North Carolina used a strong pitching performance by freshman Benton Moss to eliminate instate rival East Carolina 5-3 Sunday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium.
UNC (46-15) plated a trio of runs in the top of the seventh and withstood a pair of late ECU rallies on its way to advancing into the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional championship round Sunday at 6:00 p.m. (ET).
After Moss and Pirate starter Jharel Cotton exchanged three scoreless innings to begin the contest, the Tar Heels grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Tommy Coyle led off the frame with a single to left and stole second before moving to third on Jacob Stallings' single over Corey Thompson's head at third. With runners on the corners and one out, Cody Stubbs lifted a high fly ball to Tim Younger that scored Coyle and gave the host squad an early advantage.
North Carolina extended its lead to 2-0 in the sixth. Stubbs drew a one-out walk and moved into scoring position following a wild pitch by Cotton. The ECU right-hander was lifted for Andy Smithmyer, who struck out Shell McCain for the second out. Brian Holberton sent a clutch run-scoring single into left, putting the Heels up by a pair.
That was all the run support Moss (7-2) would need as he allowed one run (earned) on six hits in six innings.
Cotton (8-3) was impressive against the nation's overall No. 6 seed, allowing a pair of runs (both earned) on three hits in 5 1/3 frames of work. He walked three and struck out two.
The Pirates (36-24-1) trimmed the lead to 2-1 on Drew Reynolds' RBI single to right center. Mike Ussery ignited the rally with a two-out hit and the senior second baseman advanced to second on Younger's looping liner to right. Reynolds brought home Ussery with a flare over the head of Coyle at second. UNC avoided further damage as Stallings threw out Reynolds, who tried advancing to second on Chaz Frank's throw home from the outfield.
North Carolina seized control of the contest in the seventh, as Smithmyer walked Frank and Coyle with one out. The runners moved up 90 feet after Smithmyer was called for a balk and with first base open on a 3-2 count to Colin Moran. The Pirates elected to intentionally walk the Tar Heels' first baseman to load the bases and set up a potential inning-ending double play.
Reynolds replaced Smithmyer on the mound and Stallings lifted a sacrifice fly to left off East Carolina's closer, extending the lead to 3-1. Reynolds issued a walk to Stubbs to once again load the bases and pinch-hitter Mike Zolk produced the game-winning run as he drove in a pair with a line drive single into center field.
Smithmyer was charged with all three seventh-inning runs and allowed one hit, walked three, and struck out two in one stanza.
Reynolds finished the game having tossed 2 2/3 frames, walking two, yielding a hit, and fanning one.
Trailing 5-1 in the eighth, East Carolina mounted a threat against UNC's R.C. Orlan, who replaced Moss in the seventh. Chase McDonald and Jack Reinheimer recorded back-to-back singles to right before Orlan was replaced by Luis Paula. Younger greeted Paula with a single into right, his third base knock of the day, to bring the Pirates within three, 5-2. Paula was replaced by left-handed specialist Tate Parrish, who retired Reynolds on a pop out to short, ending the rally.
Orlan allowed one run (earned) on two hits in 1 2/3 stanzas, while Paula and Parrish each pitched to just one batter apiece.
Michael Morin, who blew a save in day two of regional action against St. John's, earned the save for North Carolina despite surrendering a solo home run to John Wooten with one out. Morin struck out two in the ninth on his way to establishing the Tar Heels' single-season saves record (19).
Despite amassing 10 hits to UNC's five, East Carolina walked eight batters and five Tar Heel hurlers did not issue a free pass on the afternoon.
Holberston was the only Heel with more than one hit as the designated hitter singled twice.
McDonald continued his torrid, late-season surge as the sophomore recorded his third multi-hit performance in as many days. In seven career NCAA Regional tilts, the big first baseman has had at least two base knocks in six contests.
Younger paced East Carolina offensively on Sunday, picking up three singles and an RBI. Reynolds, Wooten, Cannon and Reinheimer each contributed a lone hit to the Pirates' 10-hit performance.
A 2012 NCAA Tournament berth marks the 12th time in the last 14th years in which the Pirates have qualified for national post-season play and 26th in the programs history.
St. John's, the region's third-seeded club, does not have a loss in tournament play, thus the Tar Heels must beat the Red Storm twice to earn a berth to the Super Regional.
East Carolina saw its season come to an end as the Pirates fell to North Carolina 5-3 Sunday in an elimination game in the NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels never trailed in the game and used three runs in the top of the 7th inning to secure the victory. ECU tallied one run in both the 8th and 9th inning but fell short of a comeback.
Former WITN Player Of The Week Benton Moss notched the victory for the Tar Heels. He went 6 innings, giving up just one run on six hits.
UNC will have to beat St. John's twice to advance out of regional play.