The Red Storm's victory snaps North Carolina's 16-game winning streak in regional play home that dates back to 2006. The win also St. John's in command of the Chapel Hill Regional, needing just one more win to advance to super regional round next weekend.
St. John's (39-21) scratched first when Jeremy Baltz scored on a groundout to second by Danny Bethea in the bottom of the second inning. UNC (45-15) answered in the third on Tommy Coyle's RBI single to centerfield.
Back-to-back fielding miscues with two outs in the bottom half of the third allowed the Red Storm to retake the lead Baltz's RBI single to centerfield. Shell McCain connected on a two-run homerun – his second of the season – in the sixth inning to move UNC back out front 3-2 and Parks Jordan added another run with a RBI double down the right field line in the top of the ninth.
Morin (6-4, 3 hits, 3 ER in 0.1 IP) entered the game for Kent Emanuel (5 hits, ER) in the bottom of the ninth, but gave up a leadoff double to Baltz and a single to Sean O'Hare. Morin then struck out Zach Lauricella to set up Bethea's heroics.
Kevin Kilpatrick (3-2) picked up the win for St. John's. Sean Hagan allowed four earned runs and eight hits in 8.1 innings.
North Carolina will play East Carolina at 1pm on Sunday. The winner of that contest will play St. John's at 6pm on Sunday night. If UNC or ECU wins that game, the regional finale will be played at 6pm on Monday.
INSIDE THE GAME
Failure to Close
There will undoubtedly be questions asking why UNC head coach Mike Fox pulled starter Kent Emanuel after eight strong innings (5 hits, 1 ER) and just 102 pitches.
Fox admitted that Emanuel was "throwing his best at the end," but it's hard to fault the veteran coach for turning to his first-team All-America closer in that situation, especially when Morin was a save away from setting a single-season school record.
The problem, however, was that Morin had difficulty loosening up on the mound.
"I wasn't comfortable yesterday to begin with," Morin told reporters during the postgame press conference. "I calmed down and the same thing happened yesterday and [Coach] Forbes came out and I was fine and I got a strikeout after. It was the same thing. I just left the ball up and now we're here. I wasn't overwhelmed with the situation or anything like that. I was calm and just wasn't throwing strikes. It wasn't anything to do with the opponent or anything like that. I just didn't feel comfortable."
Morin fell behind the first three batters he faced on Friday night. Baltz's double and O'Hare's single on Saturday both came on 2-1 counts. Bethea fell behind 0-1, but Morin left a fastball up in the strike zone that resulted in the game-winning homerun.
When asked about Morin feeling uncomfortable in back-to-back appearances, Fox said: "It's a little unusual. He got behind. [Bethea] is the one guy, I think he's their best hitter. We did debate whether we were going to let Kent finish. Sure, we talked about it, obviously. I really think if we got another run, and this is hindsight, and it's 5-2 I think we leave Kent out there because I thought Kent was throwing well."
That decision ended up costing North Carolina the catbird seat in the Chapel Hill Regional.
Miscues and Missed Opportunities
It appeared as though North Carolina would be able to build a lead for Emanuel early in the game with bases loaded in the second and two on and no outs in the third inning. That production, however, only resulted in one run and six men left on base through three innings.
"We got ourselves in some really good counts -- 2-0, 3-1-- and the timing just wasn't on pitches," Fox said.
Making matters worse is that UNC was a simple catch in shallow right field from exiting the third with the score tied at 1-1. But miscommunication between McCain, Coyle and Chaz Frank allowed Matt Wessinger's fly ball to drop in for a double. A fielding error by Michael Russell on the next play allowed Frank Schwindel to reach first and then Baltz capitalized on UNC's sketchy fielding with his RBI single.
"I think our defense cost us the game," Fox said. "I really do. I've said before that we're not a great offensive team. We haven't been all year long. There's a small margin of error between us winning and losing…
"We can't afford to let a fly ball drop and then misplay a groundball. We just can't afford to do that."
Those failed opportunities allowed St. John's to stay within striking distance late in the game. UNC has left 20 men on base in two regional games this weekend.
Emanuel in NCAAT Play
Despite not earning the victory on Saturday, Emanuel added to his staggering NCAA Tournament stat line. The sophomore is now 3-0 in four starts and has given up just two earned runs in 31.0 innings. He's struck out 16 batters and walked four.
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