Tar Heels Force Pirates to Walk the Plank

On a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon the 3-0, sixth ranked, Tar Heel baseball team hammered the Seton Hall Pirates (0-3) 10-4 in Game 1 of their doubleheader, followed by a 9-5 win in the second leg that completed a clean sweep of the series for UNC.

Early on in the first inning of the opener, it appeared that the Pirates would grab the momentum after first baseman Sal Annunziata’s two out double off of Benton Moss gave Seton Hall a 1-0 lead.

Although falling behind in the beginning of games was the Achilles Heel for the Tar Heels last year, that was certainly not the case on this day.

The offense immediately wrestled the lead away as soon as they got their chance in the bottom of the first, with catcher Adrian Chacon’s RBI single and an error by Seton Hall third baseman Kyle Grimm immediately handing the Tar Heels a 2-1 lead.

There was a bit of a scare in the top of the third inning, when Tar Heel starter Benton Moss inadvertently hit Pirate center-fielder Derek Jenkins in the face with a hard fastball.

“When you hit somebody in the face, that gets a little unsettling, just the way he got up, and then kind of buckled and fell was a little weird, but I think he’s doing okay, just had to get some stitches,” Moss says.

Jenkins would leave the game after spending a minute writhing in pain on the ground, and was replaced by Jackson Martin. However, Jenkins suffered no serious injuries, and was only kept out of Game 2 as a precaution.

The floodgates were opened up in the bottom half of the third as the Heels batted all the way through the order and scored seven runs on a flurry of base-hits and sacrifice plays. Skye Bolt’s sacrifice fly capped off the inning and left UNC with a 9-1 lead after three, ending the day for Pirate left-handed starter Anthony Elia.

It was a perfect example of what this team can look like running on all cylinders, as Adrian Chacon described the run by saying that “We were locked in, got a couple hits here and there, and we were able to scrap off a couple runs, and then once we got going again we were able to push off a few more.”

Skye Bolt showed extreme patience at the plate with two nine-pitch walks in Game 1. (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt showed extreme patience at the plate with two nine-pitch walks in Game 1. (UNC Athletics)

Moss came out dealing in mid-season form, striking out nine hitters on 88 pitches, while giving up just two earned runs in five innings of work.

From then on, it was smooth sailing for the Tar Heels in Game 1, as they rode the bullpen arms of Hunter Williams, Trevor Kelley, Brett Daniels, and Nick Raquet to close things out.

Logan Warmoth (2-4) and Adrian Chacon (3-4) led the balanced offensive attack, with each picking up two RBI in the day’s opener.

In Game 2, UNC again fell behind 1-0 in the first inning, on an unearned run, after Seton Hall lead off man Zack Weigel reached base on a throwing error by Tar Heel second baseman Alex Raburn, made it to 2nd on a base hit by Chris Chiaradio, stole 3rd, and finally scored on a ground out by Sal Annunziata.

Pitching stole center stage in the second act of the afternoon, with another Pirate lefty, Anthony Pacillo quieting the Tar Heel offense for the first three innings, before Joe Dudek’s double in the fourth drove in Adrian Chacon and Logan Warmoth, both of whom continued to impress.

Freshman JB Bukauskas brought the heat in Game 2. (UNC Athletics)

Freshman JB Bukauskas brought the heat in Game 2. (UNC Athletics)

Highly touted freshman JB Bukauskas showed fans why he’s received so much hype in the offseason, and why he earned a start in his first career college series, as he immediately unleashed fireballs on Seton Hall hitters that topped out at 97 miles per hour on the radar gun.

Bukauskas admitted he was nervous after allowing the first two hitters he faced to reach base, but says “I kind of hit a groove and settled in. I felt like the nerves kind of left me. It was just another game at that point.”

Any initial jitters he had quickly disappeared, as the freshman allowed no earned runs, only four hits in five innings, and earned all five of his strikeouts by making batters swing and miss, on the way to picking up the victory in his debut.

Coach Mike Fox had nothing but high praise for his young prodigy, saying that “it couldn’t have been scripted out any (more) perfect to get him five innings and eighty-something pitches. We weren’t going to let him throw over 90, so we didn’t see any reason to put him out there in the sixth inning. He just had a little tough luck there in the first.”

Once the sun began to go down, the bats woke up and went back to work for the Tar Heels. Tyler Ramirez’s single to right field with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth plated Korey Dunbar and Wood Myers, and gave UNC some breathing room. Over the next two innings, Landon Lassiter singled home Korey Dunbar, and Joe Dudek added another RBI to his tally for the game, making it 6-1 in favor of the Tar Heels.

The scoring continued all the way through the eighth with UNC tacking on three more, just to be safe.

Relievers Zac Gallen and Chris McCue combined to retire each batter they faced in the three innings they pitched (2 for Gallen, 1 for McCue) after coming in the game for Bukauskus following the fifth frame. Closer Reilly Hovis came on to pitch the ninth with the game out of reach, however he looked shaky in his first appearance of the year, allowing four runs before finally shutting the door with back-to-back strikeouts.

The two wins on the day improved Carolina’s all-time record against Seton Hall to 58-11.

Fourth-ranked UCLA is next on the docket for the Tar Heels, as the Bruins make the cross-country trip from Los Angeles to Chapel Hill for a three game series beginning on Friday, February 20th.




Diamond Heels Overpower Seton Hall in Opener

The UNC baseball team opened the season on a high note, defeating the Seton Hall Pirates (0-1) by a score of 7-1 Friday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium.

The win improved coach Mike Fox’s record in season openers to 16-1, giving his bunch a record of 1-0 for yet another time in his illustrious career.

On a day where temperatures hovered just above freezing, the Tar Heels wasted no time getting the crowd heated up, as sophomore right-fielder Tyler Ramirez blasted a two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the first inning, following a base hit by Skye Bolt that got things rolling.

The blast came as a bit of a shock for fans, as the sophomore hit just two long bombs in all of last season.

“I worked really hard in the offseason in the weight room, and on my swing, so I think it’s gonna start paying off this year, power-wise,” Ramirez says.

Things continued to work in the Heels’ favor from there. The next inning , designated hitter Joe Dudek sent a pitch from Seton Hall starter Luke Cahill deep over the wall in right-center field.

After walking Logan Warmoth in the following at-bat, Cahill, the preseason Big East co-pitcher of the year, would leave the game due to an injury, replaced by junior Sam Burum. To his credit, Burum was able to pitch nearly seven innings, helping to preserve some bullpen arms for the Pirates in the process.

Trent Thornton did an admirable job on the mound for UNC in his first start of the season, striking out six batters and allowing just one run on 76 pitches. Coach Fox decided to go to his bullpen with one out in the top of the fifth, after Thornton walked Pirate right-fielder Jackson Martin to put runners on first and second base.

Spencer Trayner was excellent in relief for the Tar Heels, retiring the first 10 batters he faced after replacing Thornton, and pitching shutout ball while giving up just one hit in two and two thirds innings of work. He also was awarded with the win for his efforts.

Coach Fox certainly stayed true to what he’s been saying in the pre-season, maintaining that he has supreme confidence in his bullpen.

“We’ve got all those relievers down there itching to pitch and we didn’t use (Zac) Gallen, didn’t use (Reilly) Hovis, didn’t use (Chris) McCue, and we’ve got 18 innings tomorrow, so that’s a good thing,” Fox says, “We’re gonna use our bullpen to death here early, so we don’t tax anybody.”

As the game wore on, UNC turned to its normal “small-ball” strategy using bunts and clever base-running to increase their lead after the early home runs, with Wood Myers, Landon Lassiter, Skye Bolt, and freshman Logan Warmoth each driving in a run.

Next up for the Heels is a doubleheader tomorrow against the Pirates, with the first game starting at 11 A.M., and the second game beginning approximately 40 minutes after completion of the first.



UNC Hopes To Regain Stride Versus ECU

The North Carolina men’s basketball team, 5-2 on the season, looks to recover from a 60-55 loss to Iowa when the Tar Heels welcome a 4-4 East Carolina squad to the Smith Center Sunday for a 3 p.m. tipoff.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for fifth-year ECU head coach Jeff Lebo, who played at UNC from 1985-1989 and is second in Carolina history in career three-point accuracy.

Paige shoots a jumper (Todd Melet)

Paige shoots a jumper (Todd Melet)

UNC sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks has five double-digit rebounding games already this season. To put  that in perspective, Meeks recorded five total in his entire freshman year campaign.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige will attempt to extend his 20-game streak of knocking down at least one three-point field goal.

Bu the main thing Carolina head coach Roy Williams will be watching out for is his team’s ability to make the easy shots around the basket. The Tar Heels squandered a bundle of short-range opportunities around the rim in their ACC-Big Ten Challenge defeat Wednesday against the Hawkeyes.

The Pirates, meanwhile, will be searching for their first win over the Tar Heels, trailing the all-time series 3-0.

Fans are encouraged to bring toys for the Toys for Tots collection outside the Smith Center. The toy drive benefits needy Orange County children who would otherwise go without any gifts this Christmas.


ECU Football Shatters Records In 70-41 Defeat Of UNC

East Carolina compiled a school-record 789 total yards of offense and nearly set a Pirate standard for points when it thumped UNC 70-41 before a stadium record 51,082 fans, eclipsing the previous mark when UNC last traveled to Greenville in 2011.

The Pirate faithful was treated to some serious offensive fireworks throughout as Breon Allen turned a 3rd-and 28 into his second touchdown run with a 44-yard scoring romp to give ECU 28-20 lead with just under four minutes left in the first half.

ECU (3-1) extended its advantage to 35-20 with just eight seconds remaining in the second quarter as standout quarterback Shane Carden collected his third touchdown pass on a 19 yard hookup with Brian Bishop.

The play capped a stunning final 10 minutes of the opening half in which the Pirates turned a one score deficit into a 15-point lead and the Pirates went on to roll up their second straight decisive win over the Tar Heels (2-1) in the non-conference battle.

Carden completed 30 of 48 passes for 438 yards and four touchdowns to just one interception. Allen rolled up 211 yards and a pair of scores as the Pirates shredded the Tar Heels defense in just about every way imaginable.

The Tar Heels kept pace with the Pirates early into the second quarter as Tommy Hibbard faked a punt and instead passed to Eric Albright for a 29 yard score and a 20-14 lead.

East Carolina’s defense did a solid job of shutting down the Tar Heels offense from there, including a three-and-out series led by Mitch Trubisky who replaced Marquise Williams for a spell.

Williams took a pounding with several hard hits by ECU’s defense, but the move to Trubisky seemed to take some steam out of the Tar Heels offense.

Williams and his ‘mates had some early success in what appeared to be a Southern-style shootout, as Ryan Switzer took a pitch and instead of running connected with an uncovered T.J. Thorpe for a 35 yard touchdown strike.

UNC also moved the ball well on two other series in the first half, getting the ball within the 5 yard line twice but settling for a pair of short Nick Weiler field goals.

Zeke Bigger added to the Tar Heels woes early in the second half with an interception and ensuing 35 yard return for a touchdown, boosting his team’s lead to 42-20.

Bigger already had 12 tackles at that point and his pick came just after the Tar Heels had a first down erased as coach Larry Fedora burned a timeout before the play got off.

The Tar Heels gathered themselves to make it 42-27 on a 75-yard, 2:31 drive capped by Romar Morris’ 7 yard scoring dash.

It was all ECU from there, however, as Carden and company kept running and passing through the heart of the Heels defense, which wasn’t existent for much of the contest.

The final stats showed what a massacre the Pirates pulled off, as they had the ball for nearly 10 more minutes than the Tar Heels, piled up 343 rushing yards to 145 for UNC and the victors had a 40-23 advantage in first downs.

UNC will look to bounce back next Saturday when it travels to Clemson.


Carolina Braces For East Carolina Collision in Pirate Country

The No. 25 North Carolina football team, 2-0 on the season, hits the road looking to take down in-state rival East Carolina, sporting a 2-1 record, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

***Listen to the preview***

At least outside the locker room, this weekend’s tilt is hard to mention without first referencing the 55-31 runaway victory for the Pirates in Chapel Hill last year.

Coach Fedora says he hasn’t needed to remind his players of what happened on that somber Saturday a season ago.

“I haven’t brought it up once. I don’t plan on it. If they have forgotten that, they’re probably playing the wrong sport,” Coach Fedora says.

With that painful memory still emblazoned in their minds, the Tar Heels are hungry for revenge. But the task won’t be easy.

ECU vs. UNC 2013 (Elliott Rubin)

ECU vs. UNC 2013 (Elliott Rubin)

The Pirates are coming off an impressive 28-21 upset win over the then-No. 17 Virginia Tech Hokies on the road in Blacksburg, VA.

Coach Fedora says he watched every minute of last week’s game and knows the UNC defense will have its hands full against an ECU offense led by senior quarterback Shane Carden.

“We knew they were a good football team. It didn’t surprise me. They were hot, especially in that first half [vs. VT], offensively. Their receivers made some incredible plays. That quarterback [Carden] took some hits. They blitzed him and got after him. He completed them and did a heck of a job,” Coach Fedora says.

On the flip side, ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill, who has a long history coaching against Coach Fedora, says he understands his Pirates will have their work cut out for them trying to keep up with the warp-speed offensive pace of the Tar Heels.

“You got to make routine plays, and you got to be able to play the next play. They’re a tall task for everyone. Not just because of their fast-paced offense, but because they can distribute the ball. Larry [Fedora] is getting his philosophy within the team. He has a quarterback who can run his philosophy and do what he wants. It’s a tall task for any defense. We’re up next, so it’s a tall task for us,” Coach McNeill says.

In close games, turnovers usually make the difference. And thus far this season, the UNC defense has created a promising number of turnovers – tied for fifth in the nation in turnovers gained through three weeks.

Coach Fedora says if the trend continues, Carolina’s weaknesses will be more easily overcome.

“One of the things that we spent a lot of time talking about is creating takeaways. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve done a great job of that. We have to continue doing that. When you do that, it makes up for a lot of other problems,” Coach Fedora says.

Ryan Switzer gets the handoff for the Tar Heels (Elliott Rubin)

Ryan Switzer gets the handoff for the Tar Heels (Elliott Rubin)

Saturday’s game is a sell-out. But Coach Fedora says his team should be prepared for the loud environment. The team practices with loud music pumping every day.

“We practice with a lot of loud music all the time. The reason for that is our guys have to be able to think, concentrate and communicate throughout that chaos all the time. Therefore, when we go on the road and in a hostile environment and it’s loud, you hope your guys aren’t going to affected by it as much,” Coach Fedora says.

UNC leads the all-time series with ECU 12-3-1, but the 17th meeting in the rivalry, and the fourth contested in Greenville, promises to be an entertaining matchup.


Scouting Report: A Chat with ECU Head Coach Ruffin McNeill

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with Pirate head coach Ruffin McNeill earlier this week. The two discussed the Pirates’ upset victory at Virginia Tech last weekend, Shane Carden’s leadership role on the ECU offense and of course, his team’s in-state showdown with UNC this Saturday afternoon.

***Listen to the interview***


Veteran Tar Heels Prepping UNC Youth for Saturday Showdown

The No. 25 UNC football team is busy preparing for the in-state showdown at East Carolina Saturday afternoon in Greenville. In particular, the veteran Tar Heels are mentally preparing the underclassmen for the hostility that awaits them in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

***Listen to the story***

It’s hard to forget the resounding ECU triumph over UNC in Chapel Hill a season ago.

The defense, especially took the loss hard, surrendering 55 points to the Pirate offense in ugly fashion for the fans in attendance at Kenan Stadium.

But senior safety Tim Scott says for his teammates, the slate is clean.

“As players, we already know what happened. There’s no need to keep on talking about it. It’s a new year, new team and new players. We’re just ready to play,” Scott says.

The ECU Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday. (ECU Athletics)

The ECU Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday. (ECU Athletics)

Senior leader and defensive tackle Ethan Farmer, who is tasked with anchoring a defensive line riddled with inexperience, says he expects a rowdy atmosphere in a few days’ time, but believes the Tar Heels will be up to the challenge.

“It’s a big-time game for us. We know it’s going to be extremely loud with their fans. It’s a good environment for us. We know it’s going to be a rivalry and a tough game. We’re ready for it,” Farmer says.

One of those underclassmen who will get his first taste of a road game environment will be freshman defensive lineman Tyler Powell.

Powell, a 285-pound Virginia native, says he was thrilled to find his name atop the depth chart in week one.

“It felt good to know that all the hard work I put in over training camp and even before I got here, paid off,” Powell says.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora, for one, has been impressed with Powell’s performance. Coach Fedora says he’s confident in Powell’s ability to hold his own up front.

“The first week [vs. Liberty], he graded out the highest of the defensive linemen – that was his first college game. I think the kid is doing a really good job. He is really coming on. You’re talking about a young kid that’s playing in the interior, that’s a tough thing at this level,” Coach Fedora says.

Ethan Farmer (Courtesy of GoHeels.com)

Ethan Farmer (Courtesy of GoHeels.com)

Powell and the rest of the young starters will soak in a new experience Saturday afternoon in Greenville.

Scott says he’s been explaining to the guys what the sold-out stadium at ECU will feel like, but it’s important for the team to take care of what they can control – how they perform.

“We already heard this week that it’s a sold-out game. We told the younger guys to just be ready and don’t let the crowd get to them. It’s going to be a big game, and they’re going to play really good at home. As long as we play our game, we should be fine,” Scott says.

However, there’s only so much Scott and Farmer can tell teammates who have never actually waged battle on the road in an unfriendly venue.

At some point, these Tar Heels have to just jump out there and hear what it’s like to be booed. It’s a scary and unpredictable situation, but sometimes, trial by fire can turn out to be the best learning tool.


Coach Fedora Relishing UNC-ECU Rivalry, Chance for Revenge

Game week is back for the Carolina football team. And with a trip down to Greenville to face East Carolina in Pirate country on tap for Saturday, head coach Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels know they will have to be at their best to emerge with a victory and improve to 3-0 on the season.

***Listen to the story***

The open bye week gave the UNC coaching staff the opportunity to go back to the basics and preach the fundamentals. The Tar Heels were sloppy with penalties, defensive assignments and tackles for large portions of their wins in the opening two contests.

Coach Fedora says he thought his team, loaded with an infusion of freshmen and sophomores, profited greatly from the refresher courses in practice at Navy Field.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get more reps and hopefully, become more comfortable. When it will slow down for them, I don’t know. Last year, it took a while for all those young kids. I don’t know when that will take place for them. But I thought it was good to have the open week at this point. It gave us some time to get back to the fundamentals,” Coach Fedora says.

But the tune-up time is over. Game week is in full swing for the Tar Heels.

The Pirates are coming off an impressive 28-21 upset over the then-No. 17 Virginia Tech Hokies at Blacksburg – a place few opponents walk out of on the right side of the scoreboard.

The ECU Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday. (ECU Athletics)

The ECU Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech last Saturday. (ECU Athletics)

So with an in-state rivalry contest against an in-form opponent upcoming in a hostile environment, Carolina will no doubt face a stern test. Coach Fedora says the regional matchups featuring ravenous fan bases only add to the excitement.

“When you’re talking about an in-state team, the good part about it is the regional rivalry. The fans love it – both sides. They don’t like the other side,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora and Lucas Crowley (Elliott Rubin)

Coach Fedora and Lucas Crowley (Elliott Rubin)

Coach Fedora says game weeks like these are what make college football so special.

“That’s good for college football. I think it’s good. It gives your fans something to talk about all year. It’s something to talk about up to the game and after the game. I think it’s a good thing,” Coach Fedora says.

Saturday will offer a chance at some sweet revenge for the Tar Heels. A season ago, Carolina suffered a humiliating 55-31 home loss in Chapel Hill.

Coach Fedora says he doesn’t have to remind his team about last year’s debacle in Kenan Stadium.

“You really don’t have to say anything. These guys don’t forget things like that. I’m sure in a lot of their minds; it will be a factor for them. It will be something that internally motivates them. But then you have other guys who are playing that had nothing to do with the game. It’s a game to them,” Coach Fedora says.

After opening their season in the cozy comforts of home, the schedule turns tough for the Tar Heels, with five of their next seven games coming on the road.

As Coach Fedora always says, UNC will be taking it one step at time, just trying to go 1-0 each week. But given last year, if Carolina is somehow able to go 1-0 at the end of play on Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, it may feel more like two wins for the price of one.


Carolina Baseball Suffers First Shutout

The North Carolina baseball team dropped a second straight game to East Carolina this season after being shutout 1-0 Tuesday evening at Boshamer Stadium for the first time in 2014.

With the loss, the Tar Heels fell to 27-19 overall on the year while the Pirates improved to 28-18.

It was a pitcher’s duel on a cool, wet game under the lights, but ECU’s Reid Love edged UNC’s Taylore Cherry to get the win. Love surrendered a mere five hits over nine innings and didn’t walk a single batter.

Cherry allowed eight hits and gave up just one run in six innings of duty on the mound.

Carolina’s best scoring chance likely came in the first inning when Michael Russell recorded a lead-off single, extending his career-best hitting streak to 18 games. Russell got into scoring position after Parks Jordan’s sacrifice, but no runs were manufactured.

Russell later left the game in the third inning with a sore back, but the exam break should come at a good time for the hot-swinging Tar Heel.

After the break, Carolina will resume action next Tuesday at 6 p.m. to host Campbell.


Mike Fox: ‘Every Game is Critical’ as Tar Heels Host Pirates

The North Carolina baseball team, 27-18 overall and 13-11 in ACC play, will be looking to continue its four-game winning streak when welcoming East Carolina, 27-18 on the season and 13-8 in Conference USA action, to Boshamer Stadium Tuesday evening for a 6 p.m. first pitch.

Carolina slugger Skye Bolt says unlike most seasons, the Diamond Heels don’t have to automatic firepower to mow down opponents. He says this year; it takes a scrappy effort from the entire lineup to be successful.

“We got to go out there and play hard-nosed ball. We’re not a team that can just show up with talent and win ball games naturally. We can’t wait for things to happen. We got to start making them happen. We’re going to have to cycle some guys in and out and figure out who can get it done,” Bolt says.

Bolt says getting lightning-fast Adam Pate on base to help manufacture runs can really aid the Carolina offense.

“He knows that he can run. We all know that he can run. Having your fastest guy on the team on first base with no outs is how you want to start every inning,” Bolt says.

Exam break is coming up for the Tar Heels, but a chance at revenge comes first. The Pirates took down the Tar Heels 3-2 a week ago down in Greenville.

Head Coach Mike Fox says every game is of the utmost importance from here on out.

“Every game is the most important one for us. The next one is tomorrow night. They’re all extremely important this time of year. You have to take care of business at home. Every game from here on out is pretty critical for us,” Coach Fox says.

With this urgency in place and an increasing number of balls being delivered to the outfield, the Tar Heels appear to be moving back in a positive direction at just the right time.