For the first time during this College World Series, we had a day with only one game. And it couldn't have been bigger, with North Carolina playing Rice for the right to take on Oregon State in the CWS Finals (formerly known as the Championship Series).
The 6 p.m. start without an afternoon game left fans plenty of time to tailgate in the parking lot beforehand. And that meant a rowdy bunch for my two favorite random things about the CWS.
The first is the way the crowd boos the poor ball girls when they can't catch a foul ball as it rolls off the netting behind home plate. Without fail, if the ball makes it to the ground, a cacophony of boos tumble down upon these young ladies, who seem to take the tradition in stride.
The second is the rivalry between the bleachers in left field and those in right. To get a better idea of what we're talking about, check out today's video.
All silliness aside, the 22,344 fans on hand -- a record for Session 11 -- couldn't have asked for a better matchup in this elimination game.
For a team that seemed to have a problem hitting home runs, the Tar Heels sure remembered how to do it in this do-or-die game.
Freshman Dustin Ackley, who broke out of a slump by homering the previous day against Rice, opened the scoring with a solo shot in the second. After Rice bounced back for a pair of runs, fellow frosh Tim Fedroff hit an opposite-field two-run shot in the third to give Carolina the lead back, 3-2.
UNC center fielder Seth Williams hit another solo homer in the fourth for a 4-2 Carolina lead, and shortstop Josh Horton followed suit with an absolute monster shot in the fifth to right-center field.
That's right, Carolina hit a home run in four straight innings.
This guy's got all his bases covered.
The Heels also got six innings of three-hit pitching from sophomore Adam Warren who left with a 7-2 lead. But there was still some drama to be had as UNC reliever Rob Wooten, who was appearing in his 11th straight game, surrendered a pair of runs to the Owls in the seventh forcing UNC coach Mike Fox to go to his closer, Andrew Carignan to finish that inning.
And even as all the excitement was going on, the crazy bleacher fans were still feeling pretty lighthearted. Before the ninth inning, they let a beach ball fall on to the warning track. But just as a stadium employee was about to snatch it up after running all the way out there, the fans yanked it back into the seats thanks to some string.
The employee, however, proved two could play at that game. When the ball came over again moments later along with the string, he grabbed it and pretended like he was going to throw it back to the fans . . . but held on to the string, psyching them out and then deflating the ball.
Uh, fellas. Game's happening live about 50 feet behind you.
Oh, and as far as the end of the game, Fox left Carignan in for the ninth -- making it an extra-long appearance for the closer -- and the righty delivered, retiring three Owls in a row to send Carolina to the Finals with a 7-4 victory.
Warren improved to 12-0 with the win, which is the best undefeated mark in school history, and trumps the previous record of 11-0 set by the immortal Scott Bankhead in 1984.
The UNC victory means we get a rematch of last year's Championship Series -- um, we mean Finals . . . the NCAA just sprung this change on us today, so it's tough to remember -- as the Heels take on the Beavers over the weekend. It's the first rematch in the finals since 1973, when USC defeated Arizona State for the second straight year. We can't wait.