Alabama Falls to UNC 8-7 in Drama Filled Super Regional Final
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -North Carolina first baseman Chad Flack ripped a three-run homer to left field in the eighth inning and a two-out, two-run round-tripper to right to lift the Tar Heels to a dramatic come-from-behind 8-7 victory over national No. 4 seed Alabama at Sewell-Thomas Stadium Saturday night in the NCAA Super Regional.
"I have felt like there was something special about this group all year long," UNC head coach Mike Fox said. "Chad Flack is about as clutch of a player as I have ever coached. I've never seen anything like that. There is a huge wave of emotions. I feel for Alabama because I've been in their shoes before. It's a tough deal when you get to this point of the year. I'm so elated for our players who have given their heart and soul all year. We've been rewarded for a lot of hard work."
Alabama led virtually the entire game until Flack's homer in the eighth off Crimson Tide starter Tommy Hunter gave the Tar Heels a 5-4 lead.
After Alabama ace David Robertson gave up another run in the eighth, the Crimson Tide staged its own rally in the top of the ninth. Matt Downs reached on an error before Kody Valverde walked. Freshman Alex Avila hit a line shot over the left field wall to give the Crimson Tide a 7-6 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, Carolina's Reid Fronk walked with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch. Robertson struck out shortstop Josh Horton but Flack responded with his third hit and fifth RBI of the game to send the Tar Heels on to the College World Series.
Andrew Carignan, the UNC closer, picked up his second win of the year after his blown save to start the ninth. The home run by Avila was the first against Carignan this season.
Robertson ended the 2006 season with a 4-4 record. Hunter pitched extremely well for Alabama until losing steam in the eighth inning. He went seven innings, giving up five runs all earned.
"I was real proud of my team, the way we fought back there," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "I feel badly because I thought I mis-managed the game late. I should have done an inside move again. I thought the guy was going to bunt and we had called a breaking ball and he hit one out. But the guys, what a great comeback, and then that happens. You've got a guy 0-2 and then you don't get him and then Flack comes up and you miss with the pitch and he hits it. But I told the club, I said I don't know if I've had a better experience with a group ever. So it's been incredible. It was tough tonight."
The Crimson Tide had numerous opportunities in the early innings to blow the game open. UNC starter and first round draft pick Daniel Bard had difficulty finding the strike zone, hitting three batters and walking two more.
Alabama took a 1-0 lead when Matt Downs scored when Avila was hit on a 2-2 pitch, but Bard averted farther damage by getting Rhoden to line into an unassisted double play to Horton.
A triple by Paiml to dead center chased Belcher around the bases with one man out in the second to give the Crimson Tide a 2-0 advantage. Bard would last only two batters into the third, a single to Valverde and a walk to Bush. Matt Danford came in and loaded the bases but worked out of the jam when Belcher was called out on a check swing.
North Carolina cut the lead to 2-1 in the third with a two-out bunt single by Mike Cavasinni, who then proceeded to steal second and come home on a double to right field by third baseman Reid Fronk.
With two outs in the top of the fourth, Downs slammed his seventh homer of the year over the left field scoreboard. It was a solo shot, giving the Crimson Tide a 3-1 edge.
The Tar Heels countered in the bottom of the inning when Flack drove a triple past a diving Emeel Salem. Jay Cox drove him in on a ground out to second.
For the third time in the game the Crimson Tide loaded the bases, this time in the seventh. A sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Matt Bentley drove in Downs, who had walked to lead off the inning off Matt Danford. The Tar Heels went with one of their star relievers Jonathan Hovis, who shut down the rally by getting the Bentley fly followed by a lazy fly to center by Pennington.
Flack's 12th home run of the year was a shot over the left field fence on a 1-1 pitch. North Carolina had opened the inning when Fronk was hit on the sleeve of his jersey and Horton bounced a single up the middle.
A two-out double Benji Johnson scored Jay Cox, who had dropped a bloop single to left off Robertson, who had come in after Hunter yielded the blast to Flack.
Carignan, who entered the game with 13 saves, gave up a three-run homer to Avila that sent the partisan Crimson Tide crowd into an uproar but it didn't last long.
On an 0-1 pitch, Flack launched a shot to right field that cleared the fence by several feet, giving the Tar Heels a dramatic 8-7 victory and ensuring them a spot in the College World Series. The Crimson Tide finished the season at 44-21 while North Carolina improved its mark to 50-13.