St. John’s came up with enough timely hits and solid pitching to win their first regional title in three decades.
The Red Storm also handed No. 6 national seed North Carolina a surprising early exit from the NCAA tournament.
Frank Schwindel had five hits and pinch-hitter Robert Case had a two-run double in the seventh to help St. John’s beat North Carolina 9-5 on Sunday night to win the Chapel Hill Regional and advance to the super regionals for the first time.
Schwindel and regional MVP Jeremy Baltz scored three runs for the third-seeded Red Storm (40-21), who went unbeaten in the regional. That included a pair of wins against the host and No. 6 national seed Tar Heels (46-16), who entered the weekend with 15 straight wins as a regional host.
“This is unbelievable,” shortstop Matt Wessinger said. “I knew we had a good team to come to this point and win a regional. This is probably the biggest moment in my career here for the program. … We can play with about anybody in the country. I think we showed that today.”
St. John’s went ahead for good with a three-run third, advancing out of the regionals for the first time since reaching the College World Series in 1980 with a team that featured future big league All-Star pitchers Frank Viola and John Franco. The Red Storm hadn’t reached a super regional since the format began in 1999.
After beating East Carolina in Friday’s opener, St. John’s beat North Carolina on Saturday night on Danny Bethea’s walk-off three-run homer. The Tar Heels beat instate rival East Carolina 5-3 earlier Sunday to earn the rematch, but the Red Storm jumped on starter Shane Taylor (5-1) to build some early momentum.
They went ahead for good when Sean O’Hare hit a two-run single that took an odd hop and bounced over second baseman Tommy Coyle, then Baltz stole home on a double steal. In the seventh, Case’s RBI double pushed the lead to 7-4. And after North Carolina loaded the bases with one out in the seventh only to come away with a single run, St. John’s increased the lead with a pair of ninth-inning scores that essentially sealed the win.
“The ball bounced our way, no doubt about it,” St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “It just wasn’t their weekend. The kids played their guts out, they made some mistakes, we took advantage. But we played well. We outplayed them this weekend.”
Matt Carasiti (7-5) earned the win, allowing four runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings. Taylor lasted just two innings and gave up four runs on seven hits.
Chaz Frank drove in two runs to lead North Carolina, which had reached the College World Series in five of the past six seasons. The Tar Heels had opened the regionals at home each time they reached Omaha, but couldn’t repeat that success this time.
“Maybe now people will realize how hard it is to get to Omaha and realize what Coach (Mike Fox) and the program have done over the past seven years,” UNC senior catcher Jacob Stallings said. “I mean, I guess the other (UNC) teams have made it look easy, but it’s not easy.”
– News release