Tar Heels edge Gamecocks in Super Regional opener

Skye Bolt’s two-out RBI single scored Parks Jordan with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, as North Carolina outlasted South Carolina, 6-5, in game one of the best-of-3 Super Regional Saturday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium.

Jordan, the No. 9 hitter in the Tar Heel lineup, led off the ninth with a single to center off Gamecock closer Tyler Webb and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Webb got the second out on a fly ball then, after walking first-round draft pick Colin Moran intentionally, surrendered Bolt’s grounder through the hole between first and second into right field. Sean Sullivan’s throw to the plate was late, sending the Gamecocks into an elimination game on Sunday.

The Gamecocks outhit the Tar Heels on the day, 15-11, but stranded a dozen runners and committed three errors, leading to a pair of unearned runs. North Carolina improved to 56-9 on the season, while South Carolina dropped to 42-19.

The Gamecocks broke out in front with a pair of runs in the top of the first inning off Tar Heel lefthander Kent Emanuel. Graham Saiko led off with a single to center and Chase Vergason followed with a single to right. One out later, LB Dantzler coaxed a walk to load the bases. Grayson Greiner put the Gamecocks on top with a two-run single to left, scoring Saiko and Vergason.

North Carolina came right back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning. Landon Lassiter stroked a one-out single to center and scored on Moran’s double into the left field corner to cut the Gamecocks’ lead in half. One out later, Cody Stubbs lined a ball to Saiko, but the Carolina left fielder was unable to handle it for a two-base error, tying the game at 2.

Carolina jumped back in front in the second. Kyle Martin, the Most Outstanding Player of the Columbia Regional, led off the inning with a single to right. He advanced to second on Tanner English’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Saiko’s single to center, putting the Gamecocks back on top, 3-2.

South Carolina chased Emanuel, a third-round pick in the MLB Draft, in the third inning. Joey Pankake led off the frame with a booming home run over the left field wall to put the Gamecocks on top 4-2. Pankake’s homer came on a 1-2 pitch and was his 11th round tripper of the season. Dantzler followed with a single to right and Greiner reached on an error. Emanuel left the contest after Max Schrock’s flyout to center advanced both runners. Reliever Chris Munnelly avoided any further damage by getting a pair of groundouts to end the inning. Emanuel surrendered four runs, all earned, on seven hits over 2.1 innings of work, his shortest start of the season.

North Carolina got that run right back in the bottom of the third with the help of another Gamecock miscue. Moran stroked a one-out single to right. With two outs, Stubbs grounded one just inside the first base bag, past a diving Martin for a double. Connor Bright fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw back into the infield went awry for an error, allowing Moran to score the Tar Heels’ third run of the game.

The Gamecocks threatened again in the fourth but came up empty for the first time in the game. After Munnelly retired the first two batters, Vergason and Pankake stroked back-to-back singles. Little-used left-hander Tate Parrish relieved Munnelly to face the left-handed-hitting Dantzler. On a 3-1 pitch, Dantzler’s deep fly to right was caught at the warning track, stranding the two runners.

The Gamecocks had another chance in the sixth. Martin led off with a single and advanced to second on English’s sacrifice bunt. Saiko walked, but Vergason and Pankake flied out to end the threat.

North Carolina took the lead for the first time in its half of the sixth. Bolt led off with a single to center. Stubbs followed with a double to right, his second two-base hit of the game, ending the day for Gamecock starter Nolan Belcher. Adam Westmoreland relieved Belcher and got a groundout before Brian Holberton laced a single to center, plating both Bolt and Stubbs, giving UNC a 5-4 advantage. The Gamecocks used a double play ball for the third straight inning to end any further damage. Belcher was tagged for five runs, three earned, on eight hits over 5.0-plus innings of work.

South Carolina threatened again in the seventh. Dantzler led off with a double to right. Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox went to the bullpen for the fourth time in the game, bringing in closer Trent Thornton. Dantzler remained at second on Greiner’s groundout, then advanced to third on Max Schrock’s fly to right, but was stranded when Bright grounded out.

The Gamecocks rallied to tie the game at 5 in the eighth. Martin led off with a single to center, his third hit of the game. English was unable to get down his third sacrifice of the contest and struck out, but Saiko singled to center for his third hit, advancing Martin to second. Vergason lined a ball just out of the reach of centerfielder Chaz Frank for a double, scoring Martin with the game-tying run. After Pankake fanned for the second out, Dantzler was walked intentionally to load the bases, but Greiner flied out to center to end the inning.

Westmoreland worked 2.2 innings of relief, allowing one hit and two walks with two strikeouts. Webb (3-3) was tagged with the loss after allowing one run on two hits in an inning of relief. Thornton (10-1) worked the final three innings, allowing three hits and a run with one walk and three strikeouts for the win.

Game 2 of the best-of-3 series will be played Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET. Sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery (5-1, 1.67 ERA) will make the start for the Gamecocks. He will be opposed by North Carolina southpaw Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 2.09). The game will be televised on ESPN. If game 3 is necessary, it will be played Monday. Game time and television network are to be determined.

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