Williams Throws Another Gem to Lead UNC Baseball Past Liberty
Freshman left-hander Hunter Williams tossed six scoreless innings, and allowed just three hits, carrying the UNC baseball team to a 6-0 shutout victory over the Liberty Flames on Wednesday night at Boshamer Stadium.
Over his last three starts, all mid-week games (vs Appalachian State, at Elon, and this one vs Liberty), the freshman has now thrown eighteen innings, while giving up just two runs and seven hits combined.
The Tar Heels are now 2-0 on their current homestand, and improve their record to 20-13 with the non-conference victory. Liberty drops its second consecutive game, but still has an impressive record of 21-12, even with the loss.
Williams (3-1), a big 6’3″ pitcher with a fastball topping out around 93 miles per hour, struggled with his control in the early portion of the game, walking two batters in the first inning, and another in the second. However, that fastball was put to good use, as Williams also struck five men out in the first three frames to keep the Flames off the board.
Head coach Mike Fox says that Williams’ recovery completely changed the flow of the game.
“It’s funny how you go from being basically one batter, or maybe one or two pitches from coming out of the game, to throwing six innings,” says Fox, “That’s how crazy the game is, because if we had to go to our bullpen in the first inning, it would have been an entirely different game.”
Landon Lassiter kept Liberty off the board in the fifth with this diving catch in left-field. (UNC Athletics)
Stranding six Flames on base through that time period proved to be key for the UNC defense, as the Tar Heel bats were asleep early on. They picked up just one hit against Liberty starting pitcher Shawn Clowers (7-2) through four innings–a second inning single from right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, the team’s hottest hitter (seven RBI in the previous two games leading into Wednesday).
Liberty threatened to score the game’s first run with two outs in the top of the fifth, but Landon Lassiter made an incredible diving catch to end the inning, and keep the Flames’ from driving in the man they had on third base.
And then in the bottom of the fifth, Ramirez was hit by pitch to lead-off the inning, which set up a huge opportunity for UNC. Adrian Chacon followed with a walk to set the Tar Heels up with two men on and no outs, still with just one hit. After Ramirez advanced to third base on Eli Sutherland’s fly-out, freshman Zack Gahagan broke out of his recent slump, smacking an RBI single through the right side of the infield to give Carolina the first run, and lead, of the night.
They would eventually load the bases with two outs, still in the fifth, for Tuesday’s offensive leader, designated hitter Adam Pate. But keeping with the team’s biggest flaw to this point in the year, Pate would ground out to end the inning, stranding three men, and keeping the Flames within striking distance.
The man who decided to fix that issue, was likely the last one anyone could have expected. Eli Sutherland, a junior college transfer, who is not very big (to say the least), came up with the bases loaded in the very next inning. And he would deliver the game’s most important hit, clearing the bases with a three-run double, scoring Landon Lassiter, Tyler Ramirez, and Korey Dunbar to give Williams a four-run cushion.
“It felt pretty good,” says Sutherland, “My first two at-bats I felt like I wasn’t as aggressive as I wanted to be, but after I laid off the 1-0 changeup, I felt like he was coming at me with the fastball, so I wanted to get my hands out early on it.”
Pitching coach Scott Forbes would not allow his starter to go back out for the seventh, though, as he had already thrown 109 pitches. For the night Williams went six scoreless innings, giving up just three hits, while striking out six in his third straight winning performance.
Eli Sutherland’s three-run double in the bottom of the sixth. (UNC Athletics)
Coming on for Williams to begin the seventh was sophomore reliever AJ Bogucki. He would allow the first two men he faced to reach base, forcing the UNC coaching staff to turn to the NCAA leader in relief appearances, senior Trevor Kelley, yet again.
Throughout all this, Williams placed full trust in his relievers, despite some recent struggles out of the bullpen.
“I had full faith in them,” says Williams.
“All you can do when you come in from the bullpen is try to get that first guy out. That’s probably the biggest point of coming out of the bullpen is to get the first guy.”
Of course, as he’s done all year long, Kelley pitched two more scoreless innings to preserve the shutout, giving up just one hit in the process.
Insurance then found the Tar Heels in the bottom of the eighth, as catcher Korey Dunbar drilled a two-run homer to put the Flames in an even deeper hole for freshman reliever Hansen Butler, who was chosen to close it out in the ninth.
Butler held Liberty without a run in his first shot at pitching a ninth inning, making sure the shutout was kept intact.
Rivalry week heats up heading into the weekend, as the NC State Wolfpack make the short drive across the triangle to take on the Tar Heels in a three-game ACC series beginning on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The first game of the series will be televised on ESPNU, and all games will be carried live on WCHL’s radio airwaves.
- This game was another rematch for UNC, as they previously beat Liberty 6-4 at the beginning of March.
- Right-fielder Tyler Ramirez picked up his third straight multi-hit game, going 2-3 with a double and a hit by pitch.
- UNC only left four men on base for the game, a vast improvement from recent games.
- Dunbar’s home run was his fourth of the year, tying him for the team lead with outfielders Tyler Ramirez and Skye Bolt.
FINAL BOX SCORE
UNC WBB Holds Off Liberty in NCAA First Round
The Tar Heels were able to hold Liberty off in the second half despite the Flames attempt to come back from a 14-point deficit. With a final score of 71-65, North Carolina lives to play another game in the NCAA Tournament.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game because Liberty’s tough and it’s just typical of these first round games that we’ve been seeing in both the men’s and women’s tournaments. So we’re happy for the win and we’re looking forward to playing on Monday night.”
The fourth-seeded Tar Heels shot 49 percent and Allisha Gray led the way with 17 points. Stephanie Mavunga put up 12 points and credits the guards for pressuring the offense at the top.
“We fronted the post a lot. That was really a big thing,” Mavunga said. “Also, the on-the-ball defense from the top and the wings… the guards did a really good job mirroring the ball that way they didn’t have a good look so they couldn’t pass it into the post as easily.”
Liberty made a run in the second half and cut Carolina’s 14 point lead to 65-59. Coach Sylvia Hatchell says poor rebounding gave the Flames an opportunity to come back.
“Our rebounding was…. I don’t know what words you could use to describe it… but it was pretty bad. So we have to do a lot better job with that,” Coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
Senior Latifah Coleman scored 15 points—the most she has scored in 2015. Coleman says having Coach Hatchell back this season is emotional for the team.
“Every time we think about the tournament and last year we get filled with emotion. I mean, having Coach Hatchell back is great it’s just more fuel to the fire and there’s more purpose to what we do and why we do it,” Coleman said.
North Carolina plays Ohio State Monday night at Carmichael Arena in the 2nd round of the tournament.
FINAL BOX SCORE
Flames Extinguished by UNC Baseball
Clutch performances from freshmen hitters lifted Coach Mike Fox and his 11th ranked UNC baseball squad to a 6-4 road win Monday night over the Liberty Flames in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Tar Heels were able to recover from their loss on Sunday and improve to 7-3, while Liberty drops to 6-4.
Third baseman Logan Warmoth continued his impressive first year campaign with an RBI single smacked to left-field right out of the gate. The hit drove in junior Landon Lassiter to give Carolina a 1-0 lead. He also drew a bases loaded walk in the bottom of the fourth inning for his second RBI of the game.
Warmoth’s classmate, and roommate, first baseman Zack Gahagan, blasted his first career home run with a solo shot to lead off the fourth.
On the mound for the Tar Heels was yet another freshman, 6’3″ lefty Hunter Williams, who was making his first career start, however he went just two innings and allowed one earned run before handing the ball off to the bullpen; an effort to save arms with four more games scheduled this week.
Trevor Kelley was outstanding against Liberty, going 5.1 innings in relief before allowing a runner to reach base. (Daily Tar Heel)
UNC quickly recovered after an infield error and a wild pitch let Liberty tie game in the bottom of the first, snatching the lead in the second behind back-to-back triples from the speedsters, Adam Pate and Brian Miller, as both men were able to score, giving Williams the lead back (Miller’s also a freshman).
Once Liberty scored another run in the bottom of the second, it was a senior, reliever Trevor Kelley (1-0), who came in and dominated, baffling Flame hitters the rest of the night. He went 5.1 innings before allowing a runner to reach base, picking up the win and throwing just 41 pitches in the process.
In just his third at-bat of his own freshman season, all of them as a pinch hitter, Ryder Ryan doubled down the left field line in the top of the seventh, scoring Alex Raburn and providing yet another RBI for the Tar Heel young guns.
Trent Thornton came on to replace Kelley with one out in the eighth after another throwing error, wild pitch combination allowed Liberty to close the gap to three.
Much like in the two wins against Rhode Island last weekend, the junior from Charlotte was able to record five outs en route to earning his third save of the season, but it didn’t come easy. He walked Liberty’s pinch hitter Nick Walker and allowed a double to shortstop Dalton Britt. A wild pitch let Walker score and bring the tying run to the plate for the Flames.
Thornton didn’t back down though, as he brought out his bulldog mentality and retired the next two batters to end the game.
Carolina is scheduled to face VCU on Wednesday at 3 P.M in their return to Boshamer Stadium. The game was originally set for Tuesday, but was moved due to rain and cold temperatures in the forecast. Wednesday’s high temperature is supposed to be near 70 degrees.
- Freshmen combined for five of UNC’s six RBI for the game (Warmoth- 2, Gahagan- 1, Miller- 1, Ryan-1)
- Liberty recorded just three hits on the day, but scored four runs with help from three Tar Heel errors
- Carolina got help defensively with two double plays on the night
- UNC went 4-11 (.364) at the plate with two outs
Suspensions Pulling Focus From Liberty
UNC football head coach Larry Fedora says he can’t help but worry that this week’s focus on an off-the-field incident has taken some of his player’s focus off of Liberty.
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“You know me, I worry about every kind of thing that could be a distraction,” Coach Fedora says. “But, I know this: we’ve got a large amount of players on this football team that have worked their rear ends off for a long (time) to get to this point. So, it would be a shame and a tragedy to let any kind of distraction to keep you from playing at your best. So, that’s my job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Wednesday’s announcement of four suspensions removes cornerbacks Des Lawrence, M.J. Stewart, and Brian Walker, as well as Donnie Miles from the season opener against the Flames.
UNC Football: Four Suspended Vs Liberty
Coach Fedora says he’s confident those suspensions won’t limit what the Tar Heels can accomplish this weekend.
“We’re not going to change the game plan or anything,” Coach Fedora said. “We’ve got other guys that have been preparing to play in those positions all, also, so now there’s just less depth defensively and on special teams. A couple of guys may have to move around a little bit to help us in some positions, but we’ll get it covered.”
No. 23 North Carolina and the FCS Big South’s Liberty kick off at 6:00 p.m. Saturday at Kenan Stadium. Pregame coverage on WCHL begins at 3:00 p.m. with the UNC Health Care Countdown to Kickoff with Ron Stutts presented Stanley Martin Homes live from Franklin Street on the lawn of University United Methodist Church. That will be followed by The Good Sports with Art C and BobLee before we send it off to the Tar Heel Sports Network at 5:00 p.m.
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No. 1 UNC Baseball Tops Liberty With Help From Colin Moran Grand Slam
CHAPEL HILL – The No. 1 UNC baseball team blew past Liberty with a grand slam by its homerun leader to take win number 31 on the season, 7-5 Wednesday night at the Bosh.The Flames are one of just a few teams to have an early lead on the Tar Heels this season, but that lead didn’t last long. The 1-1 tie after three was taken over by Carolina in the fifth when junior Colin Moran hit his team-leading eighth homerun, a grand slam that batted in freshman Landon Lassiter, junior Brian Holberton, and freshman Matt Campbell.
The Tar Heels added a security run in the sixth and one in the seventh, and despite four runs by the Flames in the top of the ninth, took the 7-5 decision.
With the win, North Carolina improved to 31-2; Liberty fell to 18-16.
The Tar Heels return to ACC play this weekend with a three-game series against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m. That contest will be joined in progress at 6:00 p.m. immediately following the WCHL Evening News with Aaron Keck.