The loss snapped a nine-game win streak for the Tar Heels (54-14), in search of their first national baseball championship.
Carolina chased OSU starter Mike Stutes and his relief help Daniel Turpen in just 3.2 innings. But this is college baseball, in which seemingly no lead is ever safe.
The Beavers (49-16) which won two from perennial power Rice to advance to this weekend’s series, proved their resiliency once again.
With nothing to lose, OSU coach Pat Casey brought in his closer Kevin Gunderson to put out the fire in the fourth. Then he received immediate offensive support as Bill Rowe’s three-run homer topped off a scoring barrage that changed the face of the series.
“We’ve talked about not giving up the big inning,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “We just couldn’t prevent that tonight. It just wasn’t meant to be and we’ll just have to come back out and do it again tomorrow.”
Both newcomers to the final weekend in Omaha, Carolina can become only the second ACC team to win the NCAA championship; while the Beavers are carrying the banner for the PAC-10 – last represented by Southern Cal’s 1998 title.
Rowe finished 2-for-5 with four RBIs, and closer Gunderson (3-2) cruised for 5.1 innings in his longest outing of the year.
After things began to break down for UNC, Fox pulled starter Robert Woodard in favor of Matt Danford, who pitched 1.2 innings on Saturday.
“I didn’t show the mental toughness that I usually have,” Woodard said. “I’m just very disappointed.”
Danford (7-2) quickly struck out the first batter he faced, but then the floodgates opened.
Entering the contest, the Tar Heels’ bullpen had not allowed a run in 12.3 innings.
Trailing 11-5, catcher Tim Federowicz (4-for-4, 4 RBI), rocketed a two-run homer over the left field wall against a stiff 39 mph wind to pull Carolina within 11-7 in the seventh.
“I saw the ball well tonight, and somehow I knew what pitches were coming,” Federowicz said. “But everyone calmed down after we got the big lead and we were on cruise control. Then they just came back.”
For UNC, which had scored 10 of its 11 runs in the finals with two gone, failed to score again.
The Tar Heels’ quick 4-0 start was buoyed by a two-run double by Federowicz in the third. An RBI single by third baseman Reid Fronk tacked on one more run.
UNC, which will again play as the visiting team in Game 3, will send junior right-hander Daniel Bard (9-3, 3.84 ERA) to the mound to face Beaver righty Jonah Nickerson (13-4, 2.35 ERA).
In his last outing on Wednesday, which resulted in a 6-5 win over Cal State Fullerton, Bard gave up five earned runs on 12 hits, but still managed to pick up the win.
“We got behind today but we’ve got some rested arms and they’re ready to go,” Fox said.
The first pitch in what will be the last college baseball game of the season is scheduled for 7:08 p.m. EDT, and will be televised by ESPN.