UNC knocks Rice out of Omaha

By  | 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- North Carolina powered its way back to the College World Series finals.

After hitting just one home run in their first 13 postseason games, the Tar Heels lit up Rice for four long balls in a 7-4 victory Thursday night.

North Carolina staved off elimination for three straight games, beating Rice twice in two days to win the bracket.

The Tar Heels will play defending champion Oregon State in only the second finals rematch in the CWS' 61-year history. It is the first since Arizona State and Southern California met in 1972 and 1973. The best-of-three series starts Saturday.

"We're all exhausted, for one, and elated," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "To say we're playing for the national championship again is really kind of surreal right now. I owe a lot to my players for just how resilient they are."

The homer barrage supported Adam Warren (12-0), who was making his first postseason start, and two relievers. Andrew Carignan earned his record-tying fifth career CWS save and 18th of the season.

"I'm not sure where the home runs came from tonight," said Fox, whose team led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 70 home runs in 71 games. "They came at a good time. I guess we saved them all up."

It was a replay of last year's CWS for the Owls.

Rice won its first two games here in 2006, then went home after getting shut out twice by Oregon State. The Owls scored 29 runs in winning their first two games this year, including a 14-4 win over North Carolina, but they managed only five in the two losses to the Tar Heels.

"A lot of people -- whether they mean to or not -- are going to try to make us feel like we blew it or we succumbed to pressure, all those things," Rice first baseman Joe Savery said. "That's just not true. Yeah, it's disappointing to go out like that. But top three in the country isn't bad."

North Carolina (57-14) got a home run from Chad Flack to win its super regional against South Carolina on June 10. The Tar Heels didn't hit another one until Dustin Ackley's three-run homer broke open Wednesday's 6-1 win over Rice (56-14).

Ackley homered leading off the second against Rice starter Matt Langwell (8-2) on Thursday.

Tim Fedroff's two-run homer, which put the Tar Heels up 3-2 in the third, was his fifth of the season and first since March 28.

Seth Williams homered in the fourth and Josh Horton went deep in the fifth, both off Bobby Bramhall.

"It seems like right now everybody is clicking at the same time," Ackley said.

Langwell had allowed just two homers in 79 1-3 innings coming into the CWS, but he gave up one to Louisville and the two to North Carolina here. Bramhall, who had given up just two in 60 1-3 innings entering Thursday, surrendered two in a span of five batters.

Warren, who got the win by pitching 4 1-3 innings of shutout relief against Mississippi State in the CWS opener, allowed three hits and three runs in six-plus innings in his first NCAA tournament start. The sophomore right-hander gave way to Rob Wooten after issuing a walk to start the seventh.

Wooten allowed back-to-back singles and an RBI double to Tyler Henley.

Carignan came on to pitch the final 2 1-3 innings, retiring seven of the eight batters he faced. He tied the CWS save record set by Huston Street of Texas.

Carignan entered with two runners on base after Rice scored to pull within three runs. He caught Savery looking at strike three to end the inning. Savery disputed umpire David Buck's call, saying the fastball was 6 inches outside.

"For them to show it on the board, that ain't me complaining. It was up in front of God and everyone," Savery said. "Every day I walk out of my room, I look at the serenity prayer. You try not to get upset about it because I can't control that. But I have to end my college career striking out with runners on second and third."

Rice coach Wayne Graham declined to comment on Buck's call.

The 71-year-old Graham said he would look back at the positives of the season.

"It's always disappointing when you lose, but I told the kids after the game not to worry," Graham said, laughing. "They're not going to fire me."