UNC dramatics, NC State dominance and a Panthers facelift in the sports moments of the week :: WRALSportsFan.com

UNC dramatics, NC State dominance and a Panthers facelift in the sports moments of the week :: WRALSportsFan.com

The internet is a big place. Unless you’re 100% plugged in all the time (and let’s be clear, that is NOT recommended), you’re going to miss some stuff.

Let us do that work. You can be a well-adjusted human being and still catch all the best sports moments of the week, with a quick review …

UNC shows flare for the dramatic, advances to Super Regional

North Carolina took care of business in the Chapel Hill Regional this weekend, but not without some heart-stopping moments for the Tar Heel faithful.

It started Friday night, when UNC (playing as heavy favorites) trailed Long Island by three runs heading into the bottom of the 9th.

The offense answered the call, stringing together three singles, a walk and a hit by pitch, cutting into the lead and loading the bases with a chance to win.

Up stepped freshman 3rd baseman Gavin Gallaher, who delivered the hit of his life as he sent an 0-1 breaking ball off the scoreboard in left field for a walk-off grand slam.

And that’s just the opener!

Carolina split two games against LSU on Saturday and Sunday, setting up an all-important rubber match on Monday night to decide who would advance.

Once again, the Heels trailed entering the 9th inning, 3-2.

And once again, they came up clutch.

Gallaher led off the frame with a double to left field, setting up one of the more dramatic bunts (yes, bunts!) you will ever see.

Senior 2nd baseman Alex Madera laid down a perfect push bunt with two strikes for an infield single… that is, until it agonizingly rolled just foul before the bag.

It’s the kind of bad break that can doom comeback attempts in baseball, but not for this North Carolina squad.

Colby Wilkerson dropped in a game-tying single on the very next at bat, pushing the game to extra innings and allowing some personal redemption for Madera.

Facing a full count and two outs with a couple runners on, Madera smoked a fastball back up the middle for a game-winning single. Jackson Van De Brake easily scored from second, as the Tar Heels locked up their fourth Super Regional berth in the last six tournaments.

UNC will be favorites to make it to Omaha as they host West Virginia this weekend for a best-of-3 series.

UNC's Boshamer Stadium

Year of the Wolfpack?

There’s just something about NC State this year.

Just two months after the Wolfpack men’s and women’s basketball teams made it to the Final Four, the baseball team could be poised to continue that trend of deep postseason runs.

As opposed to their rivals from Chapel Hill, State enjoyed a relatively sweat-free run through the Raleigh Regional.

The Pack trailed for only one inning the entire weekend (1-0 in the 2nd against Bryant), and was tied in the 7th inning or later only once (4-4 against South Carolina).

The top of their lineup — Eli Serrano, Garrett Pennington and Alec Makarewicz — lit it up at the plate, combining for a .385 batting average, 9 RBI and 13 runs scored.

Closer Derrick Smith also looks to be in rare form, allowing just one baserunner in his two saves (2.2 IP) and striking out six of the nine batters he faced.

A tough test awaits next weekend as NC State heads on the road to play the 7-seed Georgia in the Athens Super Regional.

But as well-rounded as this team is playing, plus the overall positive Wolfpack vibes, I certainly wouldn’t bet against NC State making it back to Omaha.

Doak Field

Heartbreak for Duke, ECU

On the other side of the coin, Duke and East Carolina saw their seasons come to an end this weekend.

The Blue Devils softball team was the first to bow out, suffering a pair of defeats on Thursday and Friday in Oklahoma City at the Women’s College World Series.

Duke was simply outclassed in their opener against Oklahoma, who showed why they’re the two-time defending champions, then dropped a close 2-1 decision to Alabama, which got a go-ahead solo home run in the 6th.

Not the end to the season that Marissa Young’s group had envisioned, but still, you have to call this season a success overall.

To win the ACC regular season and tournament titles, then make it to the WCWS in only their 7th year of existence is flat out remarkable.

It was a similar feeling for the Duke baseball team, who just couldn’t seem to put it all together in the Norman Regional.

The Blue Devils racked up 28 hits over three games, but could only turn those into 10 runs and left 21 runners on base overall.

Maybe things would have been different if Duke had been selected as a regional host (as many thought they should have), but with that many missed opportunities at the plate, fans can’t be too upset at this outcome in my opinion.

At least you’ve got that magical ACC Tournament run to keep you warm in the offseason.

East Carolina, on the other hand, has got to be hurting pretty bad after coming up short again in the postseason.

The Pirates held a 5-2 lead in the 5th inning Monday against Evansville, in a game that could have sent them back to the Super Regionals.

But the lead quickly evaporated.

Purple Aces slugger Mark Shallenberger blasted a 3-run dagger to put Evansville on top in the 6th inning and the Pirates never recovered, ending their season with a 6-5 loss at home.

(Brief aside to shout out Evansville, who came into this group as the 4-seed and emerged with their first ever Super Regional bid. They’re just the ninth 4-seed ever to make it to the Supers. An impressive showing from them this weekend.)

Baseball generic graphic

It was plain to see how emotional this loss was for the Pirates and their head coach Cliff Godwin, who is apparently a top candidate to take the newly-vacant South Carolina job.

Godwin has led ECU to eight Regionals, four Super Regionals and three straight AAC titles in his nine full seasons as Pirates head coach. But, like those before him, he has been unable to make a breakthrough.

East Carolina now has 34 NCAA Tournament appearances without a College World Series trip, the most in the nation. (South Alabama is the only other school that’s even close with 28.)

ECU is clearly a top notch program that will make it to Omaha at some point, but with postseason let downs like this coming year-after-year, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Especially the day after another soul-crushing loss.

Hang in there Pirate Nation. Your time will come eventually… I’m pretty sure.

There’s always next season.

Panthers unveil redevelopment plans for Bank of America Stadium

How do you generate offseason buzz when there’s little hope your NFL team will make the playoffs next season?

Fancy renderings for a stadium upgrade, of course!

The Panthers officially announced their redevelopment plans for Bank of America Stadium on Monday, through a video that has fans giddy with excitement.

The project will be dramatic, including new seating, re-imagined concourse areas and technological enhancements, while keeping the basic structure of the stadium in tact.

The estimated price tag is reportedly $1.3 billion.

This news does a few things:

  • It guarantees the Panthers will stay in Charlotte (not relocate to Rock Hill or somewhere else) for the foreseeable future.
  • It opens the door for the Queen City to (maybe? possibly?) host a Super Bowl one day.
  • It gives team owner David Tepper some good PR in a time when he desperately needs it.

Charlotte’s city council still has to vote to approve the renovation project, which (reportedly) proposes that the city contributes $650 million.

(Another quick aside: If Tepper really wants to ingratiate himself, he should pay for the whole thing [as all billionaire owners should]. I’m pretty sure he has the cash.)

If that goes through, construction would begin in 2025 and go through 2029.

Maybe the Panthers would come play in Raleigh, Chapel Hill or Durham during that time? (More likely they’d play at Clemson like they did during the 1995 expansion season.)

We’ll see.

It’s almost Finals season (I promise)

Here’s a hot take.

The break between the Conference Finals and Finals is way too long this year in both the NBA and NHL.

Luka Doncic laid the smack down on Minnesota in a close-out Game 5, dropping 20 points in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 36.

That was on Thursday, which feels like forever ago.

The Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics don’t start the NBA Finals until┬áthis Thursday.

Way. Too. Long.

Mavericks_Timberwolves_Basketball_84178

Look, I understand the argument that these leagues want to carve out their TV time slots well in advance, but this isn’t the 1980’s.

Pro sports is the most important live television property. Networks can make room.

Setting it up like this loses momentum and is just plain silly.

The same goes for you, NHL.

I’ll admit I wasn’t as locked in to this scheduling gap, but it’s just as bad.

The Florida Panthers closed out the New York Rangers on Saturday.

Then the Edmonton Oilers topped the Dallas Stars (thanks in part to this ridiculous Connor McDavid goal) on Sunday.

When is Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, you ask?

Not until this Saturday. Another week-long break.

What are we doing, guys? Please don’t make this a trend.

My predictions for the record: Celtics in 7 and Panthers in 6.

Rangers_Panthers_Hockey_79620

Positivity, not negativity

Full disclosure — I was going to use this space to talk about Caitlin Clark after she took a hard (cheap shot) foul on national TV over the weekend.

But frankly, the discourse over the last couple days about this incident has been nauseating and downright gross.

This clip from former WNBA player (and No. 1 overall draft pick) Chiney Ogwumike I think best encapsulates my feelings on the matter.

So instead of disturbing that hornets nest, let’s instead close this week with something that should make everyone happy.

Remember last week, when we discussed the Birmingham Southern baseball team?

They made the Division III College World Series as their school was set to permanently shut down.

Well, Friday was closing day for Birmingham Southern and on Saturday, magic happened.

Junior 1st baseman Jackson Webster hit a 2-run walk-off home run to beat Randolph-Macon, extend the┬áseason and the school’s existence for one more day.

On Sunday, Birmingham Southern was eliminated in heartbreaking fashion, 11-10 against Wisconsin-Whitewater and what happened next was almost as magical.

The team, along with some alumni, took a moment to reflect together and walked off the field hand-in-hand for the final time.

Then, rather than take a flight home, the team opted to take the scenic route with a bus ride from northern Ohio all the way back to Alabama, just so they could spend more time together.

That’s special.

That’s camaraderie.

That’s what sports is about.

Salute to Birmingham Southern on a great run and a great final season.

We’ll see you next week.

Source: wralsportsfan.com