The Tar Heels won elimination games in surviving Regional and Super Regional play. Now they’re going to have to win four in a row to make it to their third championship series in eight years and first since 2007.
It’s not an enviable task. In the current CWS format, teams that have reached the championship series are 18-2 in their opening games in Omaha. The two exceptions are Oregon State in ’06 and South Carolina in ’10, both of whom went on to win the national championship.
North Carolina lost its opening CWS game in ’09 and ’11 before winning its first elimination game. Both times, however, UNC lost its second elimination game.
The Tar Heels have taken the preferred route only once during their current run of six CWS trips in eight years. In ‘06, UNC won its first three games in bracket play to advance to the championship series.
In ’07, UNC won its opener before losing the winners’ bracket game and having to win three straight to advance to the title series. In ’08, the Tar Heels followed a similar path but came up a win short, losing to Fresno St. (6-1) in the final game of bracket play.
UNC is 7-5 in elimination games at the College World Series dating back to ’06.
After coasting to a 39-2 start this season, the Tar Heels encountered adversity the last week of April. Since that time, UNC is 18-9 with an 11-9 record against RPI Top-50 opponents.
The Tar Heels rallied from deficits in their two postseason elimination games thus far to make the trip to Omaha.
“Throughout the year, we've kind of played better with our backs against the wall,” UNC catcher Brian Holberton said following Sunday’s 8-1 loss to N.C. State. “We did in the Regional and Super Regional. Coming out here the first game, maybe a little tight, maybe -- now, moving on, we know what we have to do. It's win or go home. So hopefully we can do that.”
Center fielder Chaz Frank, who started all three CWS games in ’11 along with Holberton, shared his teammate’s confidence.
“This team played with a lot of fight the whole year,” Frank said. “And losing the first game doesn't mean anything. Obviously it's important to win the first one and you want to win the first one and it helps you a lot. But we'll come back and fight just as hard. And we're going to come back and win the next game. We haven't lost twice all year long and we don't plan on losing Tuesday.”
North Carolina will face its toughest opponent of the season in No. 4 national seed LSU on Tuesday. The Tigers, who lost to UCLA 2-1 on Monday, boast the nation’s best overall record (57-10) and the best record against RPI Top-50 opponents (32-9).
“We'll have to obviously play a lot better, but I have confidence in my guys,” UNC head coach Mike Fox told reporters on Sunday. “It's disappointing today, but you get a day, you get a day, and sometimes that's good. And I have no doubt we'll be ready Tuesday.”