Horton lifts UNC into the super regionals
By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina might be at its postseason best when the Tar Heels are trailing in the ninth inning.
Josh Horton became the latest North Carolina player to deliver a late game-winning hit, as his two-run single with two outs in the ninth lifted the Tar Heels to a 6-5 win over Western Carolina on Monday. The victory sends North Carolina on to the super regionals of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
The Tar Heels (51-12) trailed 5-4 in the ninth when Western Carolina pulled closer Greg Holland after he put two men on with a pair of walks. Horton greeted replacement Chris Masters with a single to the gap in right-center that scored Matt Cavasinni and Dustin Ackley.
Closer Andrew Carignan then worked the ninth to earn his 14th save for North Carolina, which advances to next weekend’s best-of-three super regional series against the winner of the Columbia, S.C., Regional. That series most likely will be played in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina now hopes to duplicate the success of last year, when Chad Flack’s two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning of its game against Alabama sent the Tar Heels to their first College World Series since 1989.
The win came two days after the Tar Heels rallied for three runs in the ninth inning of an 11-10 victory over East Carolina. Pitcher Rob Wooten (5-1) broke a tooth while celebrating that victory, and he got the win Monday, wearing a protective mouthpiece as he worked 3 1-3 innings in relief of starter Luke Putkonen.
Blake Murphy homered in the fifth and Nick Liles had a two-run double to highlight a four-run fourth inning for Western Carolina (42-20), which blew late leads in both of its tournament losses.
Holland (4-5) allowed two runs in two innings in his second loss of the regional for the Catamounts, who haven’t beaten North Carolina since 1977.
Western Carolina reliever Tyler Sexton gave way to Holland in the seventh after loading the bases on two hits and a walk, and Tim Federowicz followed with a single through the left side to make it 5-4.
Western Carolina took a 4-2 lead in the fourth, keyed by Liles’ bases-loaded double. The hit came one batter after Flack, who appeared to be thinking double play, was charged with an error for dropping the ball just before tagging third base.
North Carolina closed to 4-3 on Ackley’s sacrifice fly in the fifth, but Murphy restored the Catamounts’ two-run lead by leading off the bottom of the inning with a drive off Putkonen that cleared the close fence in right-center.