Posted: 9:00 a.m. Sunday, June 9, 2013
By Brian Barbour
#1 North Carolina vs South Carolina, 1:00 PM, ESPN
One win away from Omaha.
As was the case a week ago, Hobbs Johnson will start for the Tar Heels in a game that could send North Carolina into the next round. Johnson has been fairly solid in the postseason with strong outings versus both NC State and FAU. He also has had no trouble pitching in big games which has been the case in his past two starts. Opposing Johnson will be South Carolina's Jordan Montgomery who is 5-1 and has a 1.67 ERA. Montgomery has not given up an earned run in two postseason starts.
The main concern for the Tar Heels in this game is who will be available out of the bullpen considering Johnson often comes out of the game around the sixth or seventh inning. It stands to reason Thornton will not be available after going three innings on Saturday. Likewise Chis McCue had a somewhat extended outing. That is not to say UNC doesn't have plenty of options and Chris Munnelly only threw 20 pitches in his Saturday stint meaning he would probably be available should the Heels need him.
Of course the offense could make the pitching questions irrelevant though given Montgomery's stats on paper, hits and runs could be heard to come by. However, with the recent troubles at times in the postseason getting that "big hit" the Tar Heels looked much more like they did earlier in the season getting key hits when needed. Colin Moran set the tone early with an RBI double. When Moran is making noise it makes UNC so much tougher to pitch against.
Over three-fourths of the time a team winning the first game of a super regional ultimately advances to Omaha. UNC has a chance to add to that stat with a two game sweep of the Gamecocks and a return to the College World Series for the first time since 2011. If last weekend illustrated anything it was the importance of closing a team out the first chance you get. Given how much baseball UNC has played over the past two weeks, another tidy nine inning win to clinch the series would be just what the doctor ordered.