FAU inches closer to Super Regionals after thrilling wins over Towson, North Carolina

Zack Kelberman

Out fielder Corey Keller drove in two runs in the 9th inning to beat Towson 6-5 in the Sunday 1:00pm game. With the win, the Owls will take on the University of North Carolina at 6:00pm to continue in the tournament. Photo by Michelle Friswell
Out fielder Corey Keller drove in two runs in the 9th inning to beat Towson 6-5 in the Sunday 1:00pm game. With the win, the Owls will take on the University of North Carolina at 6:00pm to continue in the tournament. Photo by Michelle Friswell

All it took was one hit.

Behind a clutch Ricky Santiago home run, FAU rallied to defeat top seeded North Carolina, 3-2, in Sunday night’s NCAA Chapel Hill Regional game.

The Owls’ 42nd victory kept their season alive, setting up a winner-take-all championship matchup against the Tar Heels on Monday night, with a bid to the Super Regionals on the line.

But the upset didn’t come easy.

FAU was blanked throughout the evening by UNC starting pitcher Hobbs Johnson, who held the Owls without a hit in six innings of work.

The bottom of the seventh, however, is when Johnson’s night ended and the Owls’ magic began.

With two runners on base via walks issued by UNC reliever Trevor Kelley, Santiago connected on a three-run blast off the left field scoreboard, giving FAU a 3-2 lead and leaving the Tar Heel home crowd stunned.

It was FAU’s first hit of the night, and the most pivotal of the sophomore third baseman’s career.

Over the final two innings, the Owls would add two more hits, but it was their pitching that stepped up in a major way.

Reliever Michael Sylvestri came on in the eighth, working a hitless frame. He would receive the win.

The top of the ninth gave way to FAU closer Hugh Adams, who, despite letting up a pair of hits, recorded his 18th save of the season (31st of his career) and handing UNC its first loss of the weekend’s Regional tournament.

The Owls finished with three runs on three hits, while the Tar Heels managed just two runs on a staggering 12 hits. Throughout the contest, UNC continually stranded runners and wasted several bases-loaded opportunities.

Heroics, in fact, proved to be a theme throughout the day.

In an elimination game earlier on Sunday, FAU knocked off Towson 6-5, thanks to another huge performance from Corey Keller.

The senior outfielder, who hit two homers during Saturday’s win over Canisius, knocked home the winning run on a ninth-inning RBI double, vanquishing Towson in a contest that featured three lead changes and two ties.

Keller finished 3-for-4, with a home run and three RBIs. Adams came on to notch what would be his first of two saves on the day.

The win over Towson paved the way for FAU’s nightcap versus North Carolina, a game they couldn’t be happier to take.

“Beat North Carolina, lets go! Owl Nation stand up!! One more to go tomorrow and were regional champions! #FAUBaseball,” outfielder Nathan Pittman wrote on Twitter.

“Just upset #1 team in the nation! Gotta win one more tomorrow!! #owlnation #shockthenation,” outfielder Tyler Rocklein added on Twitter.

FAU will again face UNC on Monday, June 3 with a spot in the NCAA Super Regionals up for grabs. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. from Chapel Hill, N.C.