Continuing today and concluding on July 18, GoHeels.com will count down the top 25 games of the 2013-14 academic year. To catch up on the previous entries, click here.
No. 7: Carolina 4, NC State 3 - Baseball, May 20, 2014
It was a game 11 months in the making that seemed both unlikely to happen and, at the same time, inevitable.
After Carolina eliminated NC State in the 2013 College World Series to cap a memorable five-game, three-city showdown between the two programs, both fanbases began eagerly anticipating 2014. Then that winter, word started to get out that, incredibly, the two schools were not going to be scheduled to meet in ACC play.
That's when Mike Fox, Elliott Avent and officials from the Durham Bulls got to work creating the Duel At The DBAP - a one-night, made-for-fans game to be played April 15 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Both coaches addressed a full house of media in January to officially announce the game, and reserved seating was sold out within a week. It seemed like the perfect solution - the teams would continue a series that had gone uninterrupted since before the Great War and fans from throughout the state would get a chance to relive the magic of the 2013 meeting in Durham that stretched 18 innings and was played in front of the largest crowd in the history of North Carolina for a college baseball game.
And then the rains came. Both teams made the short trip over to the DBAP, but as day turned into night, it became obvious that ever-worsening conditions would not allow the game to happen. Final exams and existing schedules made it impossible to reschedule the game, and it seemed like the series would take the year off.
The story took another unlikely turn on the final day of the regular season. Carolina lost a tight series finale at Miami but still looked in good shape for a top-6 tournament seed as Boston College led Clemson 9-4 in the ninth. But the Tigers scored five times to tie it and won it in the 13th to push the Tar Heels to the No. 7 seed. Meanwhile, NC State had lost its series finale to Virginia Tech, and the Wolfpack fell to the No. 10 spot. That meant that the Duel was back on, only in Greensboro instead of Durham, at 11 a.m. instead of 7 p.m., and with the season on the line for both teams.
With both Carolina and NC State on the NCAA bubble, the opportunity to play three more RPI-boosting games in pool play was crucial. UNC, in an effort to combat the speed game of NCSU, started closer Reilly Hovis, while the 'Pack countered with righty Eric Peterson.
Trea Turner scored in the first after a leadoff triple, and Skye Bolt homered off the scoreboard in right to tie it after 2.
The Tar Heels then landed what seemed like a knockout blow in the third. Carolina strung together four consecutive hits, including a run-scoring triple off the bat of Michael Russell and an RBI double from Landon Lassiter. When Bolt's sac fly made it 4-1, it felt like UNC would cruise to victory.
But Hovis ran into trouble in the top of the fourth, and Bubby Riley's two-run single made it 4-3. After a walk to Carlos Rodon loaded the bases, Zach Rice took over for Carolina with one down. Rice started an amazing run of relief pitching for the Tar Heels by stranding all three runners with a pair of strikeouts.
The powderkeg moment of the game came in the fifth, when Trevor Kelley relieved Rice with the bases loaded and nobody out. After a foul pop for the first out, Kelley struck out Jake Fincher looking to get within one out of an unlikely escape. When Korey Dunbar tossed the ball back to Kelley, Turner broke from third in an attempt to tie the game with a steal of home. But Kelley reacted immediately, and his throw back to home combined with Dunbar's tag retired Turner to end the inning.
The closer-turned-starter was back in the role he'd been so successful in as a freshman when he entered in the eighth with two runners in scoring position and, once again, nobody out. After a pair of strikeouts, Thornton intentionally walked Turner to face Logan Ratledge, who flied out to center to end the inning.
Thankfully, there was little drama in the ninth, as Thornton needed just five pitches to retire the side in order and seal what would prove to be a season-extending win for the Tar Heels and a season-ending loss for the Wolfpack. When the dust had settled, Carolina relievers had inherited 10 baserunners and the quartet of Rice, Kelley, Trayner and Thornton had stranded them all.
UNC went on to go 1-2 in pool play with a win over Maryland, and that proved to be just enough to earn a 13th consecutive NCAA regional bid. For NC State, a season that started with visions of a return trip to Omaha ended the same way that 2013 had, with a loss to the Tar Heels.
No. 8: Carolina 85, NC State 84 (OT) - Men's Basketball, Feb. 26, 2014
No. 9: Carolina 27, NC State 19 - Football, Nov. 2, 2013
No. 10: Carolina 3, Duke 0 - Women's Soccer, Oct. 31, 2013
No. 11: Carolina Completes Road Sweep Of Duke And NC State - Women's Basketball, Feb. 10 and 16, 2014
No. 12: Carolina 11, Maryland 8 - Men's Lacrosse, March 22, 2014
No. 13: Carolina 4, Virginia 2 - Baseball, April 20, 2014
No. 14: Carolina 4, Duke 1 - Men's Tennis, April 26, 2014
No. 15: Carolina 1, Virginia 0 - Men's Soccer, Nov. 1, 2013
No. 16: Carolina 45, Virginia 14 - Football, Nov. 9, 2013
No. 17: Carolina 17, Maryland 15 - Women's Lacrosse, April 5, 2014
No. 18: Carolina 2, Connecticut 1 - Field Hockey, Oct. 26, 2013
No. 19: Henderson's All-America Run At NCAAs - Wrestling, March 20-22, 2014
No. 20: Carolina 5, Virginia 2 - Women's Tennis, March 8, 2014
No. 21: Carolina 3, Illinois 0 - Volleyball, Sept. 20, 2013
No. 22: Carolina 93, Louisville 84 - Men's Basketball, Nov. 24, 2013
No. 23: Carolina Men, LeHardy Shine At XC Nationals - Cross Country, Nov. 23, 2013
No. 24: Carolina Sweeps Rivals To End Home Schedule - Men's Swimming and Diving, Jan. 25 and 31, 2014
No. 25: Carolina 12, Virginia Tech 8 - Softball, March 2, 2014