With all the snow and ice covering the East Coast, you can’t blame the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball team for thinking this game against Virginia Tech was some sort of vacation.
The Tar Heels came into Cassell Coliseum on Sunday riding a 10-game win streak–then opened up a 20-point lead on the Hokies in the first half.
But after a furious Virginia Tech rally, the Tar Heels were forced to hang on for a narrow 75-70 victory.
It was a comeback that quickly reminded Roy Williams’ team that they were, in fact, on a business trip.
“We started thinking it was gonna be easy,” the UNC head coach said after the game. “And I also took out Brice [Johnson]. I took out Kennedy [Meeks]. Isaiah [Hicks] was out. So three of our top six guys were out because they had two fouls.
“I’ve said all year long, our depth has got to be important to us, and I think it was,” he added.
Johnson, the Tar Heels’ best player as of late, added to his ACC Player of the Year resume with 19 points and 17 rebounds. He also made a significant impact on the defensive end–chipping in four steals and three blocks to help put away the upset-minded Hokies.
UNC is now 18-2 this season (7-0 ACC), but has not played the prettiest basketball over its past three games.
Joel Berry was the only Tar Heel to join Johnson in double figures–scoring 13, despite making just three of his 11 shots.
The struggles also continued for Marcus Paige.
Paige, the senior guard who came into Sunday shooting a combined 3-for-25 from the field with eight points over the past three games, finished with just seven points and made just two of his 10 shots. He did contribute seven assists, however, and hit a pair of critical free throws down the stretch.
“I know there’s frustration,” Williams said of Paige. “I don’t think it’s pressure. He and I talk, so I don’t think he’s pressing or anything. I think he’s extremely frustrated, which, I think he should be extremely frustrated.
“If I had made three of my last 25,” the coach continued. “Hell, I’d be hesitant too.”
As a team, the Tar Heels connected on just three of their 23 attempts from three-point range on Sunday–and made just 37.8 percent of their field goals.
The foul trouble that hampered UNC’s big men early on against the Hokies forced freshman Luke Maye into 11 minutes of playing time.
It also allowed Virginia Tech (12-8, 4-3 ACC) to get to the free throw line 32 times–of which it made 22. The Hokies–led by Zach Leday’s 17 points–drilled eight three-pointers on the day, with three of them coming during the 18-3 run that closed out the first half.
Through it all, UNC still found a way to win–as ugly as it may have been.
“I was not concerned,” Williams said about his team’s recent shooting woes. “But now, I can be concerned if I want to, because three games in a row is enough. [We’ve] got to be able to step up and make some shots.”
It’s been well-documented in recent weeks the amount of depth the Tar Heels have. But this win was more about grit than it was about having a number of different players step up.
As the lead dwindled and the clocked ticked away, Virginia Tech seemed to have an answer for everything the Tar Heels threw its way–until it mattered most.
With the score tied at 68 and just two minutes to play, UNC tightened up defensively and made plays when they were needed.
Johnson and Paige combined to hit five free throws down the stretch, while Berry found Justin Jackson underneath the rim for an easy layup in between.
The Hokies during that span missed three shots and turned the ball over twice.
Williams’ team simply put on its hard hats and did what it’s become accustomed to lately.
Grinding it out, no matter how much whiter it makes the coach’s hair.
Now, the number one ranking awaits.
If the Tar Heels do return to the top of the polls, they won’t make their first defense until Saturday, Jan. 30 at home against the Boston College Eagles–the ACC’s last place team.
It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game the UNC football team has played this year, but after letting a 14-point lead disintegrate in the final three minutes of regulation the 17th ranked Tar Heels were able to escape Blacksburg on Saturday with a 30-27 overtime victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies–keeping their playoff hopes intact.
“That’s why I’m in this,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said afterwards. “To see [the players] reach their goals and dreams. We sit in those living rooms and tell them and their parents that my dream is for them to reach their dreams when they come to Carolina.
“For those seniors, their No. 1 goal this year was to win the Coastal Division, and they’ve done that,” he added. “And we expect that to turn into bigger things.”
Senior quarterback Marquise Williams fumbled three times in the game–and twice in the fourth quarter with UNC trying to run out the clock–but his 5-yard touchdown pass to Quinshad Davis in the extra period was a walk-off winner.
“Marquise really was never shaken–I can’t say the same for me,” Fedora said. “After the second fumble, he came off and he was like, ‘Okay, I’m good, I’m good.’ I didn’t have a whole lot to say to him. I really didn’t. There was nothing good that I was going to say.
“He went over there and got himself ready to go,” the coach said about his quarterback. “He knew what was at stake and what he had to do, and then he went back out. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make a play.’”
Already UNC’s all-time leading receiver in terms of catches and touchdowns, Davis’s touchdown clinches the ACC Coastal Division for the Tar Heels and their head coach, Larry Fedora. It also marks the team’s 10th consecutive victory, bringing its record to 10-1 in 2015–and a perfect 7-0 against conference opponents.
All signs late in the ball game pointed to Virginia Tech pulling off a fairy tale ending for their head coach since 1987, Frank Beamer, in what was his final home game at Lane Stadium. Instead, Beamer’s squad falls to 5-6 overall and 3-4 in the ACC–needing a win next week against Virginia to keep his 22-year streak of making a bowl game alive.
Hokie quarterback Michael Brewer completed 20 of his 35 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns–each coming in the game’s closing minutes. His top target, receiver Isaiah Ford, continually burned the Tar Heel secondary deep all game long–catching eight passes for 155 yards and a score.
“When we talked all week about this game, we knew that this was the perfect storm,” Fedora said. “Everything was going against us. They had the tribute to Coach and they needed to get bowl eligible and it was the seniors’ last day in this stadium, and the black unis.”
A defensive battle for most of the day, Williams’s 18-yard touchdown run on the game’s first drive was the only touchdown of the first half. Joey Slye’s 32-yard field goal for Virginia Tech accounted for the only other points before the break, with UNC ahead 7-3.
The Tar Heels struggled with the crowd noise in Blacksburg, picking up seven false start penalties on offense–which helped contribute to the season-high eight punts they were forced into.
On top of that Williams struggled with his accuracy, only completing 13-of-26 throws, but for 205 yards and a score.
Taking advantage of that fact, the Hokies were able to hang around until the end–getting a 4-yard scoring run from Brewer to tie the game at 10 with the fourth quarter approaching.
Despite getting only three carries in the first half, Fedora turned to sophomore tailback Elijah Hood to try and put the game away in the end.
On back-to-back drives to begin the final period, the Tar Heels found the end zone by giving it to Hood, who gained 117 yards on 17 carries once it was all said and done.
Sophomore cornerback MJ Stewart then intercepted Brewer in the red zone with just over 5 minutes remaining and the Tar Heels up by a pair of touchdowns
It seemed, momentarily, like the game was over at that point. But the Hokies found a way to battle back.
A bad exchange on a handoff from Williams to Hood gave Virginia Tech the ball at their own 37-yard line. Then a couple of long passes by Brewer, one for 25 yards to fullback Sam Rogers, and a 26-yarder to Ford put them in business.
Four plays later–on fourth-and-goal–Brewer found 6-foot-7 tight end Bucky Hodges to make it 24-17 with 2:54 remaining.
TJ Logan got the Tar Heels going with a 21-yard rush to begin their next drive, but on the next play Williams fumbled again–and again Virginia Tech recovered.
Starting from UNC’s 48-yard line, Brewer and Ford struck again–this time on a 36-yard bomb that set the Hokies up 12 yards from the end zone.
The script was similar to the previous drive, as Tech faced 4th-and-2. Only this time Ford got to finish what he started, hauling in a 4-yard score that ended up sending the game to overtime.
UNC won the coin toss to begin the extra period and chose to start out on defense.
Virginia Tech was unable to even gain a first down in their chance with the ball, going three-and-out and settling for a 41-yard field goal–meaning a touchdown would win it for the Tar Heels.
And that’s exactly what they got, pulling things together after unraveling late.
An 18-yard pass from Williams to Ryan Switzer got the ball rolling on the drive’s first play, before a false start penalty a couple snaps later put the team in a precarious position.
Third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. With the ACC Coastal Division on the line.
In the season opener against South Carolina, Williams was faced with the same situation and ended up throwing the ball into the outstretched arms of a defender–the only reason this team isn’t undefeated now.
This time, though, he found the outstretched arms of the program’s most decorated receiver. And with it, the right to play No. 1 ranked Clemson two weeks from now in Charlotte, his hometown.
“We knew we were going to have to play error-free,” Fedora said. “That’s what we talked about, just be really good in the fundamentals and the techniques, and be brilliant in the basics.
“And we didn’t, but we found a way to win.”
Although this win clinches the Coastal Division for the Tar Heels, they’ll still have to defeat the arch-rival NC State Wolfpack in Raleigh next week to keep their playoff hopes alive.
That’s all it will take for the No. 12 ranked UNC football team to clinch the ACC Coastal Division and continue its dream season.
Standing in front of them?
A date in Blacksburg against the Virginia Tech Hokies–in what will be the final home game for their legendary head coach, Frank Beamer.
Blowout victories over Duke and Miami in the last couple weeks have shown fans that head coach Larry Fedora’s team is a force to be reckoned with. Ranked 17th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the 9-1 Tar Heels have been largely overlooked thanks to losing the season opener to a now 3-7 South Carolina team, and also for having a weak strength of schedule that hasn’t included a single top 25 opponent.
Because of that, UNC’s playoff credentials have been a hot button issue this week. But for senior quarterback Marquise Williams, none of it matters much at this point.
“It’s cool, but you can tell [the playoff committee] still doesn’t respect [us],” Williams said at Monday’s weekly press conference. “As long as [we] just keep winning football games—and keep winning by 30 and 40 points—I mean, eventually they’ll have to respect [us].
“It’s fun, but you can tell deep down inside they don’t wanna talk about Carolina football,” he added with a chuckle. “And that’s alright.”
The Tar Heels have an outside shot at making the four-team playoff for the national championship by winning out, and defeating Clemson in a potential ACC title game.
The next step, though, is to defeat Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium—notoriously one of the loudest environments in college football. Although the Hokies have struggled to an uncharacteristic 5-5 record so far, Fedora refuses to look past his opponent.
“It will be an extremely tough game, playing up there in Blacksburg,” Fedora said. “Especially with Coach Beamer’s last home game.
“There will be a tremendous amount of emotion,” he added. “I’m sure that there will be a lot of former players there to see him in his last game, and so we will definitely have our work cut out for us.”
Beamer has been the coach at Virginia Tech since 1987 and has won 234 games, made 22 bowl appearances, and produced NFL standouts like Michael Vick and DeAngelo Hall along the way. His teams have always been extremely sound on special teams and hard-nosed on defense—which Williams says could present a challenge this week for him and the rest of the dynamic Tar Heel offense.
“That’s always been a great defense,” Williams said about the Hokies. “You can’t look over them because they’re ready. [Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s] gonna have them ready to go in this game for Frank Beamer and it’s exciting.
“They play [man-to-man coverage]” the senior continued. “They’re gonna make [us] beat them one-on-one, and make competitive catches.”
Part of the Tar Heels’ recent success has come because they have taken care of the football—avoiding turnovers in each of their past three games. That’s something Fedora and his staff have preached all year long.
But that’s not the only message he’s given to the team that has stayed consistent throughout the season.
“Coastal Division champs, state champs—that’s it,” Fedora said. “I don’t really get into it, I just tell [the players] our goal every week.”
He then added that, “We’re like trained pigs. We’ve got something and we just keep doing it over and over and over.”
That mindset has helped the UNC offense grow into one of the nation’s most dominant, while its defense has been by far the most improved—allowing just 19 points per contest in 2015 after giving up 39 a game just one year ago.
Senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer—who has been critical to that turnaround–has also not been afraid to tell the truth about what’s been on the minds of the Tar Heel players all week.
“We’re not worried about Frank Beamer’s last home game or any of that,” Schoettmer said. “We control our own destiny to win the Coastal and get to the ACC Championship. So that’s really what we’re worried about.”
The game is set to begin Saturday at noon, and will be broadcast live on WCHL’s radio airwaves (97.9 FM, 1360 AM). It will also be televised on ESPN.
Facing a potential “do or die” scenario on Tuesday, Zac Gallen led the struggling UNC baseball team to their most important victory of the season–a 5-3 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies in Durham that puts the Tar Heels into the pool play portion of the ACC Tournament.
Had Carolina (33-22, 14-16 ACC) lost, there was speculation that they may not be selected for the NCAA tournament.
Those worries can likely be put to bed now, thanks to Gallen’s clutch performance–which also preserves the thin UNC pitching staff for the rest of the week.
Gallen (4-3) worked 6.2 innings for the game, surrendering just two runs on eight hits. He struck out seven hitters in the process.
Versatile infielder Alex Raburn had three hits for the Tar Heels to lead the offensive charge. Landon Lassiter had a pair of doubles and Skye Bolt picked up two RBIs to help the cause.
Virginia Tech’s season is likely over, as they finish the year at 27-27 overall and 13-17 in the ACC.
The Tar Heels’ All-ACC second team starting pitcher came out on top this time in his pitching rematch with Hokie left-hander Kit Scheetz.
“The main thing for me is just to try to keep my composure”, Gallen said after the game.
“If I make my pitches most of the time they’re going to get themselves out. I just try to stay out of the middle of the plate and make them hit my pitches, not try to give up any free hits. So luckily today I made some good pitches. I got some help from the defense, they really bailed me out,” he added.
Gallen allowed a lead-off single to Virginia Tech center fielder Saige Jenco in the first inning, but then struck out the side–in a moment that foreshadowed what was to come.
Trouble looked like it had found Gallen in the second when he surrendered a base hit and a pair of walks to load the bases for Virginia Tech. Jenco then picked up his second single of the day, striking first blood for the Hokies.
But the sophomore from Gibbsboro, New Jersey remained calm and got shortstop Alex Perez to fly out and end the inning without any further damage being done.
The Hokies had another chance to break the game open in the top of the fourth–putting runners on first and third with just one out–but once again Gallen kept his composure and escaped the jam.
Not until the seventh did he leave the game after giving up the Hokies’ second run. Jenco struck again with a two-out double, which was directly followed by an RBI single from Perez.
Reliable senior Trevor Kelley then took over for Gallen to pick up the final out of the frame.
After letting the Hokies creep to within one run in the top of the eighth, Kelley found himself in a difficult position with runners on first and third and only one out.
“It was a big situation. I had to get like two back to back strikeouts. And for me I’m just I’m more of a ground ball guy. And to get two strikeouts in a big situation, that’s very rewarding for me,” Kelley said.
The senior from Wilmington then returned to the mound and worked a scoreless ninth inning to seal the deal–striking out two more Hokies on his way to the save.
Meanwhile, Scheetz (3-4), who defeated Gallen by going seven strong innings on April 17, lasted just four on Tuesday.
Although he kept the Tar Heel offense at bay during the first three frames, he was done in by his defense in the bottom half of the fourth–as the momentum shifted completely.
Carolina got a huge break when Jenco dropped a routine fly ball in center field hit by Landon Lassiter to lead off the inning. Lassiter advanced all the way to third on the error, coming home to tie the game soon after on a sacrifice fly from Skye Bolt.
Two more runs would score for UNC–on a pair of RBI singles from freshman roommates Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan–to give Gallen a comfortable cushion to work with on the mound the rest of the way.
An RBI groundout from Skye Bolt in the next inning proved to be the difference in a win that did not come easy.
A perfectly executed suicide squeeze play by Eli Sutherland in the Carolina half of the eighth sent Korey Dunbar across the plate for the fifth, and final, Tar Heel run of the game.
“[We’ve] got to play under pressure,” said UNC Head Coach Mike Fox, “Our team has competed pretty much all year, we just haven’t been great”
“But we got the win that we needed to….we’ll focus on that. We need to continue to get better as a team, certainly,” he added.
The Tar Heels are now a part of a four team group that includes No. 3 Louisville, No. 13 Florida State, and Clemson.
UNC will play Louisville on Wednesday at 7 p.m., Florida State on Thursday at 7 p.m., and Clemson on Friday at 3 p.m.
The team with the best record in the group after Friday will play in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.
As the ACC baseball tournament begins at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday eighth-seeded UNC will take on the ninth-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the second of two play-in games–and a loss could potentially end the Tar Heels’ season.
Just a few short weeks ago it was thought that the Tar Heels could potentially host an NCAA Tournament regional at Boshamer Stadium.
Now they’ve been swept in back-to-back ACC series for the first time since 2001 on their way to a 13-16 record in league play. Pair that with an unspectacular 32-22 overall mark and you get a head coach with six College World Series appearances just hoping to play past Tuesday.
“I think Tuesday’s do or die for us,” said Mike Fox, “I don’t think you can finish 13-16 in your conference–and lose the play-in game–and go to the NCAA Tournament.”
“That’s me just speaking, not looking at all the numbers and all the teams. I think you gotta earn you way in.”
You have to go back again to 2001 to find the last time a UNC baseball team missed the NCAA tournament, a year where it finished 31-26.
Virginia Tech also the finished the year at 13-16 in league play, but with an overall mark barely above .500–at 27-26.
The conference tournament format—which has the teams finishing seventh through tenth compete in “winner take all” play-in games in order to advance to the pool play portion of the event—does not sit particularly well with Coach Fox.
“I do not like one-and-done, I’ve voiced my disapproval of that from day one,” said the coach, “There’s Virginia [in] seventh, and they’ve been playing well, and now they’re in a one game elimination. And that’s tough because they’re a good team. I think they’re deserving, especially with the way they finished [sweeping UNC this past weekend].”
“It’s hard. Baseball’s just not that type of game where it should be just one game elimination. That’s just my opinion.”
To move on, the Tar Heels will need a victory against a Virginia Tech team that has already proven it can beat this UNC squad, doing so on April 17 in Blacksburg against Carolina’s All-ACC Second Team starting pitcher Zac Gallen—a loss that has not been forgotten in Chapel Hill.
“Yeah, Virginia Tech gave us certainly all we could handle up there,” said Coach Fox, “We’re starting Zac Gallen [on Tuesday] and he pitched the first game up there and got knocked around pretty good. Gave up a couple long-balls.”
“They’re gonna present all kinds of problems for us.”
The most notable threat wearing a Virginia Tech jersey on Tuesday will be first baseman Brendon Hayden. Hayden was named to the All-ACC First Team after ending the regular season with 11 home runs–including a pair against UNC–51 RBIs, and a .314 batting average.
Although there is a possibility UNC could play three or four more games this week, Coach Fox can’t look past Tuesday–especially when it comes to thinking about how he’ll use his pitchers.
“When you put yourself in this position to play on Tuesday, you’re set up for whatever the league decides to do with you, in terms of the next three days, and we really can’t think about that. All hands are on deck with our pitching staff,” he said.
If Carolina does win its play-in game, it would be placed into a group alongside Louisville, Florida State, and Clemson. Louisville and its first-round MLB draft prospect, starting pitcher Kyle Funkhouser, would be the opponent on Wednesday.
The Tar Heels are competing in the play-in round for the second year in a row, having defeated NC State 4-3 last year in Greensboro.
UNC also defeated Virginia Tech 4-1 in the 2013 ACC Championship Game, which was the last time the tournament was held in Durham.
First pitch for the game Tuesday is scheduled for 3 p.m.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tuesday-holds-the-key-for-tar-heels-ncaa-hopes
Brian Miller’s sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth inning broke a 10-10 tie, and helped the #23 Tar Heel baseball team pick up a wild 11-10 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Carolina moves to 24-15 on the season, with an even 10-10 mark in the ACC, while the loss sends the Hokies back to 19-21 overall and 8-12 in the conference.
On a day that included three bases loaded hit-by-pitches, four multiple run rallies, 14 walks, and saw neither starting pitcher make it longer than two innings, UNC held on at the end thanks to Miller’s sac fly and a strong 4.1 inning relief performance from Trent Thornton (2-4).
Like a young kid on a swing-set, this game was back and forth all day long.
In a rather bizarre turn of events, the Tar Heels scored four runs in the top of the first inning without even getting a hit against Virginia Tech starting pitcher Jon Woodcock. After getting the UNC lead-off man, Miller, to fly-out to begin the game, Woodcock walked the next five men he faced, and then hit the sixth–allowing Skye Bolt, Landon Lassiter, and Tyler Ramirez to come all the way around and score.
Woodcock was then done for the day after picking up just one out, with the junior credited with a fourth earned run in the frame when Carolina freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth hit a sacrifice fly off his replacement, Chris Monaco.
The Hokies were not rattled though, as they answered back immediately against super freshman JB Bukauskas with four runs of their own.
Four of their first five batters reached base against Bukauskas, with left-fielder Erik Payne’s two-run single cutting the lead in half, before first baseman Brendon Hayden’s second two-run homer in as many days erased the whole thing, making it a whole new ball-game tied at four apiece–after just one inning.
Crazily enough, the teams each tacked on a few more runs in the third in similar fashion, with the Hokies eventually snatching the lead and chasing Bukauskas from the game.
In Carolina’s turn at the plate Chris Monaco hit Tyler Ramirez with a pitch, allowed a single to Korey Dunbar, and walked Joe Dudek–all with the bases loaded–to put the UNC small-ball attack in business.
Second baseman Eli Sutherland hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Ramirez, and then Dunbar scored on a sacrifice bunt by Logan Warmoth, because of a fielding error on Virginia Tech catcher Andrew Mogg at home plate, putting the Tar Heels back in front– even though they had amassed their six runs with just one hit.
But the Brendon Hayden show was not done yet, as the 6’6″ senior out of Twin Lakes, Wisconsin followed a pair of no-out walks with a game-tying two-run double. Hayden would then score to put his team ahead on another RBI double, this one by designated hitter Sean Keselica.
Seven runs was enough for UNC head coach Mike Fox to end the shakiest start of Bukauskas’ young career after just two innings.
He replaced the freshman with his go-to relief man, senior Trevor Kelley, who allowed another run to cross the plate before getting out of the inning– on a controversial bases loaded hit-by-pitch call, which ended up getting Coach Fox ejected from the game, after Fox unsuccessfully argued that Tech’s Mac Caples was not hit, but actually tipped the ball foul.
So of course, the Tar Heels went ahead and put together a rally for their leader.
Loading the bases in the top of the fifth with no outs, Carolina got one run back on Skye Bolt’s ground-out, and then followed up with a two-run single to left-field by Landon Lassiter. The inning wasn’t done until the Tar Heels scored a fourth time after Eli Sutherland was plunked by reliever Luke Scherzer (1-3) for the third bases loaded hit-by-pitch of the game, swinging momentum back into the visiting dugout yet again.
The Hokies got one run back in their next time at the plate, when center-fielder Saige Jenco drove in a run to make it 10-9, but that play spurred the Tar Heels to pull Trevor Kelley in favor of Trent Thornton, who put an end to the fifth with UNC still ahead.
Keeping with the theme of the game though, Virginia Tech made sure to tie the game against Thornton in the bottom of the sixth on Sean Keselica’s second RBI of the day–making it an outrageous 10-10 tie entering the seventh inning stretch.
Finally though, the game would be decided, when Eli Sutherland doubled off Scherzer to lead off the Tar Heels’ eighth inning effort, and later scored on Miller’s sacrifice fly, while Thornton settled down after the sixth to pitch three straight scoreless innings to keep the Hokies offense at bay the rest of the game–earning a crucial win for his team–and avoiding the first series loss to Virginia Tech since Mike Fox took over as head coach in 1999.
The series rubber match is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m, with Carolina senior Benton Moss (5-0, 3.25 ERA) set to take the mound. Virginia Tech’s starting pitcher is yet to be announced. The game will be shown on ESPN3 and broadcast live on WCHL.
On the strength of a five-run sixth inning, the Virginia Tech Hokies rallied to defeat the #23 UNC baseball team by a score of 8-3 on Friday night for a surprise upset victory in Blacksburg, Virginia at English Field.
Coming into the game, UNC head coach Mike Fox boasted a 27-1 record all-time against Virginia Tech, but on this night the Hokies’ huge inning gave them their elusive second victory against Fox. Their last win over Carolina came in 2007.
The Tar Heels fall below .500 in the ACC with the loss, dropping to 9-10 in the conference, while their overall record slips to 23-15. Virginia Tech jumps to 8-11 in the league and 19-20 in total after the big win.
Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the sixth, the Hokies struggled to string together hits against UNC starting pitcher Zac Gallen (2-3) through the first half of the proceedings–but everything changed when shortstop Alex Perez stepped to the plate to lead things off.
Perez hit a solo shot to tie the game, giving new life to the Virginia Tech dugout.
Then the floodgates opened up.
Erik Payne singled in the next at-bat, before immediately coming home on a home run by first baseman Brendon Hayden. When Sean Keselica singled to mark the fourth consecutive hit for the Hokies, Gallen’s outing was done.
Coach Fox turned to his NCAA leader in relief appearances, senior Trevor Kelley, to try and get out of the inning without any more damage, but two wild pitches by Kelley, along with an RBI single by third baseman Ryan Tufts, led to two more Hokie runs–with the Tar Heels all of a sudden finding themselves in a four-run hole.
Leading the charge for UNC on offense was junior left-fielder Landon Lassiter, who went 3-5, with an RBI triple in the top of the seventh, which scored Skye Bolt and brought Carolina back within three.
However, that was as close as they would get the rest of the way.
A two-run double by the Hokies’ second baseman Sam Fragale off of UNC reliever Spencer Trayner in the bottom of the seventh increased the lead to five, where it would stay until the finish.
Two scoreless innings from Luke Scherzer and Aaron McGarity kept the Tar Heels from putting up a late game fight, allowing singles to Brian Miller and Skye Bolt, but nothing more–sealing the upset win for the home team.
Carolina gets a chance at redemption in Game Two of the series on Saturday, as they’ll send freshman phenom JB Bukauskas (3-1, 2.68 ERA) to the mound to face off with Virginia Tech left-hander Jon Woodcock (2-2, 3.66 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on WCHL’s airwaves.
As one of five teams tied at 9-9 in the ACC, the UNC baseball team hopes to distance itself from the crowd this weekend, heading to Virginia Tech to face the Hokies in an important three-game conference series.
Overall, the Tar Heels are 23-14 this season, while Virginia Tech is 18-20, with a 7-11 mark in league play.
The Tar Heels sit tied for second in the ACC Coastal Division with Georgia Tech, while Wake Forest, Clemson, and Notre Dame are all tied for third in the Atlantic division.
As tight as the standings are, that’s not the main focus for UNC head coach Mike Fox.
“We don’t focus on any of that. We don’t put the standings up [in the clubhouse], we don’t put the statistics up there, [the players] have all that stuff if they want it,” Fox says.
“But they’re silly if they start looking at all of that, we’ve just gotta get better as a team game by game, and do what we can to play a little bit better.”
Sophomore first baseman Joe Dudek shares similar thoughts when he says that it’s all about keeping a focused mindset in a league as competitive as the ACC.
“We understand how competitive this league is, and having to go out there and be focused every pitch, from the first one to the last one, is important,” says Dudek.
“I think we have good focus. As long as we keep doing the little things right, I think we’ll win some games.”
Although UNC has won six of its last seven games, and three of its last four in the conference, Coach Fox still sees one glaring problem that needs to be fixed as the games gain more significance from here on out.
“The frustrating thing is we just don’t move the ball as much as we need to,” says Fox, “Strikeouts are strikeouts, they happen, but we seem to strikeout a lot with people in scoring position.”
For them to improve, Fox says his hitters can’t rely on just one player to do all the heavy lifting.
“We can’t rely on one or two guys in our lineup. We’ve gotta have some production from the bottom of the order. We’ve been really streaky offensively. Guys get hot and then they go in the other direction,” Coach says.
“Our freshmen are really facing that time of the year where I don’t know whether they’re tired, or if they’re pressing a little bit. Other teams watch and know your weaknesses, and you have to make adjustments. So we’ll have to get those guys going.”
Freshmen infielders Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan started off the year hot enough to where Coach Fox was hitting them in the number three and four spots in the batting order as recently as March 28th at home against #10 Miami. But recent struggles have pushed Warmoth (.254, 1 HR, 18 RBI) into the ninth, and final, spot in the order, while Gahagan (.239, 2 HR, 27 RBI) has been hitting fifth.
The man who’s had the hot bat for UNC recently, though, is Joe Dudek, with a .317 batting average, and a team-leading slugging percentage of .585–including going 4-9 with two RBI in his last three games. Dudek says he’s confident that this team has the right attributes to make a run late in the season.
“I think this team’s got a lot of fight,” Dudek says, “We’re a gritty team. I think this month is just gonna show. We’ve been putting it together–haven’t had exactly the results we were looking for in some games, couple tough losses here and there–but I think it’s all coming together well, and I think it’s gonna translate into a lot of wins down the stretch.”
Unfortunately, Carolina’s bullpen took a hit on Tuesday when it was announced that junior reliever Reilly Hovis, the 2014 closer, will miss the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, putting even more pressure on senior Trevor Kelley (the NCAA leader in relief appearances with 26) to continue carrying the load, says Coach Fox.
“[Kelley’s] been invaluable for us because he’s pitched well, but also because our bullpen’s somewhat kinda been in flux, and hasn’t been as deep as we want it to be, and need it to be, so we’ve used him probably more than we would have liked to have.”
Zac Gallen (2-2, 2.92 ERA) will make the start for the Tar Heels on Friday against the Hokies’ Kit Scheetz (1-1, 6.31 ERA), with first pitch set for 5:30 p.m.
The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team sped away from Virginia Tech Sunday night in the Smith Center to claim a comfortable 68-53 victory and with it, improve to 14-4 overall and 3-1 in league play.
With the loss, the Hokies dropped to 8-9 overall and 0-4 in the ACC.
***Listen to the story***
Despite two referee corrections and three blood stoppages, Carolina used a balanced offense and an energetic defense to pull away from a struggling Virginia Tech squad.
But the postgame locker room was by no means full of smiles. The Tar Heels continued to struggle from the foul line, but the biggest issue for UNC head coach Roy Williams was the 17 turnovers.
Coach Williams was so disturbed by the sloppiness that he’s now holding a practice Monday night. The Tar Heels were previously scheduled to have the day off.
“J.P. [Tokoto] and Marcus [Paige] both turned it over way, way too much today just like the rest of our team did. Seventeen turnovers is not something good,” Coach Williams says.
***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***
Freshman Justin Jackson led the UNC scoring charge with 16 points, while junior Adam Smith had a team-high 11-point contribution for the Hokies.
Jackson, who also snagged a season-high seven rebounds, says he’s feeling more and more confident.
“To see the ball go through the net a couple times today, definitely helped a lot. I’m feeling more and more comfortable. That just comes with time, so I’m ready,” Jackson says.
The result of the contest was never really in doubt, but despite an overmatched opponent, the Tar Heels struggled to force the tempo at times and didn’t look sharp for lengthy stretches.
“I want to lay, but we’re not playing nearly as fast as I want them to play. I think we’re playing very average pace, and I’d like us to play faster for sure. But it is a challenge because the other team is very well coached,” Coach Williams says.
***Click here for the full game photo gallery***
On a positive note for UNC, Coach Williams had ample time to work his entire bench into the game, giving guys like Joel James and Jackson Simmons meaningful minutes.
The Tar Heels jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead just under two minutes into the contest thanks to baskets by Brice Johnson, Jackson and a deep three-pointer by Paige.
But the Hokies started to drain shots of their own and withe 14:12 on thee first half clock, UNC held a slim 12-11 edge.
After a stoppage in play to clean up some profusive bleeding on the court, a couple emphatic slams by Johnson and J.P. Tokoto fired up the crowd and gave UNC a 23-16 advantage with 8:22 to play in the opening half.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams, jacket-less and animated, patrolled the sidelines with a zeal that will be welcome in the ACC for years to come. Not to mention, Coach Williams was sweating up a storm and was luckily, armed with myriad towels.
But the real reason for concern for Coach Williams was his team’s inability to knock down shots, even wide open attempts. Yes, UNC was playing spirited defense at times, but shots were also missed, some badly.
At the intermission, the Tar Heels sported a 34-21 lead thanks in large part to dominance on the boards. UNC held a 27-12 edge in rebounds.
A Tokoto steal and finish on the other end set the tone for the second half as UNC continued to play alert, heads-up defense to stifle the Hokie attack.
With 15:53 to play, the Tar Heels held a commanding 40-25 advantage.
From there, Johnson made his presence known with back-to-back finishes around the rim that induced a timeout from the Hokies, who then trailed by 17 points and could never mount a serious rally the rest of the way.
Next up for the Tar Heels is a midweek meeting at Joel Coliseum to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 13-4 overall and 3-1 in the ACC, returns home to the Smith Center to take on struggling Virginia Tech, 8-8 on the season and 0-3 in league play, for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff Sunday.
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A 71-70 loss at the hands of the hot-shooting Fighting Irish is the only recent blip on an otherwise stellar stretch for the Tar Heels.
Carolina, fresh off an 81-79 road win at N.C. State, has won seven of its last eight outings and will be heavily favored to emerge victorious again against the lowly Hokies.
But the Tar Heels have thinned out at the point guard position, losing freshman Joel Berry to a strained groin for at least the next two weeks.
Coach Williams says Berry’s injury puts a hold on his plans to play three point guards more often.
“My Kansas team played in the Final Four, and we started three point guards all year. That was a comfortable way to play. I had wanted to get to that point, we finally did it, and then Joel gets hurt. The next two to three weeks we’ll be without it,” Coach Williams says.
Junior point guard Marcus Paige got back in rhythm and rediscovered a consistent shooting touch last time out, notching 23 points to go along with nine assists.
But Paige says the Tar Heels must play smarter in the waning minutes of ACC games in order to make life easier on themselves.
“We fouled the guy on the three-point shot in the corner and he makes it. Those are things that lose you basketball games on the road, but we were able to make enough free throws. We responded well enough, but there are a lot of things we can look at in this game [vs. NC State] that don’t tilt in our favor that we can correct,” Paige says.
Sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks provided a spark to his team Wednesday night on the road, finishing with 12 points on 6-7 shooting. What’s more, Hicks seemed to set an aggressive tone with emphatic finishes around the basket.
Coach Williams says Hicks, who has been UNC’s defensive player of the game a team-high six times this season, has tremendous potential and finally got his hard work to pay off with meaningful minutes on the offensive end.
“It’s 18, 19 and 20-year-olds. We do the same drills and the same sprints. I would think that the stars and the moon weren’t aligned properly there for a little while, because he works awfully hard,” Coach Williams says.
Junior forward J.P. Tokoto, meanwhile, leads UNC in both assists and steals with 21.
But Tokoto and company will do well not to underestimate Virginia Tech. Freshman guard Justin Bibbs and redshirt junior Adam Smith can both knock down perimeter shots with laser-like accuracy for the Hokies.
The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Hokies 64-13 and sport an 11-3 record since the Hokies joined the ACC prior to the 2004-05 season.
UNC has won nine of its last 10 meetings with Virginia Tech, but barely escaped by a 60-56 margin a year ago in Blacksburg.http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/carolina-welcomes-virginia-tech-smith-center