Chapel Hill, North Carolina – But for the cleanliness of home plate rule, the Arkansas Razorbacks may have been on their way home today from the College World Series.
This was how longtime sports journalist Stephen Caldwell began the story of his game from the World College Series in the June 5, 1989 edition of the Arkansas Democrat.
Arkansas’ 7-3 win over North Carolina at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, NE, was the only meeting between the two programs. That will change on Saturday when the Tar Heels host the Razorbacks in Game 1 of the Chapel Hill Super Regional at Boshamer Stadium.
ESPN, which will broadcast its first regional super game on TV, will be elated if this game comes close to matching the drama of the last meeting of shows 33 years ago.
With the game tied 3-3 in the eighth inning, Arkansas player Scott D. Alexander picked and went to second base at a sacrifice. North Carolina, who had succeeded in five hidden tricks that year, tried them again when D’Alexander got off his second base bag to get rid of his pants.
Second base officer Dave Arendas — now the operations manager for the Tar Heels baseball team — flagged him for what could have been the second inning, but home plate referee Bruce Ravan called a timeout to clean up the home plate, canceling the exit at second base.
Tony Gilmore doubled on the next hit to score for D’Alexander, the four-game starter that was the difference to the Razorbacks winning by four.
“I think he was dead for rights,” said Scott Bose, the Arkansas hitter that night whose two-running single crowned the deciding role. “It was waved… and it got out of hand from there. We ended up extending our stay for another match.”
One of the more surprising elements of this week’s super-regional, which is set to begin Saturday at 10 a.m., is Arkansas and North Carolina not meeting often.
The Razorbacks and Tar Heels had two of the most successful college baseball programs in the 2000s with a combined 13 College World Series since 2004. They both played in the national championship series lost to Oregon – by North Carolina in 2006 and 2007, and by Arkansas in 2018.
The teams were in Omaha at the same time in 2009 and 2018, but they were on opposite sides.
“Never having to face each other is kind of amazing, honestly,” said North Carolina State coach Scott Forbes who was also the program’s pitching coach from 1999-2002 and 2006-20.
Forbes said he sees similarities between the programs, including the training styles of Dave Van Horn of Arkansas and former North Carolina coach Mike Fox.
“When I watched them play, they reminded me a lot of us, and they probably feel the same way,” Forbes said. “They are playing hard and basically. Coach Van Horn and coach Fox were very similar in the way they coached, it seemed to me.
“I would say a lot of respect for what they did.”
Bose, who lives in nearby Raleigh and plans to attend this weekend’s games, said he also sees ways to similar programs, such as how their current leaders inherited programs from mentors. Forbes trained under Fox for 19 seasons, and Van Horn spent five joint seasons as a player and alumni assistant under Norm DeBrien.
“They’ve been good friends with the coach before,” Boss said. “It was passed on and they know the traditions.
“I also think that both programs have been a huge success in the conference — both the Southwest Conference and the Arkansas SEC, and the ACC (North Carolina). Both are looking to get over the hump and get that national championship. Carolina has been there a few times and they know what Looks like it, and so does Arkansas.”
This week’s winner will take a step towards getting that opportunity again.