The game was expected to be a pitchers’ battle, but it didn’t start that way. As starters Logan Gilbert and Cooper Criswell settled into a groove, the two teams exchanged runs in the first inning on a pair of hits each.
In the second at-bat of the game, right fielder Mike Spooner homered off Criswell, hitting a low line drive that kept carrying right out of the stadium. In the bottom of the first inning, the Tar Heels responded with a little work out on the bases. Michael Busch walked to start the inning, then Cody Roberts doubled put both in scoring position. A sacrifice fly by Brandon Riley brought Busch home and tied up the game at 1-1.
For the next three innings, neither team scored again. Balls were hard hit, but none found a way to make a deep impact on the game. And then came the fifth inning.
Roberts stepped up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning with runners on first and second. Gilbert made the mistake of hanging a curveball high in the zone, and Roberts took him deep for a three-run home run to left field to take a 4-1 lead.
The next inning, Gilbert came out after pitching 5.1 innings and 70 pitches — a tie for his shortest outing of the season. He gave up six hits and left the game with his team behind.
In the seventh inning, the Hatters got two runs back on two strange errors. A throwing error on a sacrifice bunt brought the Hatters in from third and a wild pitch later in the inning brought home another, bringing the game to 4-3.
But the Tar Heels were quick to answer. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Michael Busch pushed the game back out of reach with a deep home run that landed on the construction of the field hockey stadium. At that point, it was pretty clear that the Tar Heels would be coming out on top.
However, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth the Hatters scored one more run on a single and had a chance to tie with the bases loaded for a final score of 7-4.
Criswell put his team in position to win on the defensive end with five solid innings on the mound, giving up four hits and one earned run. At the dish, Busch and Roberts accounted for five runs on a combined three hits and Freeman also had two hits.
The Tar Heels came out seeing the ball well one win away from punching a ticket for Omaha on Saturday.
As the visiting team, North Carolina punished starter Jack Perkins in the top of the first inning for six hits and four runs. Kyle Datres hammered a single to left field on the first pitch of the game to set a precedent for the other eight batters who’d come up to the plate that inning.
Datres scored two batters later on a double from Roberts, who’d also score on a double the next batter from Brandon Riley. Ike Freeman singled to move Riley to third and Zack Gahagan brought home the third run of the game. Ashton McGee doubled to score Freeman the next batter for the final run of the inning.
In the second, the Hatters got on the board with a solo home run and both teams traded two runs in the third to bring the score to a much closer 6-3. Midway through the third, North Carolina knocked Perkins out of the game after giving up three straight singles.
By hitting him hard from the start, the Tar Heels jumped out to a lead for the second day in a row and burned into the bullpen earlier than the Hatters would have liked. That early start gave the team all the advantage it needed the rest of the way, even when the Hatters came roaring back late in the game.
In the fourth inning, starter Gianluca Dalatri exited the game after giving up eight hits and three runs.
The Tar Heels tacked on another run in the sixth on a heads-up sacrifice bunt by Roberts to score Martorano.
The Hatters’ Andrew MacNeil cut the lead in the bottom of the seventh with a solo shot over the right field wall, but the team could only scratch one run across the rest of the way. The early lead from North Carolina was enough for it to return to its first College World Series appearance since 2013.
In the win, Freeman had three hits, while Busch and Datres had two to lead the way from the plate. O’Brien, Daniels and Hiatt starred by committee to hold onto the lead after Dalatri exited in the fourth. O’Brien gave up no hits and one walk in two innings of work — his 28 appearance, which ties a school record for highest number of appearances for a first-year.
Daniels pitched 3 2/3 innings and gave up four hits, one earned run and struck out three. With two outs, Josh Hiatt came in and needed two batters to close out the game. And with that, the Tar Heels will be preparing for a trip to Omaha where they'll be in contention for a national championship.
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