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North Carolina advances to CWS championship round

6/22/2006

OMAHA, Neb. -- Jay Cox's two home runs helped North Carolina build a lead against Cal State Fullerton.

His ninth-inning catch at the left-field wall helped the Tar Heels keep it.

With their 6-5 victory on Wednesday night, the Tar Heels won Bracket 1 at the College World Series and moved to the best-of-three final, where they'll play for their first national
title beginning Saturday.

Carolina (53-13) will meet either Rice or Oregon State. The Beavers beat the Owls 5-0 on Wednesday night, forcing a second game between the teams Thursday night to determine who plays the Tar Heels.

"It's obviously exciting to think about and say the words that we're playing for a national championship," said North Carolina coach Mike Fox, whose program had lost six of eight games in four previous CWS appearances.

North Carolina, which defeated Fullerton 7-5 in 13 innings on Friday, won a rematch that featured 27 hits in what was an anticipated pitcher's duel between Carolina's Daniel Bard and the Titans' Wes Roemer.

Cox's three-run homer in the third inning put Carolina up 4-2. He and Tim Federowicz hit back-to-back homers in the fifth -- the first consecutive homers in the CWS since Missouri State's Greg Mathis and Jacob Hilgendorf did it in 2003 -- to give the Tar Heels a 6-3 lead.

Carolina led by a run in the ninth when Cox robbed David Cooper of extra bases when he caught a long drive while crashing into the wall in left.

The Titans (50-15) had proved dangerous in the late innings, scoring three runs in the ninth to beat Georgia Tech on Sunday and erasing a three-run seventh-inning deficit to beat Clemson on Tuesday.

"We didn't want a double right there," Cox said. "I realized the ball was carrying a little bit. I got back to the track. As soon as I felt the track I jumped up and caught it. It felt pretty good, I guess."

So did his home runs, which more than made up for his 1-for-11 start at the CWS.

"I was kind of beating myself up a little bit, and I felt I was letting the team down," Cox said. "Coach talked to me a little bit and said I would get big hits when it counts. I got in the
batter's box [in the third] -- we had struggled a little bit the first couple at-bats -- and I just tried to put the barrel on the ball. It just happened that it went out twice."

Bard (9-3), a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox, gave up a career-high 12 hits in six innings.

Roemer (13-2) allowed six runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings, the shortest of his 30 career starts. The Big West pitcher of the year gave up both of Cox's homers and Federowicz's solo shot.

After allowing three home runs in 16 regular-season starts, Roemer surrendered six in four NCAA tournament starts. He gave up two in his first CWS start against the Tar Heels.

Roemer said he felt good the first two innings. Then Mike Cavasinni reached when Roemer couldn't field a comebacker to start the third.

"That led to quicksand," Roemer said. "Everybody was getting hits and stuff was going wrong."

Bard left in the seventh with two runners on base. Cooper's single off John Estes and pinch-hitter Cory Vanderhook's sacrifice fly pulled Fullerton to 6-5.

The Titans (50-15) tried to tie it after John Curtis doubled leading off the eighth and moved to third on a groundout. Curtis took off for home on a suicide squeeze but was thrown out when reliever Andrew Carignan picked up Blake Davis' bunt in front of the mound.

"I knew I was going to be out," Curtis said. "I just wanted to slide in hard and see if I could jar it loose."

Fullerton coach George Horton said it was the perfect time to try the play.

"Blake is a very good bunter and we had it set up," he said. "We're not going to second guess that. We're not going to beat ourselves up over a play that didn't work."

The Titans, who had come from behind to win their previous two games, stood at the top of the dugout steps in the bottom of the ninth, hats backward and linked with their arms behind each others' backs.

After Cox made his big catch against Cooper, first-round draft pick Andrew Miller came on for his first relief appearance since 2004. Miller earned the save by getting pinch-hitter Bryan Harris on a soft grounder to shortstop for the final out.