Entering the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to win it all, the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels kept their national title quest alive Thursday night with an 83-67 win in Raleigh over the No. 16-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles–a blowout that initially had the makings of a historic upset.
Top seeds were 124-0 in first round games coming into the day. UNC head coach Roy Williams had won 25 times in the first round without a loss.
However, Florida Gulf Coast closed the first half on a 22-11 run, trailing the Tar Heels just 41-40 at the break.
Talk that the Eagles had found a little extra luck on St. Patrick’s Day started to make the rounds.
The new-and-improved UNC defense that delivered an ACC title in Washington D.C. allowed the Atlantic Sun champions to shoot 60 percent in the first half. Not only that, Florida Gulf Coast outscored the Tar Heels in the paint 22-16 during that span, and outrebounded them 21-14.
But eventually, order was restored for Williams and his team.
“First half we didn’t play very well at all,” Williams said after the game. “It was one of the worst halves we’ve played all year long, but first ten minutes of the second half we were really, really good.”
Whatever halftime speech Williams gave provided the motivation needed to quickly lay waste to their overachieving opponents.
UNC opened the second half with a three-pointer by Marcus Paige, then went on a 27-8 run behind huge efforts from big men Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks.
The ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year, Hicks scored seven of his 12 points in the second half and contributed energy that was lacking in the opening period.
Johnson had 18 points and seven rebounds, but also sparked the team defensively with six of his career-high eight blocks coming over the final 20 minutes.
“We were very disappointed in the way that we played,” Johnson said. “You allow a team like that to shoot 60 percent in the first half—you can’t help but be mad about that. It was just an all-around frustrating game.”
“Guys had their heads down,” he continued, talking about the Tar Heels’ locker room at halftime. “It was a bad scene. We just had to get the bad taste out of our mouth and come out ready to play [in the second half.]”
Paige, Joel Berry, and Justin Jackson each joined Johnson and Hicks in double figures against a Florida Gulf Coast team that surprised many people watching with how athletic it was.
The Eagles were consistently able to beat the Tar Heels with quick ball movement and drives, despite only making two of its 11 three-point tries.
“We get so caught up in one or 16 or two and 15 and all that,” Williams said. “I just thought they were a really good basketball team.
“For a 16 seed, they had more size, more athleticism, and more inside scoring than you usually see.”
While it was by no means the best game the Tar Heels have played this season, the second half dominance showed there shouldn’t be any worries about the team moving forward.
As Williams noted after the game, it’s common knowledge around college basketball that a 16-seed has never won—something that likely spread apathy through the UNC locker room like wildfire.
“One versus 16 gets so much attention,” the coach said. “Perhaps there was a little stress, everybody thinking it was gonna be easy.”
With how unforgiving the NCAA Tournament is, and the number of upsets that happen on a daily basis this time of year—the only thing that really matters about Thursday’s game is that the Tar Heels won.
Whether it was by one point or 16, UNC is now only five wins from its ultimate goal.
“For us, we feel very good to still be here,” Williams said.
UNC will be back in action on Saturday, taking on the No. 9 seed Providence Friars.
While the walk-off dramatics may not have found their way back to Boshamer Stadium on Wednesday, the final result was still the same.
The No. 6 Tar Heels scored eight runs in the seventh inning to come from behind and beat the Winthrop Eagles 11-6 for their fifth straight victory.
It was the first mid-week game of the season for UNC, which now is off to a 6-1 start here in the early portion of 2016.
As is typical with college baseball during the week,–a sport played by college kids–there were a number of mistakes that determined the outcome.
After pulling ahead 5-3 in the top of the seventh, Winthrop made three crucial errors in the bottom of the frame that kept the inning alive and allowed UNC to keep the scoreboard operator busy.
Eli Sutherland led off the inning with a solo home run, but those little plays–the errors–are what head coach Mike Fox pointed to after the game as his key to victory.
“It was nice for us to get a big inning like that, but it was pretty much a gift,” Fox said. “Most of it was all a gift from them, so we’ve gotta be careful about thinking that’s gonna happen again.”
“Good teams usually don’t give you that,” he continued. “So I thought we were fortunate to win.”
The Eagles moved to 5-4 this season after the loss on a day where the teams not only combined to make six errors, but also each used seven pitchers—with only one, Winthrop reliever Thad Harris, recording more than six outs.
UNC was led offensively by Sutherland, who had a pair of hits in the first game since his walk-off hit on Sunday, and sophomore third baseman Zack Gahagan—who was benched in favor of Sutherland in the game Sunday.
In response, Gahagan went 4-for-4 with an RBI on Wednesday–despite hitting ninth in the order.
“Yeah, I’ve been struggling lately,” Gahagan said. “But [I] just gotta keep playing. Today I got some good pitches and put some good swings on them—so that’s a plus.”
As it turns out, Gahagan’s performance was exactly what Fox was hoping for when he made the decision to sit him out on Sunday.
“There’s something to that,” Fox said. “I know there is.
“So I tried to point that out to our players,” he added. “Being excited and anxious to play, and not taking it for granted that you are gonna play—sometimes takes you to another level as a player.”
With a team so heavily reliant on freshmen and sophomores, Fox was interested to see how the Tar Heels played in an environment lacking the fan fare that the Oklahoma State series provided.
Although he wasn’t happy with the mistakes his team made, he said he’d rather have teachable moments come in a win than a loss.
“I knew this would be a tough game,” the coach said. “These mid-week games—it’s [our] first one, half the team’s never played a mid-week game before—so they’re different.
“There’s not a lot of energy in the stadium, and teams play well against us,” he continued. “They’re always a battle.”
After a day off on Thursday, the Tar Heels will get back to action on Friday at 3 p.m, as they welcome the Fairfield Stags for a three-game series.
Sunday’s game against Fairfield was originally scheduled for noon, but has been moved to 1 p.m.
For close to 37 minutes on Tuesday night, all hope looked lost for the struggling No. 9 UNC men’s basketball team.
Vertigo sent head coach Roy Williams to the locker room in the second half, and the Tar Heels trailed Boston College all game long.
However, a late rally gave the team a much-needed road win, snapping a two-game losing streak by a score of 68-65 over the Eagles.
Not until it was almost too late did UNC look like a team widely thought to be among the best in the nation.
Boston College, the squad at the bottom of the ACC standings with a record of 7-17 and 0-11 in the conference, scored the game’s first basket and held on to at least a share of the lead until the Tar Heels ended the game on a 19-9 run under the leadership of assistant coach Steve Robinson.
Even though UNC, at 20-4 and 9-2 in the ACC, moved back into sole possession of first place in the league, Williams’ health scare dominated the postgame discussion.
“I’m alive, and I’m kicking,” the coach told reporters. “I’m not well, mentally. I’ve had some vertigo attacks over the last 17 or 18 years—this is the first time I’ve really had one during a game.
“It’s called benign positional vertigo,” he continued. “I’ve been diagnosed at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Kansas, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Chapel Hill Hospital—all three.”
Williams collapsed on the sideline during a timeout huddle with just over 14 minutes left in the game. He angrily turned his head around after a disagreement with the referee and the quick, jerking motion triggered the attack.
Robinson, who has been an assistant to Williams for 21 years—both at Kansas and UNC, showed great poise down the stretch, never appearing flustered amidst all the chaos.
“We work for a great guy,” Robinson said. “He has us prepared. I’ve always said going into each and every game that I should always be prepared [in case] he gets sick, or he gets tossed in a game—[so] I can just step right in.”
Much of the chatter surrounding the Tar Heels recently has focused on senior guard Marcus Paige, as he finally snapped out of a six-game shooting slump in Saturday’s loss at Notre Dame.
He had 12 points and hit a trio of three-pointers against the Eagles in this game, but it was another slumping teammate—sophomore Justin Jackson—whose 20 points off the bench led the way.
It was the first game all year in which Jackson and senior forward Brice Johnson did not start, as Williams sat them and junior Kennedy Meeks in search of a spark for the team.
“He responded the way you’d like a guy to respond,” Robinson said of Jackson. “He competed. He played hard. He was involved. He got his shot to go.
“Marcus hit a big three for our team,” he added, referencing the long-ball Paige drilled to put UNC ahead 62-60 with 1:47 left. “And we had a lot of guys make a lot of plays.”
Johnson and Meeks combined for just 11 points and 12 rebounds, but UNC got back on track with its shooting—finishing above 50 percent for the second time in its last seven games, both against Boston College.
Senior guard Eli Carter kept the Eagles competitive by scoring 26 points and hitting five three-pointers, continuing a trend of great perimeter shooting by Tar Heel opponents.
But as the game reached its conclusion, Robinson and the UNC players had Williams on their mind and simply would not be denied.
“He’s like a brother to me and he coached his buns off tonight,” Williams said about his longtime assistant. “And my kids played their rear ends off.
“I was very concerned because I didn’t want to be a distraction.
“I’ll be fine,” he continued. “I’m not dead yet.”
After going 1-2 on this three-game road trip, the Tar Heels return to the Dean Dome for their next game, a Valentine’s Day matinee against Pittsburgh (17-6, 6-5 ACC).
As college basketball begins to take the spotlight in the sporting world, the No. 2 Tar Heels defeated the Boston College Eagles 89-62 on Saturday—using the last place squad in the ACC as a tune-up before the competition becomes stronger.
It’s now 12 straight wins for the Tar Heels, who are 19-2 this season—including an 8-0 start to conference play.
Despite not having lost since Dec. 12, head coach Roy Williams’ team has struggled to find defensive consistency, and has had problems making shots in recent outings.
Although the Tar Heels made just 11 of their 22 free throws on Saturday, they forced a whopping 23 turnovers and shot 53 percent from the field.
“Before the game today, instead of putting up X’s and O’s on the board I said, ‘Let’s play get better on defense, get better on offense, and let’s give the A-grade effort—see if we’re mature enough to handle this.’” Williams said, referencing the recent sluggish play.
Brice Johnson continued his breakout season with 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who dropped Boston College to 7-14 overall and 0-8 in the ACC.
But it was the backcourt of Joel Berry and Marcus Paige that made the most noise. The two combined for five of UNC’s 12 steals, which netted the Tar Heels 30 points off of turnovers alone.
Offensively, Berry had 13 points and six assists as Paige finally broke out of his own personal slump—letting a big smile loose in the opening half when he knocked down a three-pointer for the first time since Jan. 9 at Syracuse.
“I want you to go the gym, miss twenty-something in a row—then make one and have the whole arena cheer for you,” Paige said to reporters after the game. “I’ve never missed that many shots in a row in my life. So to just finally give one to people, it was relieving.”
There were still plenty of sloppy moments for the Tar Heels, like the poor free throw shooting and a slow start to the first half—but the frenetic defense and improved shot-making provides the team with somewhere to build from.
This game was just the beginning for UNC, Berry said, as the team enters its all-important stretch run.
“Once the shots start falling, and we come together on the defensive end, we can be a great team,” Berry said. “But we have to start doing that.
“We knocked down some shots today, and Marcus knocked down some which was good to see,” he continued. “We just need to focus on the defensive end—that’s the biggest thing we need to key in on. And we’re gonna do that later down the road.”
That road will start with Monday’s trip to Louisville, but also includes a game at Notre Dame– followed by a visit to Boston to take on the Eagles again.
After that road stretch, there’s two games against Duke, one versus Miami and another with Virginia—all teams who have spent plenty of time in the top 25 this year.
Always a master motivator, Williams issued a simple challenge to his players regarding the tough upcoming matchups.
“If we play the way we’ve played the last four games, it’ll be very difficult to win any of those [upcoming] games,” the coach said. “So we’ve gotta play better.”
UNC will now be chasing consistency from here on out, but sophomore wing Theo Pinson said it best when addressing what’s to come in the next couple months.
“It’s go time now,” Pinson said. “And I think we’re ready.”
Just a single off day awaits the Tar Heels, as they prepare to face head coach Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals–who are currently ranked No. 16 in the nation.
Benton Moss continued the Tar Heel starting pitching dominance, throwing eight shutout innings while getting quite a bit of help from his offense, as the No. 23 UNC baseball team cruised to a 6-0 win over the Boston College Eagles on Sunday–completing its first ACC weekend sweep of the season.
Carolina has now won six in a row for their longest winning streak of the season, as they improve to 29-15 overall and 13-10 in the ACC. Boston College drops to 22-21 after the sweep, with a 9-14 record inside the conference.
Like Zac Gallen and JB Bukauskas in the two previous games in the series, Moss (6-0) had no troubles getting outs against the Boston College lineup.
“The last three days we’ve really, really pitched well. And that’s probably an understatement,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox.
“I’m trying to think of a weekend where we’ve pitched a whole weekend and not given up an earned run, and I can’t imagine that we’ve had one here. Sensational by all three of those guys. Benton followed up today with another great performance.”
The senior out of Enfield, North Carolina walked the first batter he faced, and then started off the next man with two straight pitches outside the strike zone–prompting pitching coach Scott Forbes to go out to the mound for a little chat.
From then on, Moss didn’t allow a single hit to the Eagles until the top of the third, when shortstop Johnny Adams was able to slap a single back up the middle, and didn’t surrender another until Logan Hoggarth singled in the top of the eighth.
In his eight innings of work, Moss allowed just two hits, while never allowing an Eagle hitter to reach second base during his time on the mound.
The man behind the plate for Moss’s pitches, Korey Dunbar, says he was impressed with the way Moss recovered early on.
“I thought Benton did a really good job–walking the first guy–and then coming back from that doing what he did today was pretty incredible,” says Dunbar.
He didn’t have to wait long for run support either, as the Tar Heel offense stayed red-hot after scoring in each of its last five plate appearances the day before.
Right-fielder Tyler Ramirez walked to begin the Tar Heel half of the second inning, setting up their power-hitting catcher, Dunbar, who then drilled a pitch from Boston College left-hander Jesse Adams (2-3) way over the wall in left center-field for a two-run homer to put the home team out in front.
In the very next inning, Carolina added three more tallies, all with two outs, on a hard hit grounder by Dunbar (ruled an error) that scored Brian Miller, which was followed two batters later by a two-run single with the bases loaded by freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth.
Dunbar’s home run in the second briefly put him all alone in the team lead, with six, but Tyler Ramirez didn’t let that last for long.
Ramirez caught all of a 1-1 pitch from Adams in the bottom of the fifth, sending it out of the park for his sixth home run of the year–ironically putting UNC ahead by six in the process–a lead that made Coach Fox a whole lot more comfortable.
“Obviously that home run was big by Korey, just kinda getting that first punch, but going from four to six is huge,” Fox says, “If you’re in that dugout and you’re down four you really feel like you’re still somewhat in the game, especially early. Then all of a sudden, if you get down six, it’s a little tougher hill to climb.”
From then on, the bats sat in cruise control with their big lead already built, while Moss did his thing on the mound, reaching 105 pitches after finishing off his eighth scoreless inning.
Junior closer Trent Thornton came on from the bullpen to pitch a scoreless ninth, despite allowing an opposing runner to reach second base for the first time all day.
For the entire series, the trio of Gallen, Bukauskas, and Moss pitched 24 out of a possible 27 innings, with none of them allowing a run, or more than three hits. It’s weekends like this that make Moss, a senior, glad that he chose to turn down the opportunity to play pro ball for another shot at college glory.
“It’s awesome to watch Gallen and JB [Bukauskas] pitch. And I think our bullpen…just look how deep it is,” says Moss, “We’ve got just arms on arms on arms. I’m thankful that I came back for my senior year to be a part of a team like this.”
“It’s been awesome to watch, and I think we’re clicking at the right time,” he adds.
The Diamond Heels will remain at home for their next game–a Tuesday mid-week showdown with UNC-Greensboro scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
The big question coming into Saturday morning wondered what kind of follow-up performance the Tar Heels would receive after Zac Gallen’s pitching stole the show the night before.
Answering that call was freshman sensation JB Bukauskas, who picked up right where Gallen left off on Friday, pitching seven shutout innings and striking out eight hitters to lead the No. 23 UNC baseball team to a 6-1 victory over the Boston College Eagles at Boshamer Stadium.
Winners of five straight, for the second time in April, the Tar Heels now sit at 28-15, and remain second in the ACC Coastal Division with a 12-10 league mark. Boston College falls to 22-20 in all competition with a 9-13 record inside the league.
“Any time you get two starts like we’ve had the last couple days, you’ve got a chance to win,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox.
“I thought JB was really, really good today. It might have been one of his better outings. He didn’t quite have his normal fastball, but his slider was good today.”
If one thing was clear on this day right from the start (and it wasn’t the skies), it was that the Boston College bats were going to be taking another sick day.
Despite walking the first man he faced, Bukauskas (4-1) settled into quite a groove afterwards–retiring the next ten batters in a row before finally conceding the first Eagle base-hit of the day, a single by Blake Butera with one out in the top of the fourth.
Showing extreme poise on the mound, the Ashburn, Virginia native issued another walk after Butera’s hit, but then promptly struck out the next two batters he saw to keep the game scoreless.
Normally Bukauskas gets hitters out with his electric 97 mile per hour fastball, but with the weather the way it was, he was able to show off an improved breaking ball.
“It was kind of annoying honestly,” says Bukauskas about the rain, “I felt like I couldn’t really throw my fastball like I normally like to. I couldn’t really get the [grip] on the ball, but I think it might have helped my slider a little. I threw a lot more of those today.”
Bukauskas continued plowing through the Eagle lineup from there, working a 1-2-3 fifth, before allowing Boston College to get its second and third hits of the game in the sixth and seventh.
As the rain began to come down steadier in the bottom of the fourth, the Tar Heel bats finally put their hard hats on and went to work.
Shortstop Logan Warmoth doubled with one out off Boston College starter John Gorman (4-3) to set up his freshman classmate, and roommate, third baseman Zack Gahagan, with a prime RBI opportunity– which Gahagan took full advantage of–slapping a single right back up the middle to send Warmoth across the plate for the first run of the game.
The Tar Heels ended up scoring runs in each of their last five plate appearances–including Gahagan’s RBI in the fourth.
Joe Dudek drove home a run in the bottom of the fifth, which was followed by a pair of big hits in the sixth from Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter.
Bolt singled in Brian Miller and advanced to third when the BC right-fielder slipped on the wet grass, and Lassiter doubled home Bolt in the next-at bat.
Picking up his second hit of the day in the bottom of the seventh was Dudek, who ended up coming around to score on a sacrifice fly by Alex Raburn–giving the Tar Heels a commanding five run lead.
To keep the Carolina scoring streak alive, Korey Dunbar doubled down the left-field line in the Tar Heel half of the eighth for the final tally of the contest–although the Eagles were able to break through for an unearned run earlier in the frame to avoid a second straight shutout.
Senior Trevor Kelley relieved Bukauskas on the mound to begin the eighth inning, due to the freshman’s pitch count reaching 107, and held on for the final six outs of the game.
“We have been playing better,” says Coach Fox, “We’ve kinda settled in with the lineup a little bit, and we’ve got a chance, knock on wood, to have maybe our first 5-0 week of the season…which would be a nice way to finish off this last week of classes.”
The series finale is scheduled for Sunday at noon, with UNC sending senior Benton Moss (5-0, 3.32 ERA) to the mound. Boston College’s starting pitcher has yet to be announced. The game is scheduled to be shown on ESPN3 and broadcast live on WCHL.
Zac Gallen did it again.
For the second time in his last three starts, Gallen tossed a complete game, and this time it was of the shutout variety, as the sophomore carried the No. 23 UNC baseball team to a 1-0 victory over the Boston College Eagles at Boshamer Stadium on Friday night.
UNC picks up its fourth consecutive victory, improving to 27-15 overall and 11-10 in the ACC, while ending the Eagles’ five game win streak. For the season, Boston College is 22-19, with a 9-12 record inside the conference.
Coming into the game, it was expected to be a fantastic pitcher’s duel between Gallen (3-3) and Boston College sophomore Mike King (1-3)–and neither of these guys decided to stray from the script.
Gallen threw a complete game in his last home start two weeks ago against NC State, while King came into Friday’s contest having thrown a complete game, one-hit, shutout last week against Georgia Tech. So it was no surprise to fans that each man came out strong.
“[Gallen’s] a strike thrower, so that always helps. So was King for them tonight. We thought it would be a quick game,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox, “Both pitchers throwing a lot of strikes and getting a lot of first pitch outs.”
The first nine batters of the game were each unsuccessful in their attempts to reach base, and through five innings the teams had combined for just four hits, as offense was tougher to find than the Lochness Monster in this one.
Carolina right-fielder Tyler Ramirez recorded the first hit of the game with a hard hit single off of King to lead-off the bottom of the second. After a walk to Joe Dudek and an infield single by Eli Sutherland, suddenly the Tar Heels found themselves in business–with the bases loaded and just one out.
In the next at-bat, King got freshman Zack Gahagan to strike out swinging, but followed that up by walking shortstop Logan Warmoth on four straight pitches to bring home Ramirez before he could escape the jam, giving the Tar Heels the first, and only, run of the game.
Meanwhile Zac Gallen’s home dominance continued, as he made quick work of the Eagle hitters all night long, finishing the game with just 115 pitches. In total, Gallen struck out eight Eagles, while amazingly only giving up three hits the entire game.
“I wish we could play at home every game,” Gallen says, “It’s just a comfortability thing. Like they say, it’s tough to go on the road in the ACC. Your fans usually aren’t there, it’s gonna be majority their fans, and the mound’s a little bit different.”
“It’s good to come home.”
In fact, no runner even reached second base against UNC’s right-handed sophomore until the top of the sixth.
Designated hitter Scott Braren singled to begin the frame, and moved over on a sacrifice. Braren then got to third on a wild pitch, but was thrown out at home by Logan Warmoth trying to come home on a ground-ball hit by Jake Palomaki that never left the infield.
After that, Gallen locked down the shop–working perfect seventh and eighth innings, as his offense continued to struggle against Mike King, who worked all eight innings for the Eagles–meaning neither bullpen was needed at all in this game.
For the game, King allowed just five hits in his eight innings, striking out five Tar Heels as well.
“I was so glad Zac made it to the end, I know he was getting a little bit tired. His pitch count was still down, but he walked those two in the ninth and [we’re] thinking ‘Oh boy, we gotta try to let him finish’, so that was a nail-biter,” says Coach Fox.
When Gallen came back out to pitch the ninth, the New Jersey native was greeted by a chorus of cheers.
But then a one-out walk to Palomaki was followed by a base-hit from second baseman Blake Butera, causing some anxiety. After the second out, Michael Strem drew the second walk in the inning off Gallen to load the bases, bringing the home fans to their feet again.
A diving stop at first base by Joe Dudek on the next play, a hard hit liner by Donovan Casey, preserved the shut-out and the victory, on what looked like it could have been a two-run base-hit, sending the Tar Heel faithful home happy.
To his credit, Gallen couldn’t help but give all the credit to his defense, which saw center-fielder Skye Bolt make an incredible diving catch in the fifth to go along with Warmoth’s throw home in the sixth–and of course the one that sealed it, Dudek’s game-saving stop.
“Once Skye [Bolt] made the catch, I thought I was in a video game. I was like ‘OK, that’s gonna be on SportsCenter, that should be Vine famous’,” Gallen says.
“And then Logan [Warmoth] makes that play, and then Joe [Dudek] makes that play and it’s like ‘Dude I owe you lunch for the rest of your life.”
Saturday’s second game of the series was originally scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., but due to persistent rain in the forecast first pitch has been moved up to 10:30 a.m. The pitching match-up in that one will pit UNC freshman JB Bukauskas (3-1, 3.88 ERA) against Boston College senior John Gorman (4-2, 5.13 ERA).
When the No. 23 UNC baseball team opens its three-game ACC series with the Boston College Eagles Friday night at Boshamer Stadium, Zac Gallen will be returning to the mound on which he delivered the two finest performances of his young pitching career against his team’s two biggest rivals.
For the majority of the season, the sophomore from Gibbsboro, New Jersey has spear-headed the dominant UNC weekend rotation, helping the team reach its current 26-15 overall record and 10-10 conference mark.
Boston College comes into Chapel Hill this weekend not far behind the Tar Heels in the tight conference standings–at 9-11 in the ACC and 22-18 against all competition—which is why Gallen (2-3, 3.31 ERA) knows it’s important to get his team off to a good start by pitching well in the Friday series opener.
“It’s huge. I mean, when you lose that Friday [game] it’s like ‘man, [our] backs are against the wall’,” Gallen says, “So it’s good to put the pressure on early…especially with the position we’re in, in the ACC, we’re right in the thick of things.”
“Every game we play on Friday is a battle,” he adds.
A part of the starting rotation for 17 games in 2014 as a freshman, you would think penciling his name in this year as part of a competition among pitchers fighting for a starting role would have been just a formality, but with the addition of hard throwing freshmen JB Bukauskas and Hunter Williams, head coach Mike Fox decided to try something else early on in the year.
“Zac’s a good example,” says Coach Fox, “We started the season, and he wasn’t one of our weekend guys—he was all last year as a freshman. He didn’t pout. He wasn’t happy about it, but he didn’t pout and he pitched great out of the bullpen…and then for one reason or another we’re having to [start] him in our first ACC game.”
After making two appearances in relief against Seton Hall and UCLA, Gallen got his first start of the year in the season’s third week against Rhode Island due to the loss of closer Reilly Hovis–an injury that forced Coach Fox to shuffle junior Trent Thornton from the weekend rotation into his current bullpen role.
In that game, Gallen went six innings and struck out a then career-high nine hitters, despite being credited with the loss.
The stage was set then, for the sophomore to get a chance to pitch in the team’s aforementioned ACC opener against its cross-town rival, the Duke Blue Devils.
He did not disappoint either, this time earning a win, while going seven innings and picking up yet another career-high in strikeouts with 12—a number that has yet to be matched by any other Tar Heel this season, prompting Coach Fox to issue a strong statement afterwards.
“I’m hoping all the other pitchers just take a look at that,” Fox said about Gallen’s situation after he mowed down the Duke lineup, “Be prepared.”
The main difference between this year’s Zac Gallen and last year’s Zac Gallen, according to the man himself, is a shiny new toy he installed in his repertoire during the off-season.
“I picked up a cutter this summer. I just happened to be [playing] catch with a buddy and just kinda picked it up. I just felt a good angle on my ball,” Gallen says, adding that “I feel good staying in the lower half of the [strike] zone, which is helping out a lot.”
When he’s out on the mound pitching, Gallen gives off an aura of confidence without needing to say anything at all.
His one, singular, focus is on throwing strikes–something that never wavered throughout the tough times he faced, says junior Korey Dunbar, who has been the catcher behind the plate in each of Gallen’s starts.
“I think with him moving to the bullpen at the start the season, he kinda came out [in the starting rotation] with a chip on his shoulder. It’s shown and he’s done a really good job,” says Dunbar.
“He’s the type of guy that’s not gonna show a lot of emotion on the mound, he’s just in command of everything. That’s his huge thing is command.”
Keeping his fastball-cutter combination in the strike zone has been the key to success for Gallen since the year began.
To illustrate the type of control Gallen exhibits, the New Jersey native has started 25 games for Coach Fox since arriving in Chapel Hill, and has never walked more than three batters in a game.
Now think about this–UNC drew five walks in the first inning against Virginia Tech starter Jon Woodcock last Saturday, and drew another four against Campbell starter Heath Bowers in Tuesday’s first inning.
“He’s a strike thrower,” says Coach Fox on Gallen’s control, “He gets us into the sixth and seventh inning, which is what you want on Fridays. I think he’s pitched well. He’s really only had one bad outing.”
Against Pittsburgh on the road in early March, Gallen set career highs in walks (three) and runs allowed (eight), while only making it through 3.2 innings.
To this day, it remains Gallen’s only start of the season to not last five innings or longer.
But a month later, in another rivalry start, against NC State in front of a sell-out home crowd and a national television audience, he provided yet another stroke of magic—going all nine innings to preserve a 2-1 Tar Heel victory, in a game that went right down to the wire.
Coach Fox couldn’t help but crack a smile after that game–one which the official team Twitter account declared “Gallentine’s Day“.
“It’s mind-boggling to me that we had him pitching in relief the first [two] weekends of the season. He wasn’t even one of our first three starters,” Fox said with a chuckle, “We laugh about that now.”
Despite picking up a loss last weekend at Virginia Tech, Gallen was solid for the first five innings, allowing just one run during that time, before eventually giving up four in the sixth to earn his spot on the bench.
As the season progresses into its final stages, and more importantly tournament time, Coach Fox will need his starting rotation to continue carrying the bulk of the load in order to have a chance to make a serious run at his seventh College World Series appearance.
And of course, as the Friday man, that all begins with Zac Gallen.
Boston College has won five games in a row and will present the UNC right-hander with a stiff test in the series opener. The Eagles will likely send 6’3” sophomore Mike King to the mound to face-off with Gallen—which should make for an interesting match-up, as King threw a complete game of his own last Friday against No. 24 Georgia Tech, shutting the Yellow Jackets out en route to tossing a one-hitter.
First pitch for Friday’s pitching showdown at Boshamer Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m., with all three games in the series set to be shown on ESPN3 and broadcast live on 97.9 FM, WCHL.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/gallen-fridays-key-diamond-heels-stretch
When Marcus Paige gets involved early, it’s usually a welcome sign for the Tar Heels.
The junior guard did just that Wednesday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum, leading the No. 5 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team to an 81-63 victory over No. 12 seed Boston College in the second round of the ACC Tournament.
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With the win, the Tar Heels improved to 22-10 overall and 12-7 in ACC play, while the Eagles dropped to 13-19 on the season.
UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto, the defensive ‘riverboat gambler’ for the Tar Heels according to head coach Roy Williams, saw his gamble pay off against the ACC’s leading scorer, Olivier Hanlan.
“He’s big time, a big-time player, and our goal was to try to make sure he didn’t shoot a great percentage,” Coach Williams says.
In the first half, Hanlan struggled to gain much traction against the long arms and standout athleticism of Tokoto. Hanlan missed 12 of his first 14 shots.
Leading the scoring charge for Carolina was the aforementioned Paige and junior forward Brice Johnson, who both tallied 17 points. As a team, the Tar Heels shot a productive 49 percent from the floor and knocked down 75 percent of their free throws.
Paige had more bounce to his step, saying after the game he was getting close to proclaiming himself fully fit. It’s the perfect time of the year to be getting your feet back.
“Coach (Roy Williams) didn’t talk about it a lot but I brought it up today as we coming to the gym, that we lost the first day we played last year,” Paige says. “That it was bad and we went straight back home. I was telling the guys, `You don’t want that feeling.”
The Eagles were led by 20 points from Aaron Brown, a graduate student who transferred from Southern Miss.
UNC took a 43-30 advantage into the halftime locker room and never looked back from there to race away from the offensively-challenged Boston College squad.
It wasn’t just the scoreboard that favored UNC either. The boards were dominated by the Tar Heels as well. They boasted a 43-25 rebounding edge.
Next up for the Tar Heels comes a quarterfinal date with the No. 4 seed Louisville Cardinals. If the two previous encounters in 2015 tell us anything, it’s to expect another hotly-contested battle Thursday afternoon.
Roy Williams says he remains doubtful sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks will play. Meeks has been battling a high fever all week and has not practiced.
The Tar Heels have been coming up short against the league’s best teams down the stretch of the regular season. They’ll get another crack at the ACC’s upper crust this week in Greensboro. That is, if No. 19 North Carolina can first get past Boston College Wednesday afternoon.
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UNC head coach Roy Williams says he’s packing four suits for the ACC Tournament.
“It’s a new season now. We get to go over there and see if we can play our tails off for four days. If we do, we got a chance to win the whole thing. When we play really well, we got a chance to win the whole thing. That’s our goal – to try to play really well,” Coach Williams says.
Carolina, 21-10 overall and 11-7 in the ACC, will enter the conference postseason as the No. 5 seed for the fifth time in history and just the second time since 1964. With that No. 5 beside its name in the bracket, the Tar Heels haven’t fared so well, owning a 1-4 record in that slot.
What’s more, UNC will likely need to try and survive the second round contest without the services of sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks, who’s been battling a high fever this week.
But teammate Brice Johnson says the show must go on.
“We’ve had situations like this before. Somebody’s got to step up. We have a great number of post players on this team. Nobody’s guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup. He [Coach] can either change the lineup or Kennedy can still play,” Johnson says.
The opponent for Wednesday’s 2 p.m. tipoff in the Greensboro Coliseum will be the surging Boston College Eagles, who downed Georgia Tech in thrilling fashion, 66-65, in the first round.
BC head coach Jim Christian says he’s proud of his veteran players, who’ve now quietly led the Eagles to four straight ACC victories.
“The resiliency of our team the last three weeks is what I’m really proud of. I’ve said before, especially the seniors, they’re helping me change the culture of this program day-by-day. They just continue to compete, fight and stay together,” Coach Christian says.
UNC clipped BC, 79-68, in Chestnut Hill Feb. 7. The game was certainly competitive, but for UNC, the expectations are higher than a second round win against a bottom-tier team.
On that note, Coach Williams reflects on a difficult past few seasons for the Tar Heels.
“This league is pretty tough. Even the last three years when I’ve been frustrated, we’ve been third, third and fifth. It is fifteen teams. It’s not like eight teams like in the old days. If you would have told me fifth with eight teams, I wouldn’t have been pleased at all. We’ve won some big games. We’ve played great on some nights and played poorly on others,” Coach Williams says.
Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory knows all about frustration. He likely surrendered his final game at the helm of the Ramblin’ Wreck when BC junior guard Olivier Hanlan’s game-winning shot found the nets Tuesday afternoon.
Hanlan, an All-ACC first team selection, tallied 25 points against the Yellow Jackets and says he’s looking forward to facing off with Carolina.
“I take the ACC Tournament like a new season. Everybody is on the same level as far as everybody being zero-zero. Definitely, playing against UNC and UNC being so close to here, it will definitely feel like a road game, but definitely feel like a pretty good ACC Tournament game,” Hanlan says.
Postseason play does wipe the slate clean. Everybody has a new lease on life. Hopes are high. And for Carolina’s Johnson, those hopes include the hanging of a banner.
“We were that close to getting a ring my freshman year. I feel like this team is a lot better. We have to be able to go out there and be prepared to play anybody. We want to be able to hang a banner in the Smith Center,” Johnson says.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will move on to face No. 4 seed Louisville on quarterfinal Thursday and more importantly, keep dreams of an ACC title alive.http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/roy-williams-bringing-four-suits-to-greensboro