The Carolina superfan in the front row behind the Winthrop dugout just blew the cover of former North Carolina basketball player Jackie Manuel, a guard on the school's 2005 national championship team.
Manuel, currently playing for Fayetteville of the National Basketball Development League, has been taking in the action from the ninth row. The announcement of his attendance was met with an ovation from the capacity crowd.
After trading quiet first innings, the Heels threatened to break the scoring column with one out in the top of the second when designated hitter Tim Federowicz singled to center and Seth Williams followed with a 380-foot double.
But Winthrop righty Jonathan Settle got Benji Johnson to pop out and Garrett Gore to ground out, ending the inning with runners stranded on second and third.
With about 15 minutes until first pitch in their potential regional championship-clinching game, a nearby gaggle of Carolina fans are talking about their Tuscaloosa plans -- the likely site of their Super Regional.
In one of those sucker-punch-to-the-gut, come-from-ahead defeats that supporters of the Seahawks won't soon forget, Winthrop fireballer Heath Rollins ended UNC Wilmington's season in the bottom of the ninth.
A season that began all the way back on Feb. 3 for the Winthrop Eagles is three outs away from its conclusion, after UNC Wilmington's Lee McLean slammed an RBI double in the bottom of the eighth to drive home the go-ahead run.
UNC Wilmington answered Winthrop's equalizer in the bottom of the seventh when Jason Appel slammed an RBI double to rightfield that scored Mike Marbry. The Seahawks hold a 2-1 advantage headed into the eighth with the meat of Winthrop's order due up. It could be now or never for the Big South champs.
The average time of the four games completed during the Chapel Hill regional is three hours and four minutes. At the seventh-inning stretch during another beautiful afternoon at the Bosh, this loser's-bracket final is just one hour and 54 minutes old.
With a base hit to rightfield that led off the bottom of the third, UNC Wilmington rightfielder Jason Appel extended his career-best hitting streak to 10 games. (The sophomore then stole second base, giving him 12 swipes on the season.)
UNCW starter Jared Sutton issued free passes to the first two Winthrop hitters in the top of the third -- prompting a brief mound conference -- but retired the next three Eagles in succession to end the threat.
The senior righthander has yet to surrender a base hit through three.
For the second straight inning, Carolina scored runs at the expense of Winthrop hurler Alex Wilson. And for the second straight inning, the damage could -- and probably should -- have been a lot worse than it was.
North Carolina broke through against Winthrop righty Alex Wilson in the third inning. With one out, Mike Cavassini legged out an infield single (for the second time this afternoon) and Reid Fronk followed with an RBI double to even the score at one apiece.
Your opportunities against a pitcher as skilled as Andrew Miller can be few and far between.
After the 6-foot-6 junior got Mitch Saum to fly out to rightfield, Winthrop's Bryn Henderson doubled to left-center -- only the fifth extra-base hit that the ACC Pitcher of the Year has surrendered all season. But Alan Robbins would strike out and Chris Carrara would ground out, stranding the runner in scoring position heading into the bottom of the second.
If you'd have told Steve Trimper that his Black Bears were going to score 19 runs this afternoon, I'm sure the Maine coach wouldn't have expected to be headed back to Orono. But that's just where the America East champs are going, after UNC Wilmington put the finishing touches on a 21-19 victory in the first end of today's Bosh twinbill.
UNC Wilmington added another three runs in the top of the ninth to open a seemingly-safe 21-14 advantage.
But Maine has opened the bottom half of the inning with a Joe Hough, a Matt McGraw two-run homer and a Joel Barrett single to force another pitching change. UNC Wilmington holds as tenuous a five-run lead -- at 21-16 -- as has ever existed.
UNC Wilmington reliever Jeff Hatcher just recorded the first 1-2-3 inning since the top of the first. The sophomore righty whiffed Mark Ostrander, before coaxing fly outs from Sean Parker and Danny Menendez.
Maine plated four more runs in the bottom of the seventh -- on four hits, a walk and a balk -- to climb within three runs of the Seahawks, 17-14.
We're a seven-run inning and a nine-running inning away from being able to call bingo in this track meet. Through seven, we've seen a zero-run inning, a one-run inning, a two-run inning, a three-run inning, a four-run inning, a five-run inning, a six-run inning and an eight-run inning.
Reliever Blake Hundley refused to allow Maine to counter UNCW's monster sixth inning. The senior righthander struck out the side to the delight of the many fans that made the day trip from Wilmington.
In the top of the seventh, John Raynor slammed a two-run home run off the scoreboard to open a 16-10 lead -- the 12th four-bagger of the season for the senior outfielder. A.J. Balsinde -- Maine's fourth pitcher of the afternoon -- balked in a third run to create a football score, 17-10.
A Charlotte Observer reporter just requested that CSTV.com put out an all-points bulletin for anybody who can pitch and has any remaining college eligibility. (And the way this game is going, you have about two or three hours to get here.)
UNC Wilmington rallied for eight runs in the top of the sixth, taking a 14-10 lead -- its first of the game. The fast-and-furious sequence went: Base on balls, single, fielder's choice, two-RBI double, RBI single, reached on error, RBI single, RBI single, two-RBI double, fly out, RBI single, ground out. The pro-Seahawks crowd is ecstatic.
"Let's Go Seahawks" chants ring through Boshamer Stadium as UNC Wilmington brings the potential go-ahead run to the plate, just seconds after John Raynor's textbook bunt scored Jason Appel and closed Maine's advantage to 10-8 in the visitor's sixth.
There are few things in sport more beautiful than a perfectly-executed squeeze play.
Despite holding a four-run lead in the bottom of the fifth, the Black Bears continue to be aggressive on the basepaths.
With Joe Hough on first and one out, Maine coach Steve Trimper called a hit-and-run with Matt McGraw at the plate. McGraw grounded out to third but a speeding Hough took the extra bag and got to third.
That Joel Barrett would ground out to end the inning is almost irrelevant -- it's Maine's bold and brassy approach that's kept UNC Wilmington on the ropes from the first inning of this tilt.
From the moment the pairings were announced on Selection Monday, most college baseball analysts had refered to the Chapel Hill group as an "offensive regional". And for once, the talking heads are correct.
UNC Wilmington closed the Maine advantage to 10-6 when Chris Hatcher ripped a double down the leftfield line to score Mike Marbry.
Runs have been scored in five of the seven half-innings completed today. Fifteen hits (and four errors) between both teams through three-and-a-half-plus innings. And they're just making the first pitching change of the game as I type: Blake Hundley enters the game to spell UNCW starter Thomas Benton.
Joe Hough just cracked a monster home run over the leftfield wall that left nothing but a vapor trail. Major-league pop. The bomb scored three runs and opened a 10-5 lead for the Black Bears in the bottom of the third.
Going back to last night's 15-7 loss to North Carolina, it's the team's fifth home run in its last 10 innings.
With two outs in the bottom of the second, Maine cleanup hitter Ryan Quintal ripped a ball down the rightfield line that appeared to land foul. But the first-base umpire ruled the hit fair, to the vocal chagrin of the partisan UNC Wilmington crowd -- and Seahawks skipper Mark Scalf, who protested the call to no avail.
Curt Smith made UNCW pay on the subsequent at-bat, legging out an infield single to score Quintal and open a 7-5 lead.
With a two-RBI double that opened an 11-6 lead for the Tar Heels in the bottom of the seventh, North Carolina designated hitter Jay Cox improved to 3-for-3 on the afternoon with three runs scored and five RBIs.
After the Heels strung together a couple of singles and pulled even with Maine with two outs in the bottom of of the sixth, it seemed that the Black Bears were out of the woods when Carolina's Mike Cavasinni slapped a routine grounder toward the right side of second baseman Danny Menendez.
But the freshman's off-target assist to first base resulted in a throwing error, and two more UNC runs crossed the plate as a result.
After surrendering four earned runs, ace hurler Robert Woodard was pulled by Carolina skipper Mike Fox in the fifth inning with runners on first and second. The righthander, who had won 17 of his last 18 decisions entering the NCAAs, lasted just four-and-one-third innings -- his second-shortest outing of 2006 -- and allowed seven base hits while walking two and hitting a batter.
Though the move seemingly-premature move elicited several furrowed brows in the press box, Danford was able to coax Curt Smith to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the Maine threat and preserve the 4-4 tie.
In the bottom half of the third, North Carolina staged a two-out rally to tie the game at four.
With the bases empty, Josh Hornton walked and Chad Flask singled. That set up Jay Cox's stratsopheric home run, which cleared the rightfield fence by about 40 feet and reignited a crowd somewhat deflated by Curt Smith's bomb in the top of the inning.
After stranding a pair of runners in the second inning, Maine made sure not to squander another scoring opportunity in the third.
Trailing by a single run after Carolina's Seth Williams sacrificed home Jay Cox in the bottom of the second, the Black Bears put a pair of runners on the bags when Matt McGraw reached on an error and Joel Barrett walked. Curt Smith, the team's slugging leader (.582), drove home McGraw with a stand-up double that evened the score at one apiece.
Then, with runners on second and third, Kevin McAvoy knocked a home run to left-center that gave Maine a 4-1 advantage and silenced the crowd.
Competing in its first NCAA regional on its home turf since 1983, North Carolina wasted no time impressing their home fans, most of whom weathered a 115-minute rain delay in the concourse of Boshamer Stadium.
With one out in the top of the second, Kevin McAvoy -- the America East Rookie of the Year -- pulled a long fly ball down the leftfield line that seemed a sure thing to hook out of play. North Carolina third baseman Reid Fronk gave pursuit, sprinting like a madman toward the padded chain-link fence. To the surprise of the crowd, the sophomore managed to put a glove on the ball before crashing into the fence and tumbling to the ground. Needless to say, the Carolina faithful erupted when the Charlotte native raised the ball for the third-base umpire to see.
As the grounds crew lugs the tarp off the field -- the public address announcer just said that the second game will start at 7:55 p.m. -- here is an assortment of post-game quotes from Winthrop's convincing afternoon victory:
"It was a pretty good game for six-and-a-half innings. I thought both [UNC starter Bradley] Holt and [Winthrop starter Heath] Rollins pitched extremely well. We had a 3-2 game in the bottom of the seventh and the wheels came off at that point. I thought [Winthrop] did a nice job -- an outstanding job as a matter of fact -- of really taking advantage of the opportunity, the bases-loaded, no-out situation in the seventh to open the game up. From that point, it was going to be difficult to recover." --UNC Wilmington coach Mark Scalf
It took some of the out-of-town reporters some time before we realized the amusing (admittedly) rain-based theme of the house music, with a queue that has included the aforementioned Duff tune and "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" by B.J. Thomas.
As the water continues to pour onto the field in buckets, Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty posits, "I want to know, have you ever seen the rain / Comin' down on a sunny day?"
As Hilary Duff's teen pop anthem "Come Clean (Let The Rain Fall Down)" booms over the Boshamer Stadium sound system, the overworked grounds crew again pulls the tarp onto the field. No thunder or lightning this time, but the steady downpour has led the sizable crowd to seek shelter in the narrow concourse area.
Rumblings in the press box have indicated a start time between 7:15 and 7:30 -- but whether that guesstimation based on meteorological observation or the divination of tea leaves is unknown.
Chapel Hill: Winthrop Wins, Heels And Bears On Deck
Almost before any of the media cordoned off in the field hockey press box could notice, play was resumed and the final four outs were recorded. Winthrop frosh Tyler McBride releived Heath Rollins in the ninth inning and sat down the Seahawks in order.
The North Carolina-Maine nightcap is scheduled to get underway at 6:55 p.m. ET.
Chapel Hill: Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose, And Sometimes...
Fans have been evacuated from Boshamer Stadium due to a lightning storm as sudden and harsh as the seventh-inning explosion that gave Winthrop firm control of this game. The umpires made the call and ordered the tarp onto the field just minutes before the skies opened up.
Media have been shuffled to an enclosed press box above the nearby complex that overlooks the field hockey field -- kind of a storm-watcher's dream come true, with large, wall-to-wall bay windows that provide a panoramic view of a lightning-heavy downpour that's fast approaching act-of-God proportions. Players have congregated somewhere in the field hockey building below, while fans were moved to a school building a few hundred yards from the stadium.
With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Winthrop just established a season high for hits in a single game (21) when Bryn Henderson -- pinch hitting for Heath Rollins -- singled to leftfield. The Eagles lead, 14-2.
As thunder rumbles in the distance and storm clouds approach, play is being temporarily suspended because of lightning in the area.
Abuzz with upset hopes just 15 minutes ago, UNC Wilmington's fan section is a morgue after a spicy meatball of a seventh inning that saw Winthrop send 11 hitters to the plate to open a commanding 10-2 lead.
The Eagles scored seven runs on seven hits in the frame. The coup de grace was an Alan Robbins moon shot to rightfield that still hasn't landed. The sequence: Bunt single, single, walk, RBI single, two-RBI double, two-RBI double, two-RBI home run, ground out, single, fly out, fly out.
With six outs remaining, the Seahawks will bring the top of the order to the plate in the top of the eigthth.
Winthrop would appear to have taken control of the ballgame with a big seventh inning that's still going strong. Of the six Eagles that have come to the plate, six have reached base and five have scored.
After Allen Flood loaded the bases to start the frame, Phil Carey smacked a line drive to centerfield that scored Heath Rollins and opened a 4-2 advantage for the Eagles.
UNC Wilmington's Allen Flood surrendered consecutive singles to start the bottom of the seventh and walked Matt Repic to load the bases with nobody out. With cleanup hitter Phil Carey (0-for-3) coming to the plate, the infielders are convening on the mound with the sophomore righty. This could be the moment of truth for the underdog Seahawks.
With Withrop holding a 3-2 advantage with one down in the bottom of the sixth and looking for an insurance run, Ben Ehrlich came close to decapitating UNCW hurler Bradley Holt with a laser to centerfield -- his third base hit of the afternoon. The senior would advance to second on a wild pitch.
Here's where UNCW skipper Mark Scalf started playing the percentages, an example of the conservative managing so typical of the postseason.
UNC Wilmington ended Heath Rollins' no-hitter with panache in the fourth inning, as the Seahawks put their first four hitters on base and narrowed the Winthrop advantage to 3-2.
Chris Hatcher ripped a line drive to centerfield for his side's first base hit of the afternoon, and Jason Appel followed with a hard-hit single to right. Matt Poulk walked to load the bases and John Raynor belted a two-run single that put the the CAA champs on the board.
Rollins got out of the jam when Jonathan Batts lined into a double play and Grayson Evans lined out to first base.
Troubles continue for UNCW righthander Bradley Holt.
Winthrop's Jacob Dempsey led off the third with a frozen rope down the rightfield line for a stand-up double. Holt then walked Matt Repic before Phil Carey's long fly-out to rightfield. Tommy Lentz grounded out to second but sacrificed home Dempsey. Ben Ehrlich then slammed a single to score Repic -- before getting caught in a run-down to end the inning
After UNC Wilmington righthander Bradley Holt got Tommy Lentz to lead off the top of the second with a pop-up to short rightfield, Winthrop's 7-8-9 hitters -- Ben Ehrlich, Mitch Saum and Alan Robbins -- ripped three straight singles to generate the game's first run.
With runners on first and second, Holt then got behind Chris Carrara with three straight balls, fought back to force a full count before walking Winthrop's leadoff hitter to load the bases -- and force a conference on the mound.
Those ominous forecasts of rain be damned: It's 86 degrees without a storm cloud in sight on the campus of the University of North Carolina.
After a long-winded expedition to track down my working media credential took me from across campus to the Dean Smith Center -- where I took a brief sneak peek at the storied basketball program's tricked-out Hall of Champions -- I made it back to Boshamer Stadium just in time for Heath Rollins' first pitch: a called strike on UNC Wimington second baseman Chris Hatcher.
In game action, a threat was averted for the Seahawks in the bottom of the first. With runners on first and second and two out, Grayson Evans chased down Phil Carey's hard-hit fly on the warning track for a 370-foot out. Zeroes through one on an idyllic afternoon in Chapel Hill.