. The Gamecocks added to that lead when the game resumed with RBI singles in the fifth by Graham Saiko and Tanner English.
Liberty (36-29) had the tying runs on base in the ninth, but Justin Sizemore struck out to end things. The Flames, though, beat Clemson twice here to end a 13-year drought between NCAA wins.