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.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/pitt-squeaks-by-unc-in-extra-innings/

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.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/bukauskas-pitches-unc-baseball-to-victory-over-pitt/

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.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/pittsburgh-outlasts-unc-in-a-thriller-on-the-diamond/

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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/tar-heels-take-their-talents-to-pittsburgh/

Sharp-Shooting Panthers Rip Tar Heels

The No. 12 North Carolina men’s basketball team couldn’t match the sharp shooting and the season-high point production of the Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday afternoon at the Peterson Events Center, falling 89-76.

***Listen to the story***

With the loss, the Tar Heels dropped to 18-7 overall and 8-4 in the ACC. With the victory, the Panthers improved to 17-9 on the season with a 5-7 mark in league play.

Pitt’s 65-percent shooting day was the best field goal shooting percentage by a Carolina opponent in the Roy Williams era.

The Panthers were led by sophomore forward Sheldon Jeter, who tallied 22 points on 10-14 shooting.

Sheldon Jeter takes a jumper (Pitt Athletics)

Sheldon Jeter takes a jumper (Pitt Athletics)

Pitt didn’t miss a single shot for the first five minutes of action in the second half to emphatically cement its authority on the contest.

As for Carolina, despite getting the better of the boards with a 31-27 rebounding edge, it couldn’t find the offensive firepower necessary to keep pace with Pitt in this outing.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says his team ran into a buzzsaw.

“They made a bunch of shots. I think they made more threes in the first half than their average for the year. We helped them because we didn’t guard them very effectively. Their looks were open looks. Still, you don’t have to make them all. But they made a bunch of shots and should be congratulated for that,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

UNC junior forward Brice Johnson led UNC in scoring with 19 points while sophomore Kennedy Meeks produced 15 points of his own. UNC’s junior guard Marcus Paige, who normally provides some offensive spark for the Tar Heels, went cold Saturday, only connecting on three shots from the field to finish with a mere eight points.

Outside the lines of the basketball court, Coach Williams says he was touched by the Pittsburgh student section’s tribute to legendary UNC coach Dean Smith.

“That was a pretty neat thing what those kids did out there. They gave me a card signed by a bunch of kids sharing their condolences over the loss of Coach Smith. They also gave me the banner they were holding up before the game. College athletics is not all bad. I told those kids I would keep those. They will never be tossed. I will always have those,” Coach Williams says.

Early on, it was all Pitt. The Panthers, capitalizing on Tar Heel turnovers, sprinted out to a 10-0 lead just three minutes into the contest.

But from there, UNC settled in to the proceedings. A Joel Berry three-pointer cut the deficit down to a five-point margin at 12-7 with 13:20 on the first half clock.

With 7:51 to play, the Panthers led 26-22 and continued to shoot the ball well, while the Tar Heels answered with some solid offensive production of their own coming from a variety of angles – Meeks in the post, Paige from outside and others in between.

But Pitt got more contributions from Jeter and James Robinson to spurt ahead again, taking another 10-point advantage with a 38-28 lead. The Panthers simply couldn’t miss. At the half, UNC trailed Pitt 48-34.

Brice Johnson was one of the lone bright spots for UNC Saturday (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson was one of the lone bright spots for UNC Saturday (Todd Melet)

Out of the locker room, Pitt continued to have its way against the UNC defense, knocking down shot after shot from behind the arc to increase its lead out to 57-38 with 17:08 remaining.

The Tar Heels could muster up little resistance to the hot-shooting abilities up the determined Panther attack firing on all cylinders.

A 21-point Pitt lead with 6:59 to go was plenty enough for the Panthers to cruise to the finish line and earn a much-needed signature win in the ACC with a NCAA Tournament berth in mind.

“That was their `A’ game,” UNC’s Marcus Paige says. “We didn’t bring ours, anywhere close to ours. They needed a big win. They saw this as a great opportunity and took advantage of it.”

Next up for the Tar Heels comes a rivalry matchup with No. 4 Duke Wednesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium. If UNC doesn’t prevail in that one, it will have lost four of its last five contests with only five games left in the regular season.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/sharp-shooting-panthers-rip-tar-heels/

Rested, Fresh Tar Heels Head To ‘Oakland Zoo’ To Tame Panthers

The No. 12 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 18-6 overall and 8-3 in conference, will play its first ACC game in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon when it takes on the Pitt Panthers, who come in with a 16-9 mark on the season and 5-5 ledger in the league.

***Listen to the story***

After a week-long hiatus spent absorbing the news of Carolina legend Dean Smith’s passing while hitting the practice courts, UNC should be eager to tip things off at high noon Saturday.

The ‘Oakland Zoo’, as they call the boisterous student section at the Peterson Events Center, will be ready as well, doing their part to guide the Panthers to an upset victory over the Tar Heels.

The Pittsburgh student section AKA Oakland Zoo (Panther Athletics)

The Pittsburgh student section AKA Oakland Zoo (Panther Athletics)

UNC sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks, meanwhile, will be looking to block out the noise and continue on his upward trajectory. In his last outing at Boston College, Hicks tallied a career-high 21 points.

Junior guard Marcus Paige was impressed.

“He was a beast on the block. He went to his right-hand jump hook. He hit the boards. He was really impressive, especially for a guy in his second career start. I was proud of the way he fought for us,” Paige says.

Hicks says his offensive performance can vary from game to game, but on the defensive end, it’s another story.

“At times, it’s been on and off. But on the defensive side, it’s always been on because it’s something you can control. Effort is all about you, your brain and body. That’s something you can easily control,” Hicks says.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says Hicks has emerged as the premier defensive stalwart for the Tar Heels, and with the recent losses, Hicks has been getting more minutes.

“Defensively, he’s won the defensive player of the game I think more than anybody on our team. He’s been trying to do some good things. You lose two in a row, you can’t say everything’s rosy. I wasn’t ready to jump off the building, but you got to try something different,” Coach Williams says.

Isaiah Hicks extends for the slam (Nick Vitali)

Isaiah Hicks extends for the slam (Nick Vitali)

In the second half last weekend against the Eagles, Paige says his teammates were able to make some strides thanks in large part to enigmatic junior forward J.P. Tokoto’s play.

“It’s more about playing a little bit harder and playing together. We did a great job of screening for each other in the second half and working to get great shots. J.P. set the tone for us defensively. He [Tokoto] did a great job being a pest on defense. Everybody followed that with intensity and urgency. The level of commitment to what we were doing ramped up another level,” Paige says.

Tokoto has been inconsistent this season. Bursts of breathtaking moments have been followed by bouts of sloppiness.

“J.P. gives us a third ball-handler in there when he makes the easy play. When he makes the easy play, they usually end up being assists. When he tries to hit the home run, it usually ends up being a turnover,” Coach Williams says.

Still in search of a marquee ACC win to put them on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, head coach Jamie Dixon’s Panthers fell just short of snagging one against the No. 9 Louisville Cardinals Wednesday evening.

Sophomore forwards Jamel Artis and Michael Young provide the most potent offensive attack for Pitt and will get most of the defensive attention from UNC.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the game, though, will occur before tipoff. Who will be in Carolina’s starting lineup? Coach Williams has been playing around with it lately and isn’t sure who will take the floor from the outset this weekend.

Carolina leads the all-time series with Pitt, 8-2, but the Tar Heels fell to the Panthers, 80-75, in ugly fashion in last year’s ACC Tournament quarterfinals in Greensboro.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/rested-fresh-tar-heels-head-oakland-zoo-tame-panthers/

UNC Heads to Pitt For Second ACC Contest

With the help of two-time ACC Player of the Week sophomore Stephanie Mavunga, the North Carolina women’s basketball team has jumped one spot to eighth-best in the national rankings.

The Tar Heels hold a record of 14-1 and are set to face the 10-4 Pittsburgh Panthers Thursday evening at 7 p.m. in the Steel City.

In this past week alone, Mavunga has averaged 24.5 points on 76 percent shooting from the field as well as 10.5 rebounds. Carolina’s low post has now become hers to dominate and Mavunga looks forward to leading her team into the next conference challenge.

“I know (Assistant Coach Andrew Calder) is always yelling at me to be patient, so I think I’m being a lot more patient,” Mavunga says. “And now that Xylina is not in there, I feel like (Danielle Butts) has more of an outside game than Xylina does, and that opens up the post a little more for me.”

The Tar Heels are up against an underdog that is quickly rising through the ranks, led by senior guard Brianna Kiesel. Kiesel averages 17.9 points, and almost five rebounds and assists per game.

Allisha Gray has been key to UNC's success this season (Elliott Rubin)

Allisha Gray has been key to UNC’s success this season (Elliott Rubin)

Although Pitt is unranked, they are starting their season with their best record in years at 10-4. Before a very narrow 6-point loss to No. 7 Louisville, the Panthers had not lost a game since December 7th.

Pitt and UNC have not had a matchup on the Panthers’ home court since January 2, 1981, in which the Tar Heels fell 79-67.

The game will be broadcast on 97.9 FM, WCHL and televised on ESPN3.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-heads-pitt-second-acc-game/

Tar Heels Tame Panthers For Happy Homecoming

The North Carolina football team rallied past Pittsburgh 40-35 Saturday afternoon thanks to a four-touchdown performance from quarterback Marquise Williams that electrified the Kenan Stadium crowd and evened the Tar Heels’ record at 5-5 overall and 3-3 in ACC play.

With the loss, the Panthers dropped to 4-6 on the year and 2-4 in conference play.

***Listen to the story***

Williams’ key fourth-down conversion kept the final drive alive for the Tar Heels and allowed for T.J. Logan to punch the ball in the end zone for the go-ahead score with 50 ticks remaining on the clock.

The win was absolutely vital for Carolina’s postseason chances. UNC head coach Fedora says he was happy with the perseverance of his team Saturday afternoon.

“We had a lot of guys who were very resilient and persevered when things didn’t look good. We were really positive all the time on the sideline with each other. No matter what mistakes were made, there was a lot of encouragement. They just kept playing. We talked about it during the week […] that if we stay together, we’ll be all right. We found a way to get the win,” Coach Fedora says.

In total, Williams tallied 276 yards and one touchdown through the air and racked up 122 yards on the ground with three scores. Logan led all UNC running backs with 92 yards and a touchdown that sealed the victory.

Pitt’s prolific running back James Conner didn’t disappoint. The sophomore churned out 220 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead the Panther offensive attack.

James Conner

James Conner rumbles ahead (Post-gazette.com)

The Panthers shot out to a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a pair of Conner touchdown runs, one for 56 yards and another from 16 yards out.

From there, the Tar Heels answered. A 23-yard dash on a keeper by Williams cut the deficit down to 14-7 with 12:03 on the second quarter clock.

But Pitt responded right back with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Chad Voytik to Tyler Boyd to extend their edge out to 21-7 with 6:57 left in the half.

A late scoring drive that served as the longest of UNC’s season, ended with a 2-yard touchdown by Williams around the end. But a failed two-point conversion attempt had the halftime scoreboard reading 21-13 in favor of the visitors from Pittsburgh.

In the second half, a 63-yard connection from Williams to Switzer narrowed the gap to a mere two points with 13:48 in the third quarter.

The Tar Heels got things clicking on offense, finding rhythm and distributing the ball effectively in a typically up-tempo manner.

But with 3:33 left in the game, Conner dashed into the end zone for his fourth score and gave his Panthers the 35-34 edge.

Marquise Williams and Ryan Switzer share a call with the coaching staff. (Elliott Rubin)

Marquise Williams and Ryan Switzer share a call with the coaching staff. (Elliott Rubin)

As it turns out, there was far too much time on the clock. UNC answered the bell with a gutsy drive that included a fourth down conversion from Williams and ultimately ended with the game-winning Logan rushing touchdown that sealed the 40-35 win.

Star signal caller Williams says he had no doubts about his ability to come up with the goods in his team’s final drive.

“If a team goes down to score and we have maybe three minutes to go, I go down to the right far end zone, stand by myself and get my thoughts together. I tell myself that I practice this every Wednesday. I told myself I’m going to win this two-minute drill for the team. It felt good,” Williams says.

Next up for the Tar Heels comes a short week of practice before a nationally-televised contest against 8-2 rival Duke Thursday night at Wallace Wade Stadium.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-tame-panthers-homecoming/

UNC Football Looking To Match Pitt’s Physicality Saturday

The 4-5 North Carolina football team desperately needs a Homecoming win against the 4-5 Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday. The 12:30 p.m. kickoff inside Kenan Stadium will feature one of the nation’s premier running backs, and he’s not playing for the Tar Heels.

***Listen to the story***

The Panthers are playing an old-school brand of power football that Pittsburgh fans enjoy and opposing ACC defenses lament.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora puts it bluntly, saying the Tar Heels have two choices this weekend – man up or take a beating.

“You have to come with a mentality that you’re going to match the physicality. If you don’t, you’re going to get embarrassed,” Coach Fedora says.

Sophomore wide receiver Ryan Switzer says the five losses have been hard to swallow, but the upperclassmen leadership is holding the team together with the stretch run of the season to come.

Switzer making people miss (UNC Athletics)

Switzer making people miss (UNC Athletics)

“It’s hard to stay positive when you have five losses. But that’s where the seniors and leaders on this team come into play. That’s how they earn their titles as leaders when we’re struggling. It’s our job as a team to stay positive. We have three big games left to finish the season,” Switzer says.

The star attraction for the Panthers is running back James Conner, who’s already racked up over 1,300 yards on the ground this year.

Coach Fedora says the Panther offense can wear out opposing defenses and will offer a severe challenge to the struggling Tar Heel unit.

“He’s [Conner] a big 6’ 2”, 250-pound guy that can go. They lead him with a 270-pound fullback and are really big up front. The quarterback is doing a nice job and then you’ve got the [Tyler] Boyd kid that makes all kinds of plays out at wide receiver for them. We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora is under no illusions. He doesn’t expect his defense to completely shut down a runner as talented as Conner, but he says the Tar Heels will have to limit his damage and come up big on third downs.

“I don’t know if you can go into the game and say you’re going to stop the run. We have to control the run. We have to be effective, force them into third downs and then get off the field on third down,” Coach Fedora says.

The Kenan scoreboard operators best be prepared for some fireworks Saturday.

Former Panther quarterback and current color analyst for Pitt radio Pat Bostick says although the game will feature two strong offenses, they both go about their business in very different ways.

“It’s two different styles. Carolina is going to run plays at a fever pace. They want to run fast. They want to run 75-80 plays a game and possess the ball for less than 25 minutes. Pitt’s going to want to do the opposite by running the football and score points running the football. The key for both of them is protecting the ball,” Bostick says.

James Conner (Post-gazette.com)

James Conner (Post-gazette.com)

Switzer, for one, recognizes the urgency surrounding this time of year. He says the Tar Heels need to take full advantage of each play on the football field with the finish line looming large.

“We don’t get to get these games back. It’s important for us to go into the next three games with that mindset. I feel like that will help us all as a team. You’re definitely not promised another game. We need to make sure that we don’t take these last few for granted and play with everything we have,” Switzer says.

Against a rugged Panther football team that likes to use ball control to eat up the clock with long, sustained drives, Coach Fedora says junior quarterback Marquise Williams and company must be efficient on offense to emerge victorious.

“They’re going to get in their base fronts and play football. They’re going be very sound, tackle well and be where they’re supposed to be. They’re going to make you beat them. We have to execute on offense to be able to do it. We have to get back to playing football the way we play it,” Coach Fedora says.

The Tar Heels lead the all-time series against the Panthers on the gridiron by a 5-3 margin and snagged the most recent meeting in 2013 – a 34-27 victory spurred on by a pair of Switzer punt returns that went the distance.

With both squads needing to win two of their final three games to qualify for the postseason, the stakes will be high Saturday afternoon in Kenan Stadium.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-football-team-must-match-pitts-physicality/

Scouting Report: Radio Analyst & Former Pitt QB Pat Bostick

WCHL’s Matt Oakes had the chance to chat with Pittsburgh color commentator and former Panther quarterback Pat Bostick. The two discussed Pitt’s transition into the ACC, star running back James Conner, the loss of historic rivalries and the keys to the Panthers-Tar Heels matchup this weekend.

***Listen to the interview***

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/scouting-report-radio-commentator-former-pitt-qb-pat-bostick/