UNC Baseball Swept by Miami; Loses 7-4 in Game 3

For the first time during the 2016 college baseball season the No. 7 UNC baseball team found itself on the wrong end of a series sweep–as the Tar Heels were defeated 7-4 on Sunday by the No. 4 Miami Hurricanes.

Sophomore Brian Miller–who started in left field for UNC–went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs and a pair of doubles at Mark Light Field in Miami. One of those doubles drove in a pair of runs and put the Tar Heels ahead 3-0 in the top of the second inning.

The Hurricanes simply held strong and waited for the Tar Heels to crack, their go-to plan all weekend long.

Although UNC entered the series 16-2 in games where it scored first, Miami rallied to win after facing early deficits three consecutive times.

The Hurricanes are now 23-4 (10-2 ACC) this season while the Tar Heels drop to 20-7 (6-6 ACC).

The Tar Heels used six pitchers to get through Sunday's loss. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels used six pitchers to get through Sunday’s loss. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Right-hander Jason Morgan (2-3) worked through the fourth inning on Sunday without giving up a run to Miami, but the fifth was a completely different story.

After putting the first three hitters in the frame on base–two walks sandwiched around a single by Carl Chester–Morgan’s day was done early.

The 6-foot-6-inch righty had thrown just four complete innings and 68 pitches, but the walks were his third and fourth of the day–a foreshadowing of the control issues that haunted the Tar Heels in the late innings.

Reliever AJ Bogucki came in to a bases-loaded situation and immediately struck out Miami’s Zack Collins. Bogucki then gave up a two-run double to Jacob Heyward that opened up the dam. A wild pitch brought a third run home, followed later by a sacrifice fly from Johnny Ruiz and an RBI single from Willie Abreu.

Just like that, it was 5-3 in favor of the Hurricanes.

Each team was kept quiet through the sixth and seventh innings, but for a brief moment in the eighth it appeared as if the Tar Heels were about to put together a rally–as they have so many times before this year.

Catcher Cody Roberts singled with two outs, and then came home to score after the next at-bat on Miller’s second double of the day–making it a one-run ball game.

Miami then turned to its star closer Bryan Garcia a little bit earlier than normal. Garcia validated that decision by getting Tar Heel second baseman Eli Sutherland to fly out.

Then the control problems came back for the UNC pitching staff.

Cody Roberts tried to kick-start a UNC rally in the eighth, but allowed a passed ball that led to a Miami run later in the inning. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Cody Roberts tried to kick-start a UNC rally in the eighth, but allowed a passed ball that led to a Miami run later in the inning. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The Hurricanes loaded the bases in their half of the eighth against reliever Spencer Trayner–who gave up two hits and a walk. After the Tar Heels turned to lefty Zach Rice in response, Miami simply took ball four and extended its lead.

Freshman Cole Aker took the mound after Rice’s mistake, but had a pitch mishandled behind the plate by Roberts–who did not start the game, entering as a pinch-hitter for Brandon Illies in the top half of the inning.

The passed ball gave Miami all the comfort it would need to get to the finish.

Down three runs and down to their final three outs, the Tar Heels were only able to muster up a two-out single by Brandon Riley–their 11th hit of the afternoon.

Garcia then retired Adam Pate to end the game, and the sweep.

Up Next: 

UNC returns home to Boshamer Stadium for a Tuesday night contest with High Point on April 5 at 6 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Miami’s seven runs came on just seven hits. UNC’s pitchers walked nine batters though.
  • Sophomore Zack Gahagan was the only Tar Heel other than Miller to record an RBI–driving in the first run of the game with his second-inning single.
  • Morgan’s four innings were the least he’s thrown in a start this season.
  • Miami starting pitcher Danny Garcia lasted just 3 2/3 innings. The Hurricanes used five different pitchers on their way to victory.

Miami Slugs Past UNC in Top-10 Series Opener

If UNC needed a reminder of what it takes to truly be among the nation’s elite baseball teams, it most certainly got one Friday night–as the No. 7 Tar Heels fell 10-4 to the No. 4 Miami Hurricanes at Mark Light Field in South Florida.

A participant in last year’s College World Series, the Hurricanes (21-4, 8-2 ACC) and their experienced lineup forced UNC ace Zac Gallen into his toughest start of the year–pounding out 15 hits in the game.

Gallen (3-2) was finally pulled after giving up four runs and six hits in the fifth inning, allowing Miami to break a 1-1 tie and open up a comfortable lead that would hold up the rest of the way.

Zac Gallen lost for the second straight weekend after a tough outing against Miami on Friday. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen lost for the second straight weekend after a tough outing against Miami on Friday. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Over his first five starts of the season, Gallen went at least seven innings in each. In each of his last two–against Georgia Tech last Friday and this game against Miami–he was unable to last longer than five.

In all, the junior surrendered 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings–striking out four hitters while throwing 91 pitches.

Despite defeating Davidson this past Tuesday in a non-conference game, the Tar Heels have dropped three of their last four conference outings and are now 20-5 overall and 6-4 in the ACC.

This shows that the young Tar Heels–while still extremely talented–have met their match in the ACC gauntlet.

Wins are always at a premium in a conference that boasts eight teams in the most recent D1baseball.com Top 25 poll–including UNC’s past two weekend opponents.

After Miami broke through against Gallen in the fifth inning, the Tar Heels experienced another let down in the sixth.

A combination of three relievers–Cole Aker, Chris McCue, and Taylor Sugg–struggled to find the strike zone in the frame, walking three Miami hitters and hitting another.

The end result was three more runs for the Hurricanes–one following a wild pitch by Sugg–with the benefit of just one hit.

Entering the night UNC was 14-0 this season in games where it scored in the first inning.

Freshman designated hitter Brandon Riley, who reached base in all six of his at-bats for the Tar Heels against Davidson, drove in Brian Miller with a double in the first inning on Friday–representing the only run UNC was able to scratch across until the late stages of the night.

Miami tied the game in the second inning, then rode its starting pitcher–junior Thomas Woodrey–through the seventh. Woodrey (3-2) wasn’t spectacular, striking out just two batters, but he was good enough to limit the Tar Heels to only four hits on 102 pitches.

Brandon Riley put UNC ahead 1-0 early, but the Tar Heels fell to 14-1 in games where they score in the first inning. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Brandon Riley put UNC ahead 1-0 early, but the Tar Heels fell to 14-1 in games where they score in the first inning. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

At one crucial moment in the top of the fifth UNC loaded the bases against Woodrey with two outs and the game still tied 1-1. However, Woodrey got Miller to line out to left field–putting an end to the threat immediately.

Not until Woodrey was removed from the game did the UNC bats finally start to break through, but by then it was too late.

Looking for the late boost that has become common this season, UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth drove in a pair of runs of reliever Keven Pimentel in the visiting half of the eighth inning to make it an 8-3 ballgame.

Although that never-say-die attitude has benefited UNC is most games this season, the Hurricanes’ star right fielder, Willie Abreu, quickly put an end to any of those thoughts with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth.

Right fielder Adam Pate picked up an RBI single for UNC off Pimentel in the ninth– however the next batter up, Riley,  flew out to end the contest.

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will have a chance to even up the three-game series with the Hurricanes on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Miami had five players who recorded two hits in the game.
  • The Hurricanes also went 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
  • UNC had three errors and four wild pitches.




UNC Refuses to Let Hurricanes Sweep Through Chapel Hill

If the UNC baseball team learned anything from its two heartbreaking losses to Miami on Friday and Saturday, it was that no lead can ever be called “safe” against top competition.

Unless that lead is stretched to eight runs, which is where the #22 Tar Heels had it at one point in the series finale Sunday, using a dominant offensive output to defeat the #21 Hurricanes by a score of 10-3 inside the friendly walls of Boshamer Stadium.

By avoiding the sweep, Carolina raises its record to 16-11 overall and reaches the .500 mark in the ACC, at 6-6. Miami remains in sole possession of first place in the ACC Coastal Division, but drops to 8-4 in league play (20-9 overall).

The scene in Sunday’s first inning seemed to be going the same as it went the day before–sunlight pouring down from the sky, UNC’s starting pitcher cruising, and the bases loaded for the Tar Heel batters with just a single out.

Senior Benton Moss continued the dominant run by Carolina’s starting pitching. (UNC Athletics)

This time, though, the boys in light blue would find a way to put some runs on the board.

“We were so close the last couple games,” Coach Fox says, “But we got off to a good start today, loaded the bases again in the first inning, and finally got more than one run, so that was huge for us. And having Benton on the mound, that was what we needed.”

A sacrifice fly from freshman Zack Gahagan and an RBI single from Tyler Ramirez, off Miami starter Enrique Sosa (3-3), put the Tar Heels ahead by two after a first inning where they banged out five hits.

After a perfect second inning on the mound from Benton Moss (4-0), the Carolina bats went right back to work in their half of the frame, tacking on two more runs in the same fashion. Juniors Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter each had an RBI to give their head coach the type of lead he said the team should have built yesterday, when they had the same opportunity.

A throwing error by UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth allowed Miami’s Willie Abreu to reach first as the lead-off man in the third, giving the visiting team their first base-runner of the game. The play appeared to be costly, with the Hurricanes able to scrape across a pair of unearned runs against Moss to cut the lead in half.

However, the Tar Heel bats were not ready to cool down just yet.

First baseman Joe Dudek hit a sharp liner right down the third-base line to drive in two runs with two outs in the bottom of the third–ending the day on the mound for Enrique Sosa, and kicking off what would eventually turn into a huge five-run inning. Miami reliever Derik Beauprez came in and walked three batters in a row, including one to Landon Lassiter with the bases loaded, which set up Zack Gahagan, who drilled a two-run single to right-field, giving him his second and third RBI of the day.

“Joey Dudek and the big inning, with two outs, 1-2 [count], gets a double and starts that five run inning, I think that sealed the deal right there,” Benton Moss says about the game-changing moment.

The Tar Heel defense has been much improved since Eli Sutherland took over at second base. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heel defense has been much improved since Eli Sutherland took over at second base. (UNC Athletics)

Gahagan would later increase his RBI total to four with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth, bringing UNC’s score into double digits.

“We were just locked in,” says Gahagan about the difference between today’s game and the previous two losses, with the freshman adding that “We really had a good amount of focus this weekend, but just couldn’t get some balls to fall early on in the series, but today obviously we locked in and got those runs in.”

Leaving the game after allowing a single to begin the Hurricane half of the seventh, Moss was done with another fantastic outing in this just his second start back from injury. All throughout, Moss never let the Hurricanes get comfortable at the plate. The senior from Enfield, North Carolina worked six strong innings, surrendering just one earned run on six hits, and also struck out four on 96 pitches.

Miami was able to scratch across another run against a combination of three Tar Heel relievers in the seventh–with a sacrifice fly by yesterday’s hero, Zack Collins, but ultimately the early Carolina surge would prove to be too much for the Hurricanes to come back from, as they couldn’t muster anything else the rest of the way.

One of only two seniors on UNC’s roster, Moss says he’s not discouraged by losing the series, pointing to the talent level on the team as a big reason why he feels this is a squad to be reckoned with in the coming weeks.

“We’ve got so much talent in the locker room, and I’m not afraid to say it,” says Moss, “I think we’ve had a chance to win every single series that we’ve played, and that’s no BS. I think that’s the truth. We’ve got all the guys in there, they just know they’re one swing of the bat away, or one error, or one pitch away, they’re right there.”

Up Next:

A week on the road awaits the Tar Heels, as they’ll travel to face Elon on Tuesday at 6:30 P.M., before heading to Clemson for their ACC weekend series.

Game Notes:

  • Benton Moss now has 290 strikeouts for his career, moving him into fourth on the UNC all-time list.
  • All five runs scored by UNC in the third inning came with two outs on the board.
  • Miami third baseman David Thompson extended his hitting streak to 18 games with his single in the seventh inning off reliever Trevor Kelley.
  • All-time, Miami leads the series with North Carolina with a 34-26-1 record against the Tar Heels after this weekend.



UNC Drops Extra Inning Heartbreaker to Miami

The ball is likely still stuck in orbit somewhere, floating, and maybe looking for a new home, after the hurt that had just been put on it.

Miami designated hitter Zack Collins hit an absolute moonshot in the 11th inning off UNC reliever Spencer Trayner to lift his #21 Hurricanes to a 4-3 victory, and the series win, over the #22 Tar Heels at Boshamer Stadium, in yet another gut-wrenching back-and-forth affair.

“It felt honestly like it was a close fight,” UNC starter JB Bukauskas says on the finish that saw each team trade runs in the ninth and tenth innings, “It just felt like it could go either way at any point. There’s no real emotion you could put on it, it was honestly just a hard fought game. And it was up and down, and up and down, but we were never giving up, not even in the last inning when we went down.”

Head Coach Mike Fox and his Carolina team fall to 15-11 overall, with a losing 5-6 record in the ACC, while Miami improves their Coastal Division leading conference mark to 8-3, with a 20-8 record in all games played.

On a chilly, but very sunny Saturday, the Tar Heels sent their super-freshman, Bukauskas, to the mound to face-off with the Hurricanes’ preseason All-American–redshirt junior Andy Suarez.

After a 1-2-3 top of the first inning for Bukauskas, the Carolina offense appeared as if they were ready to pounce on the right-hander early, loading the bases with just one out in their half of the first. Suarez wiggled out of the jam though, by striking out right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, and then getting Korey Dunbar to ground into a fielder’s choice.

Tyler Ramirez got down and dirty on Saturday, making a number of huge hustle plays. (UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez got down and dirty on Saturday, making a number of huge hustle plays. (UNC Athletics)

As Bukauskas continued to mow through the Miami line-up in the second inning, UNC found themselves in a position to possibly break the game wide open.

Hits kept coming for the Tar Heels in their turn at-bat in the second, leading to another chance to tack on a few runs with the bases loaded and only one out. Center-fielder Skye Bolt drew a walk to score the first run of the game, but Suarez managed to escape yet again when he got freshman Logan Warmoth to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“That’s probably where we lost the game. I mean, really,” says Coach Fox, “Cause we’ve got a chance right out of the gate to extend the lead, and we got [Suarez] in trouble and he wasn’t very good today. He didn’t have his good command like he normally does, and we didn’t make him pay. That kept them in the game, while JB’s lights out again for us, just like he’s been in every conference start.”

Struggling with command through his first three innings, Suarez was pulled from the game by Miami Head Coach Jim Morris before the fourth, replaced by senior reliever Daniel Briggi after throwing just 60 pitches and allowing one run on four hits–but he also walked four Tar Heels as well.

Briggi handled the Tar Heels with ease over the next three innings, allowing no runs and just two hits during his stint on the mound.

Still 1-0 in favor of UNC at the beginning of the fifth, Bukauskas continued to show that he was in complete control. The Hurricanes were sat down in order again, still looking for a run and with only one hit to show for their efforts.

Miami finally got their elusive second hit in the top of the seventh off the bat of star third baseman David Thompson, who singled and then advanced to second base on a balk by Bukauskas. Next came a walk to Zack Collins and a sacrifice bunt to give the Hurricanes runners on second and third with one out–their first real offensive threat of the game.

Designated hitter Garrett Kennedy tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. (UNC Athletics)

Designated hitter Garrett Kennedy tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. (Miami Herald)

A ground-out to first base by right-fielder Willie Abreu ended the inning, but not before a sacrifice fly from Garrett Kennedy tied the game and erased the zero in Miami’s score column.

It would also end the day for JB Bukauskas, as Coach Fox turned to senior Trevor Kelley to complete the eighth inning. The freshman threw 86 pitches for the day, going seven innings, while giving up just the one run and two hits, to pair with three strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Kelley struck out the first two Hurricanes he faced upon entering the game, and then got left-fielder Carl Chester to groundout to complete a three-up, three-down performance leading into the Tar Heel half of the eighth.

Kelley came back on for the ninth after the Tar Heels went scoreless in the eighth, and immediately allowed a lead-off single to center-fielder Ricky Eusebio to start the frame. Then things started to get wild, as Kelley gave up the lead on a first pitch RBI single by shortstop George Iskenderian.

With one final chance to pull even and the crowd on their feet, freshman first baseman Zack Gahagan singled home Brian Miller with two outs to keep the Tar Heels’ hopes alive.

Zack Gahagan tied the game up with his RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

Zack Gahagan tied the game up with his RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

In the tenth, trouble found Trent Thornton for the second consecutive game, when he allowed Miami’s Jacob Heyward to reach third base with just one out in the inning after a wild pitch (his second in as many days). Not taking any chances, Coach Fox turned to lefty Zach Rice out of the bullpen to try and escape the jam.

Unfortunately, Johnny Ruiz hit a deep fly ball to score Heyward on a sacrifice fly, putting the game back under Miami’s control.

Just like in seemingly every other inning during the game, the Tar Heels threatened in the bottom of the tenth, putting runners on first and third with one out against Hurricanes’ closer Bryan Garcia. Garcia then allowed Landon Lassiter his fourth hit of the ball-game, which drove home Michael Massardo to tie the contest.

Small-ball may have helped the teams trade runs at the end, but ultimately it was the big-ball, the solo shot from Zack Collins, that allowed Miami to finally put the icing on the cake.

Side-winding reliever Cooper Hammond came in for Garcia to try and keep the Tar Heels off of the board in the 11th, and after letting the first two men he faced reach first and second, Hammond settled down to strike out the next two batters, earning some questionable strike calls in the process–before getting Adam Pate to pop out and end the game.

Despite the great starting pitching effort from Bukauskas, Coach Fox says that by leaving 16 men on base, the Tar Heels didn’t fulfill every phase of the game, a necessity against top competition.

“All the phases of the game have to all work together if you’re gonna beat good teams in our league,” Coach Fox says, “Every phase of the game has to be at a high level and it just hasn’t been. We’ve just been missing that key piece, and today it was not being good with runners in scoring position.”

“We should have won today,” adds Fox.

Up Next:

The series finale will have a bit of an early start on Sunday, with first pitch set to take place at noon. The pitching match-up will see UNC senior Benton Moss (3-0, 2.08 ERA) take on Miami right-hander Enrique Sosa (3-2, 3.62 ERA).

Game Notes:

  • In the previous five games for UNC, entering Saturday, Tar Heel starting pitchers put together an ERA just under 2.04 while averaging six innings per start.
  • Defense has been improving as well for Carolina with just two errors over their past six games (including Saturday).
  • Miami’s Jacob Heyward is the brother of St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Jason Heyward.



Ninth Inning Collapse Dooms UNC Against Miami

Under the lights at Boshamer Stadium on Friday, UNC had the game wrapped up, until Miami second baseman Johnny Ruiz hit a late RBI single off of Carolina closer Trent Thornton to complete a wild ninth inning rally, leading the #21 Hurricanes to a 4-3 win over the #22 Tar Heels in the first game of their top 25 ACC showdown.

The Hurricanes hold on to their lead atop the ACC Coastal Division standings, improving their record to 7-3 in conference play and 18-8 overall. For the Tar Heels, they drop to 5-5 in the ACC and 15-10 overall.

Ruiz’s single came after right-fielder Willie Abreu drove in two runs to tie a game that Carolina led 3-1 entering the final inning.

“We got a 3-1 pitch to Ruiz right there [in the ninth] with a base open,” UNC Head Coach Mike Fox says about the game’s defining play, “And we don’t make the right pitch, and they executed.”

Although this game’s start was delayed by about 45 minutes due to rain, Miami center-fielder Ricky Eusebio wasted no time waking the crowd up. Just the second batter of the game, the junior from Homestead, Florida ripped a 1-2 pitch from Carolina starter Zac Gallen over the left-field wall for a solo shot to strike first blood for the Hurricanes.

Pitching took over the game after the big blast, however, as Gallen settled into his comfort zone, and Miami lefty Thomas Woodrey came out dealing his best stuff right from the jump.

Zac Gallen was lights out after giving up a home run in the first inning. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen was lights out after giving up a home run in the first inning. (UNC Athletics)

After Hurricanes’ third baseman David Thompson doubled to lead-off the second inning, Gallen walked catcher Garrett Kennedy, and then promptly turned into a lean, mean, pitching machine–retiring the next 16 batters he faced, including seven strikeouts during the streak. It lasted from the second with no outs until the seventh inning with one out, when Thompson singled for his second hit of the night.

For the game, Gallen would finish with seven strong innings of work, giving up just one run, four hits, and striking out eight Hurricanes on  104 pitches in total.

Woodrey allowed a single to UNC freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth in the bottom of the second, but was otherwise perfect through the first four frames, giving up no other hits and maintaining the zero in the UNC run column.

Not until the fifth inning did the Tar Heels seriously threaten the sophomore. Right-fielder Tyler Ramirez drove a ball down the line in right for his third triple of the season, with only one out on the board to set the table, but unfortunately a pair of ground-outs by Korey Dunbar and Eli Sutherland put a quick halt to the scoring opportunity, preserving the shutout for Woodrey.

Dueling with Gallen all night long, Miami lefty Thomas Woodrey was equally spectacular. (Miami Herald)

Dueling with Gallen all night long, Miami lefty Thomas Woodrey was equally spectacular. (Miami Herald)

Fireworks ensued in the Carolina half of the seventh, though, with Woodrey still on the mound. Ramirez got a chance at redemption with one out in the frame, driving home Zack Gahagan from third with a deep groundout to the middle of the field to tie the affair, setting up the catcher, Dunbar, the hottest hitter in the Tar Heel lineup.

The 1-1 offering from Woodrey was drilled to right center-field for the two-run homer that looked like it might have put UNC ahead for good, on what was Dunbar’s third home run in his last five games.

For Zac Gallen, this play held up his beliefs about his team’s offense, as he explained why he never worried, despite being in the midst of quite a duel.

“I have a lot of faith in our hitters,” Gallen says, “We have some good approaches, guys come up with big hits, I mean Korey [Dunbar], the dude has been clutch lately. So I just tried to keep us in it, I knew we were gonna scratch a couple across just cause we’ve been pretty resilient.”

Dunbar’s homer would also spell the end of the road for the left-hander, after 6.2 workmanlike innings where he pitched mostly to contact. All in all, Woodrey finished with three runs given up on just three hits, but only struck out two in the process.

On to replace Gallen in the top of the eighth was senior Trevor Kelley, the NCAA leader in relief appearances in 2015, with this being his 17th in just 25 games so far. Despite giving up one hit in the inning, the man with the microscopic 1.69 ERA retired the Miami hitters without any real danger, setting up junior closer Trent Thornton with a prime opportunity to clinch his fifth save of the season.

Thornton, a Charlotte, North Carolina native, ended up finding himself in a huge jam trying to shut the door in the ninth.

With runners on second and third and only one out in the inning, Willie Abreu, the Miami right-fielder hit a two-run single to tie the game up, and quiet the Tar Heel crowd, before Johnny Ruiz’s RBI single, which would ultimately end up as the game-winner when UNC failed to score on Miami closer Bryan Garcia.

“It’s frustrating,” Dunbar says about losing the lead late, “but that’s the great thing about baseball is that we’ve got another game tomorrow, and another game to follow that, so it’s disappointing, but we’ve gotta turn it around and play a game tomorrow.”

Up Next:

Saturday will be the second game of the series between the teams and is scheduled to begin at 3 P.M. UNC freshman JB Bukauskas will be on the mound opposite Miami’s preseason All-American left-hander Andy Suarez. The game will be broadcast live on WCHL and shown on ESPN3.

Game Notes:

  • The two coaches, Mike Fox (UNC) and Jim Morris (Miami) entered the game having combined for an astounding 2,736 wins over the course of their careers. (Fox-1,283 in 32 seasons, Morris-1,453 in 34 seasons)
  • Miami junior third baseman David Thompson is the recipient of back-to-back ACC Player of the Week honors. He went 2-4 with a double on Friday.
  • Korey Dunbar’s home run in the seventh extended his hitting streak to six games. He has an extra base hit in all six of those.



UNC and Miami Set to Square Off in Top 25 Baseball Action

Winners of three of their past four games, including a crucial series win in Atlanta, the 15-9, 22nd ranked, UNC baseball team faces its toughest conference opponent yet this weekend, as the #21 Miami Hurricanes bring an 18-7 overall record, including a 6-3 conference mark, to Chapel Hill for a three-game ACC series between two squads fighting for Coastal Division supremacy.

Last season, the Tar Heels dropped two out of three games to the Hurricanes when they made the trip down to Coral Gables, but UNC head coach Mike Fox says he thinks this year’s team will match up well with Miami’s top two starting pitchers, Andrew Suarez and Thomas Woodrey, both of whom are left-handed.

Andrew Suarez will be tough to handle on the mound, no matter how good UNC has been against lefties this year. (UNC Athletics)

Andrew Suarez will be tough to handle on the mound, no matter how good UNC has been against lefties this year. (UNC Athletics)

“They’re good, they always pitch well,” Coach Fox says, “Suarez is back and he’s given us fits. They’re gonna throw probably two lefties against us, probably Friday and Saturday, which we’ve swung the bat pretty good against left-handed pitching so far, but they’ll be at another level.”

Suarez has been limited to just three starts this season due to injuries, but holds a 2-0 record with a 2.81 ERA. He was a second round draft pick (No. 57 overall) of the Washington Nationals last summer, but opted instead to return to Miami for his final year of school. Carolina will see the 2015 pre-season All-American on Saturday.

Woodrey, a sophomore, has also been quite solid.  In five starts this year, he’s put together a 3-1 mark, to go along with a 2.93 ERA in 30.2 innings of work. This will be the man with the ball to begin the series on Friday.

UNC center-fielder Skye Bolt, who leads the team with four home runs this season, says the Hurricanes will present a tough challenge off the mound just like always, but he also adds that he sees some similarities between the two teams offensively.

“You’re definitely gonna have pitching, Miami’s always had the ability to pitch on the mound,” says Bolt, “I think they’re a little bit younger with the sticks, but that’s us as well, so the talent’s there, but I think we’re gonna have to continue to adjust on the mound and make adjustments here early in the games this weekend.”

Bolt's towering home run drive on Tuesday against Appalachian State. (UNC Athletics)

Bolt’s towering home run drive on Tuesday against Appalachian State. (UNC Athletics)

One of those young Miami hitters to look out for is freshman outfielder Carl Chester, who bats in the lead-off spot and has hit four homers, showing a solid power game to pair with his .291 batting average and .381 on-base percentage. Chester has also stolen eight bases in just eleven attempts, proving to be quite the well-rounded player on a team full of them.

Overall, Coach Fox says he’s impressed what he’s seen this year from the Hurricanes, noting that they’re probably the best team the Tar Heels have seen since the UCLA series back in February.

“They’ll probably be the best team we’ve played outside of UCLA,” says Coach Fox, “They can run a little bit and got some guys in the middle of the order that can hit the ball out.  They’re a complete team, so we’ll have to play at a high level.”

UCLA, members of the PAC-12 conference, are currently ranked seventh in the D1Baseball.com top 25 poll.

With key players, such as starting pitcher Benton Moss, back from injury, things look to finally be moving in the right direction for the Tar Heels, something Skye Bolt has taken notice of.

Benton Moss's return to the starting rotation will be crucial to the Tar Heels' success. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss’s return to the starting rotation will be crucial to the Tar Heels’ success. (UNC Athletics)

“I think some guys are starting to play like they’re capable, and we’re starting to get into the meat of the season,” the center-fielder says, “And we’re getting some guys back healthy that have been out the past few weeks, and yeah, I think it’s all culminating at the right point.”

In Moss’s return to the starting rotation last weekend at Georgia Tech, the senior earned the victory with six solid innings of work, striking out eight batters in the process. He is currently producing a ridiculous rate of 14.43 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (34 K’s in 21.2 innings), good enough to place him fourth in the nation in that category.

First pitch for Friday’s opener is set for 6:30 P.M., with the game being shown live on ESPN3. Zac Gallen is the starting pitcher for UNC, and he’ll face off with Miami’s Thomas Woodrey.



Baseball: Miami Claims UNC Series

No. 4 Miami got six scoreless innings from starter Bryan Radziewski and clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title with a 2-0 win over North Carolina Saturday afternoon at Alex Rodriguez Park. Zac Gallen was Radziewski’s equal for much of the day, allowing just two runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings and striking out six in a losing effort. Michael Russell had two hits for the Tar Heels, who finished the regular season 32-23 and 15-15 in the ACC.

Miami (40-15, 24-6 ACC) scored once in the first and once in the fourth against Gallen and the Tar Heels. Tyler Palmer reached on a one-out triple when his bloop to right got past a diving Tyler Ramirez, and David Thompson plated Palmer with a single up the middle.

Skye Bolt almost erased the second run of the day when his strike from center after a one-out fly ball beat Thompson to the plate. But Thompson’s clean, hard slide knocked the ball away from Korey Dunbar and the Canes had a 2-0 lead.

Carolina’s best chance came in the fifth, when Ramirez and Adrian Chacon reached on consecutive singles to open the frame against Radziewski. After a failed sacrifice attempt for the first out, Russell blooped a ball in front of Palmer in left to load the bases. But Miami’s redshirt junior lefty struck out Parks Jordan and Landon Lassiter swinging to end the threat and strand three.

Bolt led off the sixth with a double to left, but he was erased on a double play when Willie Abreu’s throw from left beat him to the bag at third.

Lassiter walked with two gone in the eighth to bring on Bryan Garcia, and the Miami closer got the final four outs of the game to end it and give the Canes the ACC regular season title.

Zach Rice entered the game for Carolina in the seventh and retired all five batters he faced to keep the game close.


Tar Heels Split Pair Of Friday Night Games With Hurricanes

The North Carolina baseball team split a doubleheader with the No. 4 Miami Hurricanes Friday night after a dominating 11-2 win in game two of the series at Alex Rodriguez Park to improve to 32-22 overall and 15-14 in ACC action.

The Tar Heels rebounded impressively from a tough marathon 16-inning loss in 16 innings. Carolina scored in the top of the 16th on a Parks Jordan RBI single only to watch the Hurricanes rally for a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning to snag the series opener. The game marked the longest contest for either team in 2014.

There was far less drama in the nightcap. The Tar Heels jumped all over the Hurricanes from the outset, scoring four runs in the first inning and eventually led 11-1 through four to give starting pitcher Benton Moss all the run support he could need.

Moss delivered a memorable performance by striking out nine batters and allowing just four hits en route to his fourth victory of the season.

Friday night’s win was Carolina’s third over a top-5 opponent this season. Next up for the Tar Heels comes the series decider at 12 p.m. Saturday. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.


High Stakes Baseball In Coral Gables

The North Carolina baseball team, 31-21 overall and 14-13 in the ACC, is staring at its final series of the season when taking on the ACC-leading Miami Hurricanes, 38-14 on the season and 22-5 in conference, down in Coral Gables for a three-game set starting Thursday evening at 7 p.m.

***Listen to story***

“When you’re 22-5 in this league, you’re really good. They are going to throw three left-handers at us who are really good. We’ve got our hands full. We’re certainly very capable of going down there and beating them. We’re going to have to play at a high level,” Coach Fox says.

The Hurricanes, ranked seventh nationally by Baseball America, are the hottest ballclub in the NCAA at the moment, winning 25 of their last 27 games.

The home field advantage will only make things more difficult for the Tar Heels. AlexRodriguezPark, with a seating capacity at 4,999, will surely be rocking this weekend as Miami attempts to clinch the ACC regular season title.

Despite most observers’ attentions being drawn to the struggling Carolina offense, Coach Fox insists it’s the defense and pitching staff that will ultimately decide UNC’s fate on the diamond.

“It’s still really the key for us. Everybody looks at our offense, but we didn’t pitch great against FloridaState. Still, on that defense, we’ll have some lapses at times,” Coach Fox says.

Senior Parks Jordan, who will graduate over the summer, has been an offensive bright spot for the Tar Heels in 2014, especially in recent times. Jordan was named ACC Player of the Week Monday.

“Parks has been really steady for us. Every single day he comes down to the ballpark with a really professional approach. He’s helped us win a lot of games,” Coach Fox says.

The Hurricanes hold a 30-24-1 all-time series advantage over the Tar Heels, including a head-to-head series lead of 19-9 in Coral Gables.

And just in case Carolina needed any extra incentive to win the Miami series this weekend, Coach Fox says he’d rather avoid the dreaded No.7/8 seeding next week in Greensboro that would force the Tar Heels into a playoff scenario.

A top six seeding would ensure an escape from the playoff. If the season ended now, Carolina would land in the No. 5 seeding slot, safe from the one-game elimination contest.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit unfair to our seventh seed and potentially, our eighth. Historically, those are teams that get into the NCAA Tournament. Now, you’re making them play one game on Tuesday, one-and-done. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out this year,” Coach Fox says.

Stakes are raised this time of the year. An ACC title, ACC Tournament seeding, NCAA Tournament placement and pride will all be on the line for the Hurricanes and Heels in scorching Miami beginning Thursday night.


UNC Baseball Begins ACC Tournament Play Thursday

CHAPEL HILL – The No. 5 UNC baseball team begins round-robin play Thursday as the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament against Miami.

The Tar Heels finished the season 48-8 and as the ACC regular season and Coastal Division champions at 21-7 in conference play. The Hurricanes were the final team to make it into the tournament at 35-21, 14-16.

However, Miami handed Carolina its first loss of the season in the teams’ conference opener, 4-1 in Chapel Hill. Prior to that, UNC had its second-best start in school history winning its first 16 games. And, one loss in round-robin play—especially early in the tournament—makes it that much harder to make it to Championship Sunday.

The Tar Heels finished the season on a high note defeating Atlantic Division champion Florida State in a one-game, non-conference meeting. However, Carolina dropped its final two conference series, 2-1 to Georgia Tech in Atlanta and 2-1 to Virginia in Chapel Hill.

Georiga Tech, Florida State, and Virginia are all possible opponents—as well as Virginia Tech—for Carolina if it makes it to the one-game championship on Sunday.

First pitch of game one of the tournament for Carolina is 3:00 p.m. Thursday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. You can hear all three Carolina games as well as the championship if the Tar Heels advance on WCHL and streaming here.

Tune in to the WCHL Morning News Thursday at 8:20 a.m. to hear the head coach of the Tar Heels, Mike Fox, discuss the upcoming tournament with Ron Stutts.