Heels top Cardinial in super regional

Published 7:37 pm Friday, June 10, 2011

CHAPEL HILL — Patrick Johnson spent most of Friday hitting the outside corner of the plate, frustrating batters and protecting North Carolina’s slim lead.
The senior is making pitching in the NCAA tournament look pretty easy this year.
Johnson pitched into the eighth inning and Seth Baldwin hit a two-run homer in the seventh to help the Tar Heels beat Stanford 5-2 in the NCAA super regionals, moving them within a win of another trip to Omaha.
Johnson allowed five hits while striking out seven in 7 2-3 innings for the Tar Heels (49-14), a strong follow-up to his dominant performance during their three-game romp through last weekend’s regionals.
“We needed a good start from him,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said, “and we got it right out of the gate.”
North Carolina, the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, can reach the College World Series for the fifth time in six seasons by winning beating the Cardinal (35-21) in Saturday’s Game 2.
Johnson remained in control of this game despite getting only an RBI single from Ben Bunting through the first six innings. Two batters reached second base against him all afternoon, while his only walk came in the seventh.
Baldwin’s shot over the left-field wall later that inning finally gave him some extra cushion, even though he hardly seemed to need it.
“Me and (pitching coach Scott Forbes) had a plan going into the game and we pretty much stayed with that plan the whole time: Stay away from them, go in when we needed to,” Johnson said.
“We were just able to hang with it the whole game.”
Johnson (13-1) entered Friday with a scoreless streak of 23 innings and hadn’t allowed a run since giving up two in a win at Georgia Tech on May 13. He threw six innings of no-hit ball against Wake Forest before a rain delay in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and allowed three hits with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last weekend against James Madison.
He left Friday’s game after Tyler Gaffney’s infield hit, handing the ball to reliever Michael Morin and heading to the dugout after throwing 127 pitches to a standing ovation from the blue-clad crowd at Boshamer Stadium.
But Morin quickly surrendered a double to left from Stephen Piscotty, then Brian Ragira managed a soft hit up the middle that shortstop Levi Michael tried to grab barehanded. The ball rolled away from him, allowing Gaffney and Piscotty to score and snap Johnson’s scoreless streak and cut the deficit to 3-2.
“You don’t have that many scoreless innings without having good stuff,” Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. “But he pitches. He’s firm with the fastball. He throws it where he wants to and has great command. … And when you do that, you’re tough on hitters. And he was really tough on us.”
His teammates ensured that Johnson’s win wouldn’t slip away. Baldwin drew a bases-loaded walk in the eighth, then Chaz Frank added an RBI sacrifice fly to center that scored Bunting to push the lead to 5-2.
Stanford’s Mark Appel (6-7) held the Tar Heels to six hits and one run through the first six innings before walking Brian Holberton to lead off the seventh. Baldwin came on and fouled the first two pitches to the left side as he tried to bunt.
But after taking a ball, Baldwin blasted Appel’s pitch over the left-field wall to finally give Johnson and the Tar Heels a needed cushion.
“We were trying to hit the outside corner and I missed low on the 0-2 pitch,” Appel said of the at-bat with Baldwin. “I tried to go back and just left it up and he hit it. It was just a mistake and he made me pay for it.”
The Tar Heels have now won 15 straight postseason games as a host school, including two super regional wins against Coastal Carolina in nearby Cary while Boshamer was being remodeled three years ago. They’ve also won six straight games in the super regionals dating back to a Game 3 win against South Carolina here in 2007.
“We’ve got to go out there (Saturday) and get it done,” Baldwin said. “I don’t think we should take it easy at all. I feel like we should play hard-nosed like we did today. We can’t relax.”