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UNC, Stanford set for marquee NCAA baseball series

By Eddy Landreth
Staff Writer

This could easily be a match made in Omaha – as in Nebraska and the College World Series.

Stanford (35-20), one of the top academic institutions in the nation and a school rich in baseball heritage, will travel to Chapel Hill this week to play Carolina (48-14) in a super regional of the NCAA Tournament.

The Tar Heels and Cardinal will play a best-of-three series, beginning Friday at 3 p.m. The winner of the series will advance to the College World Series in Omaha. The second game this weekend starts on Saturday at 3 p.m. If needed, game three will be played Sunday at 4 p.m. The games will be broadcast on ESPN.

Since the current format of the NCAA Tournament was installed in 1999, Stanford has been to eight super regionals – 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2011 – and has reached the CWS each of those times except 2006.

Carolina has not won a national championship in baseball, but the Tar Heels have the most victories (35) in the tournament since 2006, when they began a run of four consecutive trips to Omaha.

This will be a particularly difficult series, given the strength of Stanford’s program and team. The Cardinal was the second seed in the Cal State Fullerton regional this past weekend and won that against Fullerton, which entered the weekend second behind Carolina with victories in the tournament since 2006.

“Fullerton is a great program,” Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. “They don’t beat themselves, and they play a brand of baseball where they put a lot of pressure on you. When you can beat a team like that, it’s a feather in your cap.”

If the Tar Heels have an edge, it’s playing at home.

“When we got the national seed, and it’s just my saying,” associate head coach Scott Forbes said, “but I said, ‘We’re playing at the Bosh; somebody is going to have to beat us at the Bosh.’

“We’re hard to beat here. We’re really excited about that. The guys got a taste of what postseason was like last year at Oklahoma, and they did not want to be on the road.”

Carolina had to play in the regional without head coach Mike Fox, who was with his family during the weekend. His mother died of cancer on Saturday. He’s expected to return for this series.

The Tar Heels made him proud. UNC put on an impressive show, allowing just three runs in three games. The Tar Heels shut out their opponents in two of the games, and senior right-hander Patrick Johnson (12-1, 2.18 earned run average) extended his scoreless streak to 23 innings.

“That is a credit to P.J.,” said fellow senior Greg Holt, who hit a home run while driving in four runs and scoring three against James Madison in the second game of the weekend.

“He works his tail off every day he comes down here,” Holt said. “He’s got 23 scoreless now, and that is a credit to him. He goes out every day and competes. He is a bulldog for us. He’s been doing it all year. It’s not surprising what he is doing right now.”

Johnson pitched a complete-game shutout against then-No. 1 ranked Virginia in the final series of the regular season.

Then he had a no-hitter going against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament when rain forced postponement of the game after six innings. On Saturday, he threw eight shutout innings against James Madison, a team that averaged 9.2 runs per game before this weekend.

Stanford has pitching and defense of its own, though. The Cardinal defeated Cal State Fullerton 1-0 in the critical game of that regional.

Jordan Pines (6-5) pitched 7 and two-thirds scoreless innings to get the victory against Fullerton.

“We feel confident,” Carolina left fielder Chaz Frank said. “We are confident. We’re just super excited to be going to the super regional.”

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