Pirates’ dream of Omaha denied|Warren, Ackley lead Tar Heels to College World Series

Published 12:45 am Monday, June 8, 2009

Sports Editor

CHAPEL HILL — East Carolina’s dream of reaching Omaha is put on hold for at least one more year.
The No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels rode the arm of Adam Warren, and used a big blow from Dustin Ackley, in a 9-3 win over the No. 14 Pirates in Sunday’s Super Regional. The Tar Heels (47-16), the No. 4 national seed, completed the two-game sweep in front of 4,271 fans at Boshamer Stadium, and advanced to their fourth straight College World Series.
“I can’t describe the ride that we’ve been on,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “I’m so happy for our team. It’s been a terrific season.
“I’m so excited for them and happy that they get to experience Omaha once again.”
The Pirates (46-20) fell to 0-6 in three Super Regional appearances. ECU was also swept by Tennessee in 2001 and by South Carolina in 2004.
“Unfortunately, we have to have experiences such as these,” ECU fourth-year coach Billy Godwin said. “I think you fail before you succeed sometimes. We have to keep grinding and keep putting a quality product on the mound.
“That’s the next step, but I think some of the experiences like this, sometimes I say that a player’s failure is his best feature. It hurts; it stings, but I think it’s an important part of growing and maturing as a team and a program.”
The customarily potent ECU offense, an offense that set single-season records for home runs, runs scored and batting average, just couldn’t generate much offense against the Heels.
“It’s very disappointing,” said senior first baseman Brandon Henderson, who hit a two-run single in Sunday’s loss. “It’s difficult to take, but you have to give it to North Carolina. They pitched very well.”
The Pirates didn’t score until the eighth. ECU loaded the bases on consecutive singles by Austin Homan, Trent Whitehead (2-for-5) and Ryan Wood.
Whitehead’s hit gave him 105 for the season, establishing a new ECU single-season record, breaking the previous mark of 104 set by Darryl Lawhorn in 2004.
Kyle Roller’s groundout scored one run, while Henderson’s single scored two more to make it 8-3.
It wasn’t nearly enough against Warren, who was in command from the start.
“Warren today was really impressive,” said Wood, who went 1-for-4 and finished the season with 101 hits. “He was hitting his spot and, if he missed, he was missing a couple inches off the plate, especially his fastball. He could locate his breaking ball for a strike and put it where he wanted to.”
Warren (9-2), a former standout at New Bern High School, cruised until the eighth. The senior, who allowed the three runs on eight hits while fanning eight in 7 1/3 innings, is a big season why the Heels are headed back to Omaha.
“I have to say going back to the College World Series a fourth time is nothing short of God blessing us as a senior class and as a team,” Warren said. “We’re very fortunate.”
Just as they did in the first game, when they tallied seven runs in the sixth inning in a 10-1 victory, the Tar Heels used another big sixth in Game 2 to break the game open. Ackley’s (1-for-4, 3 RBIs) three-run blast on a wicked slider by ECU reliever Seth Simmons highlighted a five-run outburst that gave the Heels a 7-0 lead.
“There’s a reason he’s one of the best hitters in college baseball,” Godwin said. “It was just a great job hitting against a very good pitch.”
UNC chased ECU starter Kevin Brandt (9-2), who gave up a two-run single to Kyle Seager in the third, and reliever Brad Mincey while batting around in the sixth.
After surrendering a leadoff double to Mark Fleury (2-for-5), Brandt (3 runs, 6 hits, 5 strikeouts, 3 walks in 5 innings) was pulled.
“They came out ready to hit today,” said Brandt, a freshman All-American who earned the win in a 4-0 nod over North Carolina during the regular season. “I just tried to pitch the same. I don’t know if they changed their game plan, but they came out hitting.”
The Tar Heels greeted Mincey (3 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk in 1/3 of an inning) with consecutive hits. Garrett Gore’s single put runners at the corners. Mike Cavasinni (2-for-3) followed by lacing an RBI single. Gore raced home on Seth Baldwin’s fielder’s choice, giving the Heels a 4-0 advantage.
Ackley’s three-run blast, his 22nd of the season that came off Simmons (2 runs, 4 hits, 1 strikeout in 1 inning), made it 7-0.
“I knew it was an off-speed pitch and I got a good swing on it,” Ackley said. “That was definitely a big hit. It was really big to be up by that much.”
Gore (4-for-5, 4 runs) scored on Baldwin’s sac fly in the seventh, pushing the lead to 8-0.
ECU cut its deficit to 8-3 in the eighth.
Gore’s sixth home run of the season in his final at-bat at Boshamer Stadium gave UNC a 9-3 lead in the ninth.
“I really don’t know what to say just because I guessed at that pitch and I didn’t swing at the first two pitches like (Fox) probably thought I was going to do,” Gore said. “It feels good.”
That good feeling will carry over into Omaha for the Tar Heels, while the Pirates will have to wait at least one more year.