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.
Page 2 of 3 - “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.”
Kyle Richardson, the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for St. John’s, had hits in all three regional games. The 2010 Mohawk Valley DiamondDawg and former Mohawk Valley Community College Hawk from Rome went 5-for-14 with two runs scored and three runs batted in. He also reached base by getting hit by a pitch in Saturday’s game.
•Ivy League champion Cornell entered the Chapel Hill Regional as the fourth seed and lost both of its games, 7-4 in Friday’s opening round against top seed North Carolina and 10-6 Saturday in an elimination game against East Carolina. Sophomore cleanup hitter Chris Cruz, a 2012 Mohawk Valley DiamondDawg, started both games in right field for the Big Red and went 2-for-9 with two runs scored and four strikeouts in the tournament. Cruz singled, got hit by a pitch and scored twice against East Carolina.
•Purdue, the top seed and host for the Gary, Ind., Regional, was eliminated Sunday with a 6-3 loss to Kentucky. A 7-2 winner in its opening game against Valparaiso, Purdue was beaten 7-3 in Saturday’s winners bracket game against Kent State. Incoming Mohawk Valley DiamondDawg Mike Gaglianese, a freshman right-handed pitcher from Oriskany and Utica’s Notre Dame High School, did not appear in any of the Boilermakers’ three tournament games.
•Kentucky’s season ended Sunday with a second loss to Kent State in the regional final in Gary, Ind. Surprising Kent State, a third seed, outlasted Kentucky Friday and won 7-5 in 21 innings. The Wildcats bounced back to beat Valparaiso 8-1 Saturday and Purdue 6-3 Sunday afternoon to set up a rematch Sunday night. Kent State’s 20th consecutive victory ended Kentucky’s school-record 45-win season. Sophomore reliever Tyler Dunaway, a 2011 Mohawk Valley DiamondDawg, saw no tournament action for Kentucky.
•Sunday’s 4-3 loss to top seed South Carolina at the Columbia, S.C., Regional ended Clemson’s season and the college career of Cooperstown’s Phil Pohl. Clemson lost twice to the Gamecocks and defeated Coastal Carolina twice; a second win over Coastal Carolina Sunday put the Tigers into the championship game. Pohl batted cleanup as Clemson’s designated hitter throughout the regional and went 5-for-19 with eight runs batted in, driving in at least one run in each game with a grand slam in five runs batted in against Coastal Carolina in Friday’s 11-3 win in the first round. A four-time Center State Conference all-star in high school, the Tigers’ co-captain played 198 games during his four-year college career and finished with a .286 batting average, 15 home runs and 113 runs batted in.
Page 3 of 3 - Times sports editor Jon Rathbun contributed to this report.