Another CWS lost for UNC and ACC
Arizona State eliminates Tar Heels, rallying to win 12-5 on Thursday
OMAHA, Neb. -- While we will need at least one more day to see who will be playing in the College World Series' best-of-three championship series next week, we certainly know who won't be playing.
The ACC. As in ACCess denied.
With Arizona State's 12-5 defeat of North Carolina on Thursday to send the Tar Heels packing from the CWS -- their earliest departure in the past four years -- the thought-to-be best conference in college baseball will have to wait at least one more year to get its second national championship. Wake Forest won the league's only title way back in 1955.
And UNC, despite four consecutive trips to Omaha, is left still searching for its first championship.
Quite simply, the Tar Heels (48-18) imploded at the most inopportune time against ASU (51-13) in front of a 2009 CWS-record crowd of 25,001 -- which included UNC basketball and national champion coach Roy Williams.
"Getting here four years in a row is an unbelievable accomplishment, and we're not going to let tonight tarnish any of that," Carolina coach Mike Fox said.
Fair enough. One game doesn't define a season. But for Fox and his players, they will have a long summer with a bad taste in their mouths about how 2009 ended.
Even with a win Thursday night, it might have been an uphill climb for UNC. But with Alex White available to start Friday against Texas and Adam Warren possibly available for Saturday if a rematch with the Longhorns was necessary, who knows what might have happened.
In the end, all we do know is that a disastrous eight-run seventh inning ended Carolina's 2009 season.
It was painful for Carolina fans to watch the snowman get assembled on the scoreboard, and it had to be even more painful in the UNC dugout.
"It's just one of those innings," Fox said. "You don't want to have those innings any time, the first game of the year, and you certainly don't want to have it the last game of the year out here.
"We couldn't find the strike zone; none of the relievers could. It happens. I feel so bad for all of those kids. They're trying as hard as they can; it just didn't go right for us that inning. You open the door for a good team like Arizona State and eventually we dodged bullets those first few innings. If you continue, it's going to get you, and it got us."
UNC jumped out to a 4-0 lead after four innings, but ASU evened things up in the fifth on a monstrous grand slam by Kole Calhoun on a 3-2 pitch off reliever Brian Moran.
It stayed 4-4 through six innings.
Then ASU sent 13 batters to the plate, earned five hits (four singles, one double) and got four walks, and a tie game became 12-4 as Rosenblatt Stadium slowly started to empty.
What about White? Did Fox consider using his ace to try to stop the bleeding and live another day?
"The only way I would have used Alex White tonight would have been the ninth inning, maybe to save the game," Fox said after the game. "Once we got down by two runs, the boy's got too big a future ahead of him, so that wouldn't have been a smart thing to do."
Carolina plated a run in the top of the ninth to make the final 12-5 but the game was decided well before the four hours and four minutes it took to play.
The 12 runs were the most Carolina had surrendered all season. And it cleared the way for a rematch of Texas and ASU (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN360). The Longhorns won Tuesday's meeting 10-6 and therefore need to beat the Sun Devils only once to claim the Bracket Two championship. The Bracket One championship starts off Friday's play when unbeaten LSU tries to eliminate Arkansas (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN360).
A win by either of the one-loss survivors will force a winner-take-all game Saturday to determine which two teams will begin play Monday in the CWS championship series.
In total, the teams left standing are four brand-name schools from four big-time baseball conferences: No. 1 national seed Texas, No. 3 seed LSU, along with its conference mate Arkansas, and No. 5 seed Arizona State.
Texas and LSU, by virtue of their unbeaten records here at the CWS, would have to be considered the prohibitive favorites to reach Monday's championship series.
But consider this: UNC has been eliminated by the eventual national champion in each of its past three trips to Omaha -- Oregon State in 2006 and 2007 and Fresno State in 2008.
For that streak to continue, Arizona State will have to dig deep over the next two days to stay alive until next week. Stranger things have happened.
"This team is a special club," said ASU coach Pat Murphy, who picked up his 1,000th career win Thursday night. "For these guys, I'm so proud of them, but why stop now? Just do what you can do and show up tomorrow. You can see that we don't play very good, we just kind of somehow get it done."
The Sun Devils emphatically got it done Thursday night and, in the process, denied the ACC a shot at what's proved to be a most elusive national title.
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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