CHAPEL HILL-Despite a monster performance from Tar Heel pitcher Hobbs Johnson, a three-run homer spoiled the UNC baseball team’s six-inning lead, and the Heels instead suffered a 3-2 defeat against Florida Atlantic Sunday night at Boshamer Stadium in the NCAA Regional.
Johnson didn’t allow a single FAU hit in six innings of play, struck out 11 straight, and was relieved by Trevor Kelley in the seventh. Shortly after Johnson’s night ended, FAU’s Ricky Santiago blasted the homer that would ultimately prove to be the winning run.
UNC pitching Coach Scott Forbes says the defeat boiled down to simple bad luck.
“It was just one pitch,” he says. “They’re a good offensive club. We held them to three runs, but on the reverse side of that, I felt like it should have been 2-0.”
The Heels accumulated 12 hits, compared to just three for the Owls, but UNC struggled all night to bring those runners home, leaving 15 on base.
UNC jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first, but that was all the offensive action they could manage until the top of the fifth, when Skye Bolt hit a one-out double. Cody Stubbs then hit a single to put runners on the corners. That’s when Michael Russell stepped up to the plate and made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Hear the call: Russell Sac Fly
With the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, Colin Moran was due up for the Heels, but a 1-2-3 Owl double play kept him from putting any additional runs on the scoreboard. FAU threatened in the bottom of the inning, after a Tar Heel error and two walks managed to load the bases for the Owls. With two outs, FAU’s Tyler Rocklein stepped up to the plate for the chance to turn the tide but would ultimately fly out.
In the bottom of the seventh, Johnson was removed from the game despite his impressive performance all night long, after a five-pitch walk to begin the inning. Three at-bats later, Santiago came up to the plate and fired a three-run homer to put the Owls up 3-2.
Hear the call: FAU Home Run
The homer, which was also FAU’s first hit of the game, was Santiago’s fifth homerun of this season, and it was the last offensive action either team could manage for the rest of the game.
Forbes says his team had no excuse for making it on base so many times without being able to cross the plate.
“Our big guys didn’t come through today, and they have to in the postseason,” he said after the game. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if the same guys are out there in the same situation, they’ll come through tomorrow. We’ve got a lot of guys who are ready to rock and roll, we need to score runs, and if we have to hold them to zero, we’ll try to hold them to zero.”
The Heels now slip to 54-9 overall. The two teams will face off again Monday at 6 p.m., with the winner earning the right to advance to the NCAA Super Regional; the loser’s season will be over. Chris Munnelly is set to start on the mound for UNC.