No. 1 Goes Down: Tar Heels Shocked by Northern Iowa

As the UNC football team was cementing its spot as number one in the ACC Coastal Division on Saturday, the top-ranked UNC men’s basketball team was doing the opposite–likely relinquishing its claim as the best team in America with a 71-67 upset loss to Northern Iowa on the road.

This game was originally scheduled by the Tar Heels to be senior point guard–and Iowa native–Marcus Paige’s “homecoming.”

But Paige could only watch as his team had a nine-point halftime lead grow to 16, before it slowly slipped away in crunch time. He has been sidelined since Nov. 3 with a broken hand.

The loss drops head coach Roy Williams and his team to 3-1 at the beginning of the year, while Northern Iowa improves to 2-1 with the stunning victory.

Up 41-32 at the break, UNC got a career game out of sophomore wing Justin Jackson–who snapped out of his early-season slump to score a personal-best 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including a trio of three-pointers.

The Tar Heels now must regroup for a game Monday in Kansas City against Northwestern. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

The Tar Heels now must regroup for a game Monday in Kansas City against Northwestern. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Only the frontcourt tandem of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson were able to join Jackson in double figures, though, as the Tar Heels struggled to find scoring against the stingy Panther defense. Both players finished with exactly 10 points, despite the fact that Meeks’ scored all of the team’s first eight to begin the day.

Senior guard Wes Washpun connected on a three-quarter court heave for Northern Iowa right as the halftime buzzer sounded–giving some slight foreshadowing on what was to come. For the game, Washpun led the home team with 21 points and eight assists, while fellow senior Matt Bohannon added 19.

After a short jumper by Johnson found its way through the net with just over 17 minutes left in the second half UNC held a commanding lead, ahead 50-34.

Over the next eight minutes is when everything went down the drain, as the Panthers stormed back with a 29-8 run to put themselves in control.

Perimeter shooting proved to be the difference, with Northern Iowa making 11 shots from downtown compared to just five for the Tar Heels. UNC’s defense was also a bit shaky, as the experienced Panther guards continually beat Jackson, and guards Joel Berry and Nate Britt off the dribble.

None of Carolina’s 13 missed threes were as crucial as one by Berry with under 20 seconds remaining, and UNC down by three.

After the shot clanked off the rim, Berry ended up with the ball again at the top of the key–but misfired on a cross-court pass afterward.

The pass was intercepted by Northern Iowa and the Tar Heels were forced to intentionally foul–ending their hopes of getting Paige a win in his return home.

Up Next:

UNC will face a quick turnaround, as they are set to begin play in the CBE Hall-of-Fame Classic in Kansas City on Monday. The Tar Heels open up with a game against Northwestern–coached by former Duke assistant Chris Collins–before potentially facing either Missouri or Kansas State on Tuesday.

Game Notes:

  • Joel Berry came back to earth after playing outstanding in the first three games. In this one he finished with just five points and three assists–while picking up four fouls and turning the ball over three times, including the crucial late-game situation.
  • Brice Johnson’s double-double streak came to an end at three, as the senior finished the game with six rebounds to go along with his 10 points–the first time he’s failed to grab 10 boards.
  • Marcus Paige was in uniform, and was given special recognition on the court before the game by the Northern Iowa PA announcer.
  • UNC has now lost to three different Iowa schools in the last three years (Iowa State in 2014 NCAA Tournament, Iowa in December of 2014, and now Northern Iowa).


Top-Ranked Tar Heels Head to Northern Iowa; Paige Goes Home

When the No. 1 UNC men’s basketball team tips off its game against the Northern Iowa Panthers tomorrow it will be a bittersweet moment for senior point guard Marcus Paige.

Although the Tar Heels are 3-0 so far with Paige sidelined due to a broken hand, this game was scheduled so that Paige could have a “homecoming” game in his native Iowa.

Instead, he’ll have to watch from the bench in a suit and tie, as his teammates look to continue their recent success without him.

In place of Paige, the Tar Heels will likely continue to start sophomore Joel Berry II at the point guard spot–while bringing in junior Nate Britt off the bench to help share the duties.

Berry played a team-high 36 minutes on Wednesday against Wofford, while no other Tar Heel crossed the 30-minute plateau. He has averaged 15 points and 4 assists during his time as a starter, but UNC head coach Roy Williams has said he would like to see him take better care of the ball. In each of the Tar Heels’ three outings, Berry has turned it over three times.

Roy Williams and company will be on the road for their next three games. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams and company will be on the road for their next three games. (Todd Melet)

With Paige’s perimeter shooting viewed as the attribute UNC would miss the most, it’s been a welcome surprise for Williams to have Britt come in to games as the sixth man and knock down shots. To this point, the junior is 8-for-12 from beyond the arc, and has provided plenty of spacing to allow the big men to do their work down low.

Pounding the ball into the paint should be a focus for the Tar Heels in this game, since the Panthers don’t have a single upperclassman on their roster at the forward or center positions.

Northern Iowa presents a formidable challenge for the Tar Heels, but they are not exactly the same group that went 31-4, and was ranked as high as 10th in the country last season. Only two starters from that team–guards Matt Bohannon and Jeremy Morgan–are back this year for head coach Ben Jacobson; but the pair has combined to average 33 of the Panthers’ 72 points per game during the team’s 1-1 start.

Coincidentally, UNC has one of the best, most experienced frontlines in the nation–starring senior Brice Johnson and junior Kennedy Meeks. Each of those two players is averaging a double-double (Johnson: 16 PPG, 11.7 RPG, Meeks: 16.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG) to begin the year.

Should the Tar Heels execute their game plan and take advantage of the inexperienced Panther frontcourt, they could very well leave Iowa with another easy victory, and leave their leader–Paige–with a big smile on his face.

Train Keeps Rolling: UNC Beats Pitt, Wins Seventh Straight

With the lights of Heinz Field shining bright and the ESPN TV cameras watching closely, senior quarterback Marquise Williams and the rest of the UNC football squad made a loud statement against Pitt on Thursday night.

The nation’s only one-loss team from a Power 5 conference to be left unranked this week, the Tar Heels defeated the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers 26-19 with another tough, grind-it-out performance.

“I’m happy we won a football game,” Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora said afterwards. “And did it on a short week. We went on the road, we played the number [23] team in the country, they were leading the Coastal Division, and so yeah, I’m happy we won the football game.

“There’ll be a lot of things we can get corrected, and that’s the great thing about it,” he continued. “It’s all correctable.”

UNC is now all alone atop the ACC Coastal Division, with its seventh straight victory bringing its overall record to 7-1, and making the Tar Heels a perfect 4-0 against ACC competition.

Mack Hollins dives across the goal line for a touchdown in the second quarter that brought the lead to 20-3 in UNC's favor. (UNC Athletics)

Mack Hollins dives across the goal line for a touchdown in the second quarter that brought the lead to 20-3 in UNC’s favor. (UNC Athletics)

Coming into Thursday, Pittsburgh’s only loss had been to Iowa, a team ranked 10th in the nation and still undefeated. Now, the Panthers fall to 6-2 with a 4-1 record in conference play.

Williams completed 14 of his 23 pass attempts for the Tar Heels, to the tune of 270 yards and two touchdowns–while also playing turnover-free football. He also carried the ball nine times for 52 yards, leading a UNC offense that jumped out to a commanding 20-3 halftime lead behind a barrage of explosive plays.

The first of those plays involved Williams breaking free of a sack, scrambling away, and lofting a 71-yard touchdown pass to junior Ryan Switzer in the second quarter–giving the Tar Heels their first lead of the night at 10-3. Switzer finished as UNC’s top receiver in the game, catching five passes for 126 yards.

“Their safeties were playing down all game, and we knew we could, me and Mack [Hollins], get behind them,” Switzer said. “Quise did a great job keeping the play alive, and I beat my man pretty bad, and he put it in a good spot.”

Two drives later, following a 31-yard field goal by Nick Weiler that put the Tar Heels ahead by two scores, Williams found 6-foot-4 junior Mack Hollins streaking across the field for a 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Hollins’ only other catch of the night was on a 49-yard streak route–a third quarter play that led to the third of kicker Nick Weiler’s four field goals on the night.

Elijah Hood, the Tar Heels’ sophomore tailback, continued to assert his will on opposing defenses, grinding out a tough 98 yards on 20 touches.

Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman nearly matched Williams’ effort going 27-of-42 for 262 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also showed off his skills in the ground game, racking up 41 yards on 12 attempts rushing the ball.

Peterman’s top target, and future NFL draft pick, Tyler Boyd caught four passes on the Panthers’ opening drive on his way to 10 receptions and 89 yards.

UNC cornerback MJ Stewart attempts to tackle Pitt star receiver Tyler Boyd. (UNC Athletics)

UNC cornerback MJ Stewart attempts to tackle Pitt star receiver Tyler Boyd. (UNC Athletics)

In the second half the UNC defense held strong with a “bend but don’t break” mentality.

They were unable to stop Pitt from driving down the field, but did a tremendous job forcing punts and field goals when it mattered. The Panthers picked up a pair of touchdowns after halftime, including one with just 45 seconds left in the game, but the Tar Heels had built too big of a lead.

As they tried to mount a comeback, the Panthers continually threw in the direction of Boyd, but UNC junior cornerback Des Lawrence continually swatted them down–finishing the game with a total of four pass deflections along with seven tackles.

“I think our secondary did a heck of a job,” Fedora said. “Let me tell you, number 23 [Boyd] is a heck of a football player. We had him schemed up and he still made, I don’t know how many catches (10), but he’s a heck of a ball player and I’m proud of the way the secondary played.”

With the game largely out of reach during the second half, UNC’s offense seemed to get stuck in the mud a bit–but it didn’t seem to matter. Despite picking up just a pair of field goals after halftime, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik proved for the second straight week his bunch has what it takes to close out games.

As a result, this team is rattling off wins with no end in sight. This isn’t your older brother’s Tar Heel football team. That statement was made loud and clear Thursday night.

“[We] didn’t play our best ball, and we know that,” Switzer said. “But the most important thing is we came out of here against a ranked opponent on the road with a win. So it’s something we can build off of. There was a lot of energy in the locker room.”

Williams, the team’s unquestioned leader, said that, “We celebrate [this win] tonight and tomorrow, and that’s about it. Then we get ready to go. We gonna get ready to go against the Duke Blue Devils, and that’s a pretty good football team that’s gonna come into Kenan.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will have a couple extra days to recover as they move on from this game–the biggest of their season so far–to next week, the new biggest game of the season. Duke, currently ranked 22nd in the top 25 polls, visits Kenan Stadium to take on a UNC team that likely will make its first appearance in the polls next week.

It would be the first time in 76 years the two arch-rivals have met in football as ranked teams.

Game Notes:

  • Senior receiver Quinshad Davis caught three passes for 24 yards, giving him 183 receptions for his career. He passed Hakeem Nicks (181) as the school’s all time leader in that category.
  • UNC was again without one of its key cornerbacks, as junior Brian Walker did not make the trip for personal reasons.
  • In the first quarter, Marquise Williams became the fifth quarterback in ACC history to rush for 2,000 yards in a career (Tyrod Taylor, Josh Nesbitt, Woody Dantzler, Tevin Washington).
  • Last season UNC made just six field goals all year. Nick Weiler had four in this game alone.

Tar Heels Aim to Silence Doubters Against No. 23 Pittsburgh

Midway through the 2015 college football season, the ACC Coastal division is still up for grabs.

On Thursday night the Tar Heels travel to take on the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers for an important game between two of the division’s three remaining undefeated teams in conference play.

Both the Tar Heels and the Panthers come into this matchup with records of 6-1 overall, however Pittsburgh sits half a game ahead of UNC and Duke in the conference standings at 4-0, instead of 3-0.

Despite losing star tailback James Conner to a knee injury early in the season the Panthers have found another standout performer to lead them to this point—6-foot-2 junior receiver Tyler Boyd, a man Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora says will present a unique challenge to UNC’s much-improved secondary.

Tyler Boyd has presented many problems for opposing defenses this season.(Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Tyler Boyd has helped Pittsburgh by presenting many problems for opposing defenses this season. (Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

“[Boyd’s] a tremendous player,” Fedora said after practice on Tuesday. “I mean, they put him in the backfield, they move him all over the place. He’s a guy they’re gonna get the ball to, there’s no doubt about it.”

Through seven games Boyd has already caught 53 passes for 489 yards and four touchdowns. No other player in the ACC has more than 41 receptions, and only one—Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford–has more yards.

But for senior cornerback Malik Simmons and the rest of the Tar Heels pass defense, a group ranked second nationally in yards allowed, stopping Boyd will come down to one thing.

“It’s really just lining up with him to tell you the truth,” Simmons said. “Just finding him, seeing where he is—because that’ll dictate what they wanna do. They usually wanna go to him nine times out of 10, throwing, so we just gotta find him, play into our technique and we’ll be fine.”

The Tar Heels will finally have their full stable of cornerbacks for this game, with the return of sophomore MJ Stewart, who was suspended along with freshman Mike Hughes for their roles in an incident back on October 4th. This after Simmons, who had two interceptions last week, was forced to sit out the season’s first two games for a pair of misdemeanor charges during the summer.

Despite the off-field troubles, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik is pleased with the way his guys have responded on the field.

“I’m very proud of our secondary,” Chizik said. “I think they come to work every day with the intent to improve. I think it’s important to those guys to play well. They study the game, they’re very attentive, and they’re very much in tune to what we’re asking them to do.

“They’re not perfect, like none of us are–but I’m very proud with the way, collectively, they’ve been playing,” he added.

Tar Heels vs Cavaliers

Cornerback Brian Walker (5) has helped the secondary stay afloat despite three suspensions this season. (Photo via Smith Cameron Photography)

UNC has built a strong identity as an offensive team under Fedora, but it was Chizik’s defense that created five turnovers last week against Virginia to help win the game while the offense struggled to score points.

Redshirt freshman Robert Dinkins, a Tar Heel defensive end, says he’d be just fine if the same thing happened this week against head coach Pat Narduzzi and his hard-nosed Pittsburgh team.

“It feels great to be able to tell your brothers on offense that ‘Look you guys do whatever you can,’” Dinkins said. “’Even if y’all just score one field goal that’s gonna be enough for us. We just gonna make sure they don’t score as many points as y’all do.’”

The game also gives the Tar Heels another shot to prove themselves in front of a Thursday night national audience after coming up short in their first game of the year against South Carolina. On top of that, they also get a shot to prove the makers of the top 25 polls wrong for again leaving them unranked—the only one-loss team from a Power 5 conference to earn that honor.

“You can’t ignore us,” Dinkins said about what this game will show the nation. “We’re not gonna be ignored. We’re not gonna let you ignore us.

“We just gonna keep putting wins up on the board. On ESPN, you’ll see us. [If we get] the wins, eventually [the poll-makers] are gonna have to put us in there.”

Broadcast Information:

The game will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves, and will be televised on ESPN with kickoff set for 7 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • The UNC coaching staff has said that the cornerbacks will be used in a rotation system with Stewart’s return.
  • In its seven games, the Tar Heels defense has allowed just 45 points in the second half.
  • Senior quarterback Marquise Williams needs three touchdowns to tie Darian Durant for the school record in touchdowns accounted for, passing, rushing, or receiving (79).
  • Quinshad Davis, also a senior, is one catch shy from tying Hakeem Nicks for the school record for receptions (181).

Mother Nature Shortens UNC Baseball’s Win Over High Point

In a game shortened to five and a half innings due to rain, Hunter Williams pitched the UNC baseball team to a 1-0 win over the High Point Panthers on Tuesday night at Boshamer Stadium. The Tar Heels jump to 23-14 with the non-conference victory, and the Panthers fall below .500, with their record falling to 17-18 on the year.

Williams, the freshman lefty continued his recent run of dominance with seven strikeouts and no walks over six shut-out innings. In his past four starts, he’s thrown 24 innings and allowed just two runs and ten hits, completely baffling opposing hitters all month long.

Offensively, the Tar Heels got a lead-off double from junior Alex Raburn in the second inning, which turned into the game’s only run when he was hit home on the next play by another double, this one from catcher Korey Dunbar.

After that, though, the pitchers went back and forth until the rain came, as Carolina picked up just two more hits on High Point starting pitcher Michael Hennessey after scoring in the second, while High Point managed just three hits for the entire six innings against Williams.

Up Next:

UNC has the final game of its seven game home-stand scheduled for Wednesday night as they host the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Alex Raburn made the start at second base over junior college transfer Eli Sutherland, who had started the previous 19 games at the position.
  • With tonight’s big performance, Hunter Williams drops his ERA to 1.14 on the season.

High Point Slides Into Chapel Hill to Face Diamond Heels

Back into the Baseball America top 25 poll, the #23 UNC baseball team enters the final two games of what was a seven game home-stand on Tuesday night, as they put their 22-14 record on the line against the High Point Panthers, who come into the game at 17-17 so far in 2015.

The Tar Heels went 4-1 last week at Boshamer Stadium, with a huge series win against their arch-rivals, the NC State Wolfpack, as well as a revenge victory against #18 Coastal Carolina last Tuesday. Those victories came sandwiched around Wednesday’s win against a tough Liberty team, and were enough to get UNC back into national recognition.

Zac Gallen’s complete game victory against the Wolfpack last Friday was the biggest story of the weekend, but the emergence of sophomore Joe Dudek at first base may be the story to keep an eye on during the stretch run, as the New Jersey native went 3 for 4 with a double and an RBI in Sunday’s series finale– likely cementing his spot as a full-time starter in the process.

Joe Dudek waits for his pitch against NC State. (UNC Athletics)

Joe Dudek waits for his pitch against NC State. (UNC Athletics)

For the season, Dudek has started just 12 games, but has played in 22 of the team’s 36–hitting for an average of .342, which is good enough for second on the team behind Brian Miller (.343). On top of that, Dudek has proven to be one of the more powerful bats in Coach Mike Fox’s dugout, leading the team with a .632 slugging percentage, more than 100 points higher than the next man on the list, catcher Korey Dunbar (.529).

High Point, meanwhile, is coming off a series loss to the same Coastal Carolina team defeated by the Tar Heels last week. The Panthers are led on offense by outfielder Josh Greene, who has five home runs and is one of two full-time Panther starters hitting above .300.

First pitch on Tuesday is scheduled for 6 p.m, with starting pitchers yet to be announced.

Pitt Squeaks by UNC in Extra Innings

It took longer than expected, but when all was said and done, the Pittsburgh Panthers earned a 3-2 home victory over the 11th ranked UNC baseball team at Charles Cost Field, in a low-scoring contest where neither team ever led by more than one run. Pitt clinches the series with the win and improves to 8-9 overall with a 3-3 record against conference opponents, while the Tar Heels slide to 12-7 overall and into a tie with the Panthers in the ACC standings at 3-3.

Pinch-hitter Eric Hess hit a walk-off single off of Spencer Trayner (1-2) in the bottom of the tenth, driving in third baseman Ron Sherman to break a 2-2 tie and hand Pittsburgh their first ACC series win of the season. Hobie Harris (1-1) picked up the win for finishing the game with 1.2 scoreless innings of relief.

For the second straight day, pitching ruled the afternoon, with neither offense able to mount much of an attack. In their previous three losses, UNC allowed 34 runs combined, so even with the loss this game gave a welcome sign for the Carolina staff.

Injuries have deprived the Tar Heels of two of their best pitchers, reliever Reilly Hovis and starter Benton Moss, for most of the early part of 2015. As a result, junior Trent Thornton returned to the closer role he held during the fantastic 2013 campaign and has picked up a team leading three saves in the process.

Earning the start for UNC was Trent Thornton, who had been serving as the closer temporarily. (UNC Athletics)

Earning the start for UNC was Trent Thornton, who had been serving as the closer temporarily. (UNC Athletics)

With the series on the line Sunday, Coach Mike Fox decided it was time for Thornton to help out in the starting rotation once again.

The fearless right-hander certainly rewarded his coach for making that decision, holding the Panthers to just one unearned run and one hit over five innings, however he was denied a chance at earning the win due to the lack of run support.

Pitt got the first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning, after Thornton’s third walk of the inning to shortstop Charles LeBlanc came with the bases loaded. An error by Carolina first baseman Zack Gahagan earlier in the inning kept the Panthers alive, and they were able to score despite not having a hit in the frame.

Quebec-born junior Marc Berube had the Tar Heel hitters scared to step up to the plate for more reasons than one. For seven innings he kept UNC’s bats mostly at bay, striking out seven and allowing just one run on five hits. On the other hand, he also hit four batters with pitches.

Left-fielder Landon Lassiter drove in a pair of RBI for the Tar Heels. (UNC Athletics)

Left-fielder Landon Lassiter drove in a pair of RBI for the Tar Heels. (UNC Athletics)

Refusing to be shut-out, Carolina left-fielder Landon Lassiter found the chink in Berube’s armor, driving in Elijah Sutherland with a two-out single in the top of the seventh inning that tied the score late.

A sacrifice fly by Panthers’ third baseman Ron Sherman off of Trevor Kelley in the bottom of the seventh gave the lead right back to Pittsburgh, after Kelley came on to get freshman Jason Morgan out of a jam.

Kelley provided a 1-2-3 eighth inning for the second consecutive day to give his team a chance to rally from one run down in the top of the ninth.

And again it was Lassiter coming through for the Tar Heels, with his one-out sacrifice fly in the ninth scoring freshman Brian Miller and tying the game at two apiece off of Pitt reliever Hobie Harris.

Extra innings were needed when Kelley set the Panthers down in order in the ninth, but ultimately Spencer Trayner and the rest of the Carolina team were unable to step up at the end.

Up Next:

A short return home awaits the Tar Heels, as they will host Davidson at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday, before they head to Atlanta at the end of the week for a three game series with Georgia Tech. First pitch is set for 3 P.M.

Game Notes:

  • UNC second baseman Elijah Sutherland, making just his second start of the season, reached base all three times he faced Berube.
  • Trevor Kelley’s incredible streak of relief appearances for the Tar Heels was extended to eight games, and he did not allow an earned run, shrinking his ERA to 1.08.
  • On a crazy play in the bottom of the sixth, Berube threw a wild pitch, sending UNC’s Logan Warmoth racing towards home plate, but the ball took a perfect bounce off the backstop right back to Pitt catcher Manny Pazos, who tagged Warmoth out to save a run.
  • Pitt head coach Joe Jordano was ejected in the ninth for arguing balls and strikes.


Bukauskas Pitches UNC Baseball to Victory Over Pitt

A late offensive surge, combined with another fantastic start from JB Bukauskas, delivered the 11th ranked UNC baseball squad a much needed 3-1 victory over the Pitt Panthers late Saturday afternoon at Pittsburgh’s Charles Cost Field. The Tar Heels rise back above .500 in conference play with the win, going to 12-6 overall and 3-2 in league play, while the Panthers drop to 7-9 overall and 2-3 in conference.

Since yesterday’s series opener between these two ACC foes was a time for the bats to shine, it seemed only right that the pitchers would get their opportunity in this one.

UNC head coach Mike Fox sent his freshman sensation, Bukauskas (3-1), to take the hill against a dangerous Panther line-up that exploded for 12 runs in Game 1 off of the Tar Heel pitching staff, including eight in the first four innings on starter Zac Gallen.

With yesterday’s sub-par performance still hovering on Carolina’s mind, the young Bukauskas calmed everything down by displaying the kind of composure that Coach Fox has raved about all season long.

Last weekend at home against Duke, Bukauskas had a career day, going six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts on his way to victory, maintaining complete control throughout.

For anyone expecting more of the same, they were rewarded graciously, as the six-foot kid out of Ashburn, Virginia gave his team six more terrific innings, holding the Panthers to one run and just four hits, while also striking out six batters as well.

Skye Bolt's two late RBI helped JB Bukauskas earn the victory. (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt’s two late RBI helped JB Bukauskas earn the victory. (UNC Athletics)

Pittsburgh actually took the first lead of the game with a second inning run on right-fielder Frank Maldonado’s single, which plated Alex Kowalczyk, who had reached third base prior to that due to a wild pitch.

However, a passed ball in the top of the third allowed the Tar Heels’ second baseman Elijah Sutherland to come home and tie the affair. At one point it appeared the unearned run would be the only blemish on Pitt’s own wonderful pitching outing.

Bukauskas’ counterpart, junior Aaron Sandefur (1-2), had his best stuff as well, limiting the Tar Heels to just one hit through the first five innings, but he found trouble once he reached the sixth.

Korey Dunbar, Landon Lassiter, and Zack Gahagan each singled for Carolina to load the bases with one out, forcing the Panthers to turn to their bullpen to try and escape the jam. Damage was limited to just a single run, but Skye Bolt’s sacrifice fly to right-field sent Dunbar across the plate and handed UNC their first lead of the day.

Sandefur was able to give his team 5.1 innings of four-hit ball, but unfortunately for him three of those hits were strung together in the same frame, which often means trouble, and in this case it did: earning him the loss.

Landon Lassiter shares a word with hitting coach Scott Jackson. (UNC Athletics)

Landon Lassiter shares a word with hitting coach Scott Jackson. (UNC Athletics)

And for the second straight day, Bolt smashed a home run, this one coming of Panthers’ reliever Hobie Harris, and giving him his third of the season. The solo shot came in the top of the ninth inning, and drained any fight Pittsburgh had left.

The bullpen issues that have haunted the Tar Heels so far this season failed to make an appearance on Saturday.

Spencer Trayner pitched a scoreless seventh inning, and Coach Fox’s favorite workhorse, senior Trevor Kelley, worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning, before shutting Pitt down in the bottom of the ninth to earn the save.

Up Next:

The rubber match in the series is set to begin at noon on Sunday, with the earlier start time made to accommodate the Tar Heels’ travel schedule as classes resume on Monday. Starting pitchers are still to be announced.

Game Notes:

  • Skye Bolt’s third home-run ties him for the UNC lead with right-fielder Tyler Ramirez.
  • The consecutive relief appearance streak is up to seven games in a row for Carolina’s Trevor Kelley.
  • Pittsburgh managed just six hits Saturday, after scoring 12 runs on Friday.


Pittsburgh Outlasts UNC in a Thriller on the Diamond

An explosion of unexpected offense dominated the action on Friday at Pittsburgh’s Charles Cost Field, as the 11th ranked UNC baseball team couldn’t quite keep up with the Pitt Panthers, losing 12-9. The Tar Heels tumble to 11-6 overall with a 2-2 record inside the conference after the loss. The win marks the Panthers’ second over the past week to a school ranked in the top 15, and they rise to 7-8 overall with a 2-2 mark in ACC play.

Surely this game was going to be a pitcher’s duel. Pittsburgh’s 6’7″ sophomore TJ Zeuch, coming off of an ACC Pitcher of the Week honor, didn’t give up a run last week to third-ranked Virginia, while Carolina’s Zac Gallen, also a sophomore, struck out 12 Blue Devils in his last time out.

Any way you want to look at the match-up, both guys on the mound entered Friday’s game on fire. What they ran into, however, were two line-ups each holding giant water hoses.

With the bases loaded in the top of the second inning, UNC right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, the team RBI leader, drove in three more with a double to center-field off of Zeuch to kick off the scoring and give the Tar Heels a seemingly comfy cushion.

Zac Gallen struggled to follow-up on last week's 12 strikeout masterpiece. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen struggled to follow-up on last week’s 12 strikeout masterpiece. (UNC Athletics)

Wrong. The Panthers clawed back with a run in each of their next two trips to the plate, before getting a solo home run from second baseman Jordan Frabasilio, which tied the game and kick-started a massive six-run fourth inning for the home team. Frabasilio was crucial to Pittsburgh’s offense throughout the day, going 3-5, with the homer and an RBI.

Gallen was pulled from the game during the inning, finishing with a final line of 3.2 innings pitched, eight earned runs, three walks, and no strikeouts.

His counterpart Zeuch was not much better, lasting just four innings, but all three runs he allowed were unearned, and he did strike out seven Carolina batters.

Coach Mike Fox and his Tar Heels refused to lie down and roll over against the Panther bullpen though, immediately striking back with a two-run double by sophomore Adam Pate, who had just came into the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth.

Skye Bolt homered to drive in three runs, but it would not be enough. (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt homered to drive in three runs, but it would not be enough. (UNC Athletics)

Still trailing by three heading into their half of the sixth inning, more help for UNC fell straight from the sky.

Center-fielder Skye Bolt blasted a three-run homer off of Pittsburgh reliever Ryan Campbell to give Carolina the lead following an RBI single from freshman first baseman Zack Gahagan.

Unfortunately, the Panthers still had something left in the tank, tying the game back up on a sacrifice fly off of Trent Thornton in the sixth, before their shortstop, Jordan LeBlanc, ripped a three-run single off of Thornton (0-1) with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh to again give Pittsburgh a three-run lead heading into the eighth.

That single by LeBlanc proved to be the difference, as UNC was emotionally drained after working to climb out of the early five-run hole. Closer Matt Pidich came on and worked a scoreless ninth to earn the save and clinch the victory for the Panthers.

Up Next:

The series continues on Saturday with a game time set for 3 P.M. Freshman JB Bukauskas will take the mound for the Tar Heels, looking to earn his third win of the year.

Game Notes:

  • Jordan Frabasilio’s home run in the fourth inning was his fifth of the season for Pitt, leaving him just one shy of the NCAA lead.
  • Skye Bolt, Landon Lassiter, and Zack Gahagan each had multiple hits for UNC.
  • Trevor Kelley extended his streak of games with a relief appearance to six. He pitched 1.2 innings without giving up an earned run.
  • Pittsburgh’s pitchers struck out 11 Tar Heels on the day.


Tar Heels Take Their Talents to Pittsburgh

ACC baseball play continues this weekend with the 11-5 Tar Heels, ranked 11th in the country, taking their talents up north to face the 6-8 Pittsburgh Panthers. The Panthers are 1-2 in conference play after dropping two out of three against Virginia last weekend, while UNC is 2-1 in the ACC so far with the recent series win over Duke.

Last week, each of these teams received phenomenal performances from their starting pitchers.

Carolina got 12 strikeouts and seven innings from Zac Gallen in a win over Duke, but it was Pittsburgh sophomore TJ Zeusch who was named ACC Pitcher of the Week.

Zeusch struck out eight Virginia batters in eight scoreless innings to hand the third-ranked Cavaliers their first loss of the season, something UNC head coach Mike Fox is all too aware of.

Pittsburgh sophomore right-hander TJ Zeusch was named ACC Pitcher of the Week for his outing against #3 Virginia. (Pitt Athletics)

Pittsburgh sophomore right-hander TJ Zeusch was named ACC Pitcher of the Week for his outing against #3 Virginia. (Pitt Athletics)

“They had a really close series in those first two games. The kid (Zeusch) pitched great against Virginia (winning) 1-0, in what was his first time up there playing on turf,” Coach Fox says.

The emergence of Carolina’s freshman duo of first baseman Zack Gahagan and infielder Logan Warmoth has energized the Tar Heel lineup.

Warmoth, who is tied for third on the team in hits, began the year at third base, but has since moved over to shortstop for the injured Wood Myers.

Gahagan is second on the team with two home runs and 11 RBI, despite having only started in half of UNC’s 16 games, trailing in each category to right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, who spoke about the progression of his young teammates.

“I’ve been really impressed. Those two have worked all fall, all spring to get to where they’re at now,” Ramirez says, “I think everybody’s seeing that on the field, just how hard they work and how good of attitudes they have, and I’m really glad to see they’re having success. But I also think it comes down to our leaders on our team, which have been helping guide them.”

Coach Fox, too, has been quite impressed with what he’s seen from the two young guns, who are also roommates.

“Zack’s really confident right now. He’s a good player, and he’s been swinging the bat good. He stepped up there with runners in scoring position and attacked the first fastball he saw (against Gardner-Webb), the single to right. He’s very athletic over at first, got a good approach to the game, very calm, listens, he’s very coachable, very teachable, and Logan’s the same way,” Coach says, “They’re gonna be good players.”

Zack Gahagan has started to earn the bulk of the playing time at first base. (UNC Athletics)

Zack Gahagan has started to earn the bulk of the playing time at first base. (UNC Athletics)

This weekend, UNC’s contributions from its infield defense, including Warmoth and Gahagan, will be crucial to securing wins in a tough road environment, along with great pitching, adds Coach Fox.

“Any time you go on the road in this league, you’ve got your hands full,” Fox says, “From everything we hear, it’s a tough place to play. They’re very well coached, they’ll be playing at home. We’ll have to pitch (well) and play great defense in order to be in every game, and hope we get a big key hit here or there.”

First pitch of the series is scheduled for 3 P.M. on Friday, with the Tar Heels sending Zac Gallen to the mound likely to match up with the Panthers’ TJ Zeusch.

Myers Injury Update:

UNC shortstop Wood Myers has been officially diagnosed with a broken left fibula, and his status will be updated after he has surgery sometime next week. The injury was suffered Tuesday in the loss to Coastal Carolina as Myers turned back towards first base after hitting a single.