UNC-Vanderbilt in Omaha gets a family twist
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)
When North Carolina and Vanderbilt meet in the College World Series, Commodores men's basketball coach Kevin Stallings won't be able to pull for the school where he has worked for more than a decade.
That's because his son, Jacob, is playing catcher for the Tar Heels.
''I love my school, I really do,'' the coach said. ''I love this university and I love this place and I love the people at it. But I don't love it as much as I do my family.''
The third-seeded Tar Heels (50-14) and sixth-seeded Commodores (52-10) meet Saturday to open play in Omaha. North Carolina is making its fifth appearance in six seasons - Jacob was a freshman in the last visit two years ago - and Vanderbilt is headed there for the first time.
It's a big moment for the Southeastern Conference's only private school, yet the elder Stallings is in the awkward position of telling Vanderbilt baseball coach and friend Tim Corbin that family comes first for this one.
''But now if my son's team doesn't win the national championship, by gosh, I hope Vanderbilt does,'' Stallings said. ''I have two teams out there to root for. Most people just have one.''
Jacob Stallings said his father was in a ''tough situation,'' but said it will be just like when he rooted for his dad's Commodores when they beat the Tar Heels in a basketball game in November.
''I don't think it's as much about having to beat the school my dad works at,'' he said. ''It's just I've got a lot of close friends on that team. I want them to do well. I'm just going to have to do my best to treat it like another game - put all the friendships and all that aside.''
At the least, the family connection has offered a lighthearted twist to the matchup. When asked whether it might be difficult emotionally for his catcher, North Carolina coach Mike Fox quipped, ''Better not be. His dad's going to be pulling for us, so his son better be.''
Corbin, for his part, is OK with his buddy pulling for Jacob and the Tar Heels on Saturday, noting that it's a good thing because both teams made it to Omaha.
''If I was in the situation, I'd be rooting for my son, too,'' Vanderbilt catcher Curt Casali said. ''That's fine for us. Maybe he'll be sporting some baby blue and some black and gold at the same time.''
Jacob Stallings said his father was a frequent visitor to North Carolina games at Boshamer Stadium - ''He's here whenever my mom will let him be here,'' he said - after basketball season. That included during last weekend's clinching game against Stanford in the NCAA super regionals.
The Tar Heels led 6-1 entering the bottom of the eighth only to give up four runs and lose momentum. Then, with North Carolina batting and two out in the top of the ninth inning, officials stopped the game due to lightning and heavy rain.
The delay lasted 3 1/2 hours, leaving Stallings to join Fox in the weight room and watch the broadcast of Vanderbilt's game against Oregon State. When the game finally restarted, Stallings got a key hit against first-round draft pick Chris Reed that scored an extra run to help the Tar Heels retake momentum in the 7-5 win.
''Winning means getting to Omaha, so there were certainly a lot of emotions,'' Kevin Stallings said. ''I've always said there's nothing quite as fun as watching your children compete at something they enjoy and are having success at. That was one of those moments.''
Jacob Stallings said he knew when the NCAA pairings were set that the Tar Heels were lined up to play the Commodores if both teams kept winning. The ties run deep for him, as well. The Commodores recruited him, but Corbin told his father that Jacob would probably play earlier if he went to North Carolina.
The junior also has the memory of cleaning up the dugout following the Commodores' upset home loss to Michigan in the 2007 regionals, ending the season for a team that set a school record with 54 wins and featured No. 1 overall draft pick David Price.
''Certainly I cheer for Vandy baseball,'' Jacob Stallings said. ''But whenever we're going to play them, it's not even a question. These guys are my brothers and those guys are my friends.''
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.