Flack, UNC slip past OSU to take 1-0 series lead
OMAHA, Neb. -- Chad Flack saw the ball tip off the catcher's mitt, so he took off for the plate.
As fast he could.
"I got a horrible jump, I really did," the husky first baseman said.
It turned out to be good enough.
With a rumble home and a headfirst slide, Flack put North Carolina within a victory of its first College World Series title as the Tar Heels beat Oregon State 4-3 on Saturday night in the opening game of the best-of-three championship series.
"I screamed for him to go," coach Mike Fox said. "Fortunately, he had just enough of a secondary lead, and had just enough foot speed -- one less cheeseburger -- to get in there."
With the score 3-3 in the eighth, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Flack hit a hard liner into the right-field corner and slid into third with a triple -- his fourth this season.
"Rounding second, I saw Coach Fox and he was telling me to get down, and all I was trying to do was not slide past the bag, so I held on to it as much as I could," Flack said.
With Jay Cox at the plate, reliever Joe Paterson threw an inside pitch that nicked off catcher Mitch Canham's mitt and rolled to the backstop.
Flack headed for home as Canham recovered the ball and tossed it to Paterson at the plate -- but Flack slid headfirst ahead of the tag.
"You saw it. It got past," Canham said. "The guy scored. They win. That's about it."
In the ninth, reliever Jonathan Hovis (8-2) issued a leadoff walk to Chris Kunda, but Andrew Carignan came on after Canham's sacrifice and struck out Darwin Barney and John Wallace for his 15th save.
"As a closer, that's what you live for in college baseball," Carignan said.
The Tar Heels (54-13) need to beat the Beavers (48-16) once more to become the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to win the College World Series since Wake Forest in 1955.
Flack is a major reason the Tar Heels are in this position. He homered twice -- a three-run shot in the eighth and a two-run homer in the ninth -- in North Carolina's 8-7 comeback victory over Alabama in the super regionals. That win put the Tar Heels in Omaha.
"Chad's been getting big hits for us ever since he stepped on our campus," Fox said of the sophomore.
Paterson (1-1), who came on in relief of starter Dallas Buck, took the loss for Oregon State.
"The nice thing about this is we have another opportunity tomorrow," Beavers coach Pat Casey said. "If this had been the end of the season, we would be a little more disappointed. We're very capable of coming back. We've done it before."
Oregon State took a 3-2 lead in the sixth on Cole Gillespie's two-run homer off starter Andrew Miller, the No. 6 overall draft pick by Detroit. Wallace hit a leadoff single and moved to third when the lanky lefty's pickoff attempt went past Flack at first base and into the Beavers' bullpen in right field.
Gillespie reached out and hit a 1-2 pitch from Miller over the right-field wall -- just before drenching rains delayed the game for 1 hour, 11 minutes.
When play resumed, Matt Danford came out for North Carolina and walked two batters before getting out of the inning.
"I made a decision with Andrew that after 70 minutes, I thought that was too long," Fox said. "Andrew wanted to go back out, and I decided it wasn't in his best interest."
Buck came out for the Beavers in the sixth and got into trouble by giving up consecutive singles to Flack and Cox. Tim Federowicz grounded into a double play, but Seth Williams followed with an RBI to make it 3-3.
Buck walked off the mound, slapped his glove in frustration and yelled at himself before pitching coach Dan Spencer came out to calm the right-hander. Buck regained his composure and got Benji Johnson to ground out.
"I felt good enough to win the ballgame," Buck said. "My job is to leave with a lead, and we didn't do that. So anytime I come out of the game and we don't have a lead, I'm disappointed."
The Tar Heels scored twice with two outs in the first on RBI singles by Cox and Federowicz.
Oregon State got on the scoreboard against Miller in the third, thanks in part to an overly aggressive North Carolina fan.
Kunda led off the inning with a liner to left-center that a shirtless fan -- whose hair was colored Carolina powder blue -- touched with his glove while apparently reaching over the wall before left fielder Cox could get to it. It deflected off the glove of the young fan, Tyson Cunningham of Syracuse, Utah, and into the hands of an Oregon State fan, Casey Hill from West Point, Utah.
Cox immediately pointed up at the stands while Kunda rounded the bases, thinking he homered.
But left-field umpire John Kleis put up two fingers to signal two bases before consulting with the other umpires, who ruled it a double. Casey came out to argue that the ball should have been ruled a homer, to no avail.
Canham followed with a bunt single, and Barney's sacrifice fly to left made it 2-1.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press