But then Mississippi State responded in the second. After a 1-2-3 first inning, Bergner gave up two singles, an error and a costly home run to lose the lead as quick as it came to him.
Over the next five and a half innings, Bergner settled down and found a groove, and it looked one costly mistake could be all the damage. He struck out five over those innings and faced the minimum, 15 batters, after giving up the long ball.
At the plate, UNC cooked up five hits in the following innings to try to pull back into the contest, but it also left five runners stranded on the base path. And with those missed opportunities, all it took was another big hit or big inning for Mississippi State to close it out.
Bergner returned to the mound with two innings left to play, an eight strikeout performance under his belt, and only three hits since the second inning. He worked the first batter of the inning to a 2-2 count, but didn't strike him out or force a ground ball, he gave up a single.
Both teams have snowballed hits into taking over games as of late. The Tar Heels have rallied for their fair share of huge innings up to this point — sweeping through the first six games in the Regional, the Super Regional, and then using a five-run third inning to beat Oregon State in game one in Omaha.
But on Tuesday, it wasn’t their day to be the compilers of hard hit balls and good base running. It was the spark of that single that launched the Bulldogs toward the winner's bracket, a much better position to be in at crunch time.
North Carolina dropped its first game in 28 days because of that big eighth inning. Instead of reaching back for one of the best performances of the season in the final innings, the team came up empty. The Tar Heels lost to a team as capable as they were to put up a lot of runs when it mattered most.
UNC only had two less hits on the day than its opponent, but it did much less with the opportunities and couldn't turn hits into scores. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels committed three errors on defense — all of which put runners in scoring position or brought them home — and lacked the contributions from the usual starters to have confidence late in the game.
For the first time in 34 games, first baseman Michael Busch failed to reach base on Tuesday. Ashton McGee was the only player in the lineup to have two hits, while three starters and a trio of pinch hitters came up empty at the plate.
The qualities that have been present for the team throughout the NCAA tournament were absent in the loss. The Tar Heels lacked the big hits, the rattling off of a lot of runs in one inning, or the solid relief pitching to bail it out of tough situations. Those qualities that brought them to being one of the last eight teams playing college baseball this season failed them in the heat of an important game.
With the loss, the team will have a Wednesday rematch with Oregon State, the team it beat 8-6 just one game ago. Mike Fox and his team have had plenty of times this year to respond or rebound from moments like this — and it'll have another opportunity then.
But this could be the final one of 2018. With a win on Wednesday, the Tar Heels are still very much alive. With another performance like this one, though, they’ll receive another kind of opportunity: a plane ride home to North Carolina.
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