After beating Florida Atlantic on Friday in the Chapel Hill regional of the NCAA baseball tournament, Towson's reward was a matchup with No. 1 overall seed North Carolina in front of the Tar Heels' fans at Boshamer Stadium.
While starting pitcher Brandon Gonnella and the rest of the Tigers battled to stay in the game, they came up short in an 8-5 loss.
Towson, in its first NCAA tournament since 1991, will take on Florida Atlantic again Sunday at 1 p.m. in an elimination game. The winner will have to defeat North Carolina twice — at 6 p.m. Sunday and 6 p.m. Monday — to advance to the NCAA super regionals. Florida Atlantic eliminated Canisius with a 14-6 victory Saturday.
The Tar Heels (54-8) entered the game with the most runs in the country, but the 5-foot-9 junior Gonnella kept the Tigers (30-29) — who were the home team in the game — close enough for the Towson hitters to make a late rally attempt.
North Carolina starter Kent Emanuel dominated Towson over the first five innings, but the Tigers chased him from the game with three runs and three hits in the bottom of the eighth before freshman closer Trent Thornton got Brendan Butler to line out to center field with the tying runs on first and second base.
Emanuel (11-3) faced the minimum over the first five innings thanks to a pair of successful pickoffs, baffling the Towson lineup with a mixture of fastballs, curve balls and a 72 mph changeup.
"We did nothing the first five innings offensively, to Emanuel's credit," Towson coach Mike Gottlieb said. "The first half of the game, he had great command of three pitches. He never gave you a fastball when you might think a fastball's coming."
North Carolina's only hit in the first three innings was a home run from Cody Stubbs in the second, but the Tar Heels got to Gonnella in the fourth. He walked Landon Lassiter and Sky Bolt to set up Michael Russell's two-run single, and North Carolina pushed the lead to 4-0 in the fifth on Mike Zolk's double and Chaz Frank's sacrifice fly.
Brandon Holbertson's double scored Russell, who had singled, in the sixth to put Towson in a 5-0 deficit before the Tigers finally broke through against Emanuel.
Richie Blosser's bloop double and Pat Fitzgerald's two-out single gave Towson its first run in the bottom of the sixth. Peter Bowles led off the seventh with another double and scored on Butler's single to make it 5-2.
The Tar Heels added two runs in the eighth and another in the ninth. Russell (3-for-5, three RBIs) paced a 13-hit attack for North Carolina.
Gonnella (4-5) worked 7 2/3 innings, giving up seven earned runs, while walking three and striking out one.
"They have a bunch of great hitters," Gonnella said. "There's a reason they're the No. 1 team in the country. They can hit top to bottom. I was just trying to go out there and keep my team close."
Blosser was 3-for-4 for Towson, which had 10 hits — eight after the fifth inning.
Paul Beers (1-6, 4.88 ERA) will start for Towson on Sunday against Florida Atlantic.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun