Friday was the start of the NCAA Baseball Tournament, and in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the day was captivated by incredible games and unfortunate severe weather.
Game 1 between UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Wilmington started out with a bang for the Tar Heels, as Michael Busch led off the bottom of the first with a booming double off the wall. Ike Freeman would later drive in Busch, making it 1-0 UNC-CH early. In the second inning, UNC-W starter Zarion Sharpe gave up a loud two-run home run to Dallas Tessar, who continued his hot postseason effort.
UNC-CH starter Tyler Baum had slithered his way out of jams early on, but in the fourth inning, Baum gave up a leadoff double to Brooks Baldwin. Baldwin would come around to score on a sacrifice fly from Noah Liles, making the score 3-1. As for Sharpe, his day came to an end in the fifth inning after loading the bases with three walks. Luckily for the Seahawks, Breydan Gorham came in and struck out Brandon Martorano, ending the threat and keeping the score close.
Then, the wheels came off for UNC-CH in the sixth, as Tyler Baum gave up a leadoff bomb to Noah Bridges, who sent a pitch into the field hockey stadium behind right field, making the score 3-2. Two more UNC-W runners would get on base before Baum was pulled from the game, with Joey Lancellotti coming in for relief. However, Lancellotti allowed an RBI double to Matt Suggs and saw only one more batter before being pulled, with Hansen Butler coming in. Butler walked Greg Jones before getting out of the inning, but UNC-W had taken a 4-3 lead.
In the seventh, Ike Freeman plated his second runner of the game, as he singled in Aaron Sabato to tie the game at four. The Tar Heels weren’t done either, as Freeman would score on a Martorano single, making it a 5-4 game. Then came the ninth inning madness.
Greg Jones led off the ninth with a HBP, stole second, and then advanced to third on a wild pitch that went into the dugout. A fielding error would allow Jones to score and tie the game up at five.
Not long after, Chris Thorburn singled, scoring Kep Brown on a very close play at the plate and making the score 6-5. After being called out initially, the call was overturned. It all looked like an upset in the making, right?
Well, Aaron Sabato had something to say about that. The first pitch the 2020 draft-eligible sophomore saw was a 92 MPH heater right down the heart of the plate, and Sabato took it deep to left-center field.
At this point, severe storms were rapidly approaching, and UNC-CH was threatening. However, a 3 hour and 1 minute rain delay would ensue, as two nasty storms moved through. Luckily, the worst of the storms just missed Boshamer Stadium, and at 8:49 PM, the game resumed. The bases would be loaded with one out, and UNC-W had five infielders at the ready. However, on a suicide squeeze attempt, Danny Serreti scored on a botched rundown by UNC-W, leading to a wild walk-off victory for the Tar Heels.
At this point, there was no word on whether Tennessee and Liberty would play that night, with some reporting that the game had been moved to Saturday. That was wrong, as the game began at 10 PM with Garrett Stallings on the mound. Two batters in, Jonathan Embry took Stallings to the field hockey stadium, making it 2-0 early.
Liberty would not look back after that, as the Flames took a commanding 6-1 win over the Vols. Southpaw starter Mason Meyer was on cruise control for Liberty, throwing 6.1 innings of one-run ball. Garrett Stallings pitched into the sixth, but allowed ten hits and four runs to a potent Liberty lineup. Will Heflin would allow two more runs before the Tennessee bullpen held Liberty scoreless the rest of the way. Richard Jackson, Andrew Schultz, and Will Neely combined for 2.1 innings of no-hit ball, walking three and striking out out three.
With the day done, Tennessee and UNC-W will play the early game of the loser’s bracket on Saturday, with UNC-CH and Liberty playing later on in the afternoon in the winner’s bracket.