As the UNC football team opened its preseason training camp Monday morning, all eyes were focused on senior quarterback Marquise Williams. Motivated by a disappointing finish to 2014, the dual-threat signal caller is expected to lead the way this year on a Tar Heel roster loaded with experience.
After toying with the idea of a two-quarterback system at times during last season’s 6-7 finish, UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora has given Williams the keys to the offense heading into 2015—noting the tremendous growth in Williams’ leadership ability.
“I didn’t necessarily just see [Williams’ leadership gains] today,” Fedora said. “I mean, that’s been happening all offseason, all summer, everything. He just knows he feels like its his team and he’s stepped up. He’s got more confidence, and when you have more confidence everybody wants to follow a leader that’s confident.”
Despite splitting time with backup Mitch Trubisky to begin last year, Williams finished the season with over 3000 passing yards, while also picking up 788 on the ground—but struggled to find consistency week in and week out.
Entering his final season in Chapel Hill, Williams is hungry to prove that he can take his game to another level while under the spotlight.
“I’m excited,” Williams said, smiling. “This is my last go-round, and I feel like there’s a chip. I still have more to prove to others that believe I can’t do it. And I’m excited to do that.”
Refusing to shy away from his lofty ambitions for this season, Williams has his eyes set on bringing home all kinds of hardware—both individually and with the team.
“The goal for myself is to, you know, be the ACC Player of the Year and make First-Team All-ACC,” the confident Williams said after practice concluded Monday. “But my main goal is to take us to the ACC Championship–something that’s never been done here. And also play for a [National Championship]. This year it’s looking like we’re gonna be down in Charlotte [for the ACC Title Game] come December.”
While it’s quite the stretch to think the Tar Heels have any shot at winning a national title (with conference hopes not much brighter), their success will largely be determined by how well their quarterback can perform. So if Marquise Williams ends up being the ACC Player of the Year, you can also safely assume the team will win its share of games to go along with it.
A Second-Team All-ACC selection a year ago, Williams will spearhead Coach Fedora’s high-flying attack notorious for making scoreboards, and opposing defenses, work up a sweat. He won’t have to do it by himself, however, as the Tar Heels bring back every offensive starter from 2014—something that has not been lost on their quarterback.
“It’s not about me, it’s about those guys surrounding me,” Williams said. “I don’t have to do anything flashy as the quarterback. Just put the ball in Ryan Switzer’s hands, or get it off to T.J. [Logan], or Elijah [Hood], Mack Hollins, or Quinshad Davis. Those the guys right there that’s gonna make this team this year. I just gotta play my part and do my role.”
With all of that experience returning, Williams doesn’t hesitate when pointing out the biggest difference he sees in his teammates so far this offseason.
“I’ve never seen a group of guys excited to get back to training camp,” he said. “In my five years here, guys usually dread training camp–like ‘Man, it’s the hardest thing’, but everybody’s excited, everybody’s ready to learn, and everybody’s ready to come out and compete. And that’s what it is. When we compete against each other, we cannot be stopping.”
Later on this week, we’ll check out the new-look defense led by defensive coordinator Gene Chizik–a controversial hire by the school, but a man that has won a pair of national championships (as the head coach at Auburn in 2010, and as a co-defensive coordinator at Texas in 2005).
UNC senior pitcher Benton Moss was selected to the 2015 Capital One Academic All-American first team on Thursday—the first Tar Heel baseball player to earn the honor since current New York Yankee pitcher Adam Warren in 2009.
A Morehead Scholar double majoring in business and economics, Moss has already received other prestigious awards for his educational pursuits—such as the Jim Tatum Memorial Award, given to one UNC varsity student-athlete per year for excelling in athletics and academics, and the ACC Senior Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Although he was chosen in the 15th round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the defending world champion San Francisco Giants, Moss opted to come back to Chapel Hill this year to finish his degree–and for one last shot at college glory on the diamond.
Despite the team’s struggles in 2015, Moss posted a 7-1 record on the mound, with a 3.44 ERA in 13 starts. He also moved into second on the all-time school strikeout list, becoming one of just four men in UNC history to strike out more than 300 hitters.
Academic All-American honors are selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America and are based on athletic and academic achievement.
Moss was the only ACC player to be named to the first team.
He was profiled here on Chapelboro.com before the season. You can find that story here.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/benton-moss-named-first-team-academic-all-american/
For the first time since 2001 the UNC baseball team will not play in the NCAA Tournament. It marks just the second time in head coach Mike Fox’s 17-year tenure that the Tar Heels will not be playing into June.
“I never thought we were immune to this,” Coach Fox said. “It’s not a given. You can say that, but all of a sudden when you’re not in, that’s the reality. No program is immune to this. There’s a lot of really, really good teams out there.”
The team finished the season with a record of 34-24 overall and 15-18 in the ACC.
UNC struggled to close out the season after being thought of as a potential top seed and regional host just a few short weeks ago. It also didn’t help that the team went 3-8 in its last 11 games, which is a large factor into the selection committee’s decisions.
“I think it’s that [the close to the season], and I think our conference record,” Coach Fox said. “I think anytime you finish below .500 like we did in the conference, I think those two things probably–in the committee’s mind, I’m not speaking for them–were hard to overlook.”
The indefinite suspension of junior left fielder Landon Lassiter—the team’s top hitter with a .300 batting average on the year—announced on Friday could also have played a role in the decision.
Fox has declined to comment on Lassiter’s status since the announcement, other than to say that Lassiter would not rejoin the team for the NCAA Tournament no matter how far they advanced.
UNC ended the year ranked 24th in the nation’s RPI rankings, which measure teams based on win percentage and strength of schedule. That was the highest of any team in the country that was not selected for the 64 team tournament.
The ACC had seven schools selected to play for a national title, including the Clemson Tigers–who the Tar Heels defeated last Friday by a score of 6-3.
“We talked to our players about this, that it’s not a right that we have being in this conference, or being anywhere, that [we’re] in,” Coach Fox said. “So now that it’s a reality we’ll see how it affects us going forwards. Hopefully, in a positive way which it should. We have the right approach and the right kids and the right coaches.”
For comparison, the Tigers finished the season at 32-27 and ranked 55th in the RPI rankings–but they closed out the year 8-3 in their last 11 games.
ESPN had Clemson listed as its “Last Team In” to the tournament, and the Tar Heels as its “First Team Out”–meaning the decision for the final spot in the field came down to those two teams.
Now the eyes will turn from a potential postseason run over to June’s MLB Draft, where Tar Heels such as Benton Moss, Skye Bolt, and Korey Dunbar have a great chance to be selected–but that doesn’t make the sting of missing the tournament for the first time in 14 years hurt any less.
“You hope when you don’t have good feelings about things that you’ll do things to put yourselves in a position this time next year to not feel this way,” Coach Fox said.
“That’s what we’ve gotta find out about ourselves, starting with me from the top down, meeting with all of our players. Who wants to help and really be part of the solution?,” Fox added.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-baseball-misses-ncaa-tournament-for-first-time-since-2001/
Feeling the unfamiliar pressure of the NCAA Tournament bubble, the UNC baseball team rebounded from back-to-back losses to defeat the Clemson Tigers by a score of 6-3 on Friday at the ACC Tournament in Durham.
Both teams finish with records of 1-2 in ACC pool play and are eliminated from conference championship contention.
The Tar Heels are now 34-24 for the season, finishing league play at 15-18. Clemson also ends the year on the bubble–at 32-27 overall and 17-16 in the ACC.
Freshman flamethrower JB Bukauskas (5-3)–like his team–bounced back from a couple of rough starts on the mound in his previous two outings. For the game he gave up five hits in 5.2 innings of two-run ball, striking out seven hitters without walking anyone on his way to the win.
“The last couple times out I haven’t been very sharp, just felt like I didn’t have anything. And I felt a little bit like that in the bullpen today [before the game] until I got out on the mound. It just kinda started to click.” Bukauskas said.
“I felt like I had my fastball more than I did [in recent starts], and the slider just started snapping off better,” he added. “Once I had that, once I felt confident with it I just started throwing it more. And it ended up with a good result.”
In the bottom of the third inning Skye Bolt blasted a three-run homer against Clemson senior right-hander Jake Long (2-1) to break a scoreless tie. From there the Tar Heels never looked back–although they managed all six of their runs on just five hits, taking advantage of eight walks and four errors by the Tiger defense.
“It was a big swing of the bat,” Bolt said. “[We] go ahead 3-0 and JB’s throwing the way he was. It’s important for our guys, it’s important for the team. It’s a good feeling. You wanna be ahead. You wanna have your starting pitcher up there with confidence having a little bit of leeway.”
“And that’s what I was able to provide,” Bolt continued.
UNC found some more offense in the fourth with an RBI single from left fielder Adam Pate and a bases loaded walk drawn by Bolt, who finished one for three at the plate with four RBIs.
Left fielder Reed Rohlman had three hits and second baseman Tyler Krieger had a pair, along with an RBI, to lead the Clemson offense. Krieger drove in the Tigers’ first run with a hard-hit single off Bukauskas in the sixth before coming in to score the second one himself later in the inning after a wild pitch by senior reliever Trevor Kelley.
Neither team picked up a hit until UNC right fielder Tyler Ramirez legged out an infield single in the bottom of the third after Pate previously reached base on a throwing error from Clemson shortstop Eli White–setting up Bolt with two men on base.
Bolt then turned on a 3-2 pitch from Long, sending it deep into the right field bleachers for the homer that gave Bukauskas plenty of breathing room–and that served as the difference in the game.
Clemson put up two runs in the sixth, but they immediately gave one of them right back. White made his second error at shortstop when he lost a pop-up by Bolt in the sun, which allowed Tyler Ramirez to come home and score UNC’s sixth run of the afternoon.
From there, Kelley worked the next three innings to close up shop– despite Clemson creeping to within three on a single by third baseman Weston Wilson.
After the game Bolt said he was confident that the Tar Heels would get into the NCAA Tournament, but UNC head coach Mike Fox still has some reservations about whether his team will make the final cut.
“I think if we [had went] 0-3 [in pool play], there’s a reason to leave us out,” Fox said. “It was a big win for us. Is it enough? I don’t know. I certainly hope so because I’ve enjoyed coaching this team. They compete, and I want my seniors–and obviously these other guys–to experience it.”
The Tar Heels now find their fate in the hands of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The 64-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced at noon on Monday–and shown live on ESPNU.
Led by a solid effort on the mound from junior Mike Compton, the No. 13 Florida State Seminoles cruised to an 8-4 victory over the UNC baseball team on Thursday night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
With their second straight loss in pool play, the Tar Heels (33-24, 14-18) are eliminated from contention for the conference crown.
The Seminoles (40-19, 19-13) are now in position to advance to Sunday’s ACC Championship Game thanks to 5.2 stellar innings from Compton (4-3), who gave up just two runs on five hits. Florida State defeated Clemson on Wednesday and is now 2-0 in the tournament.
Carolina’s offense–which has consistently been the team’s Achilles’ Heel this season–picked up just one hit through the first five innings.
Throughout that time period Compton shut them down with fantastic control of all his pitches.
“[Compton’s] good. He’s really good,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said. “I mean, Florida State’s always had pitchers that pound the strike zone. If you look at the box score that’s the difference in the game I think. We walk one time, they walk eight.”
Tar Heel Right fielder Tyler Ramirez finally sparked some life into the largely pro-UNC crowd when he hit a triple to kick start a two-run sixth frame capped by RBIs from Alex Raburn and Korey Dunbar.
They added two more tallies on Brian Miller’s two-run single in the bottom of the ninth, but by then it was too little, too late–as Florida State preceded that by putting up three runs in the eighth against the UNC bullpen.
Junior Trent Thornton (3-7) made the start for UNC and looked impressive, going 5.1 innings on his way to a career-high 10 strikeouts. He surrendered five runs though, four of which came in the first three innings–as the strong Seminole lineup made thunderous contact on the pitches they did connect with.
“It took a little bit for me to get in a groove, but it came down to making pitches in big situations that I wasn’t able to do tonight,” Thornton said. “And that was the difference in the game.”
Florida State outfielders Josh Delph and Ben DeLuzio each had three hits and combined to drive in four of the Seminoles’ eight runs to lead the Seminole offensive charge.
Although the Tar Heels have been knocked out of championship contention, they still have one more game to play as pool play finishes up in Durham.
“Tomorrow means a whole lot to us, the way I think we have to look at it,” Coach Fox said after the game. “I have no idea about what the [NCAA Selection Committee] is thinking or any of that, but I think it’s very important for us to win our last game before the NCAA tournament. If nothing else, just to have a win.”
The Clemson Tigers (32-26, 17-15) will be their opponent, with first pitch set for 3 p.m.
The Tigers took two of three games from UNC in their series earlier this season, which was played at Clemson.
Rallying from an early 4-0 deficit, the No. 3 Louisville Cardinals defeated the UNC baseball team on Wednesday night by a score of 7-4 in the Tar Heels’ first pool play game of the ACC Tournament at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Tyler Ramirez led off the game with a solo home run, as the Tar Heel offense came out swinging against the Cardinals’ freshman right-hander Sean Leland–adding three more runs in the third inning before Leland could even record an out.
But Louisville came storming back against UNC senior Benton Moss, in what was likely Moss’s final ACC Tournament appearance.
First baseman Brendon McKay kicked off the comeback with a two-run homer off Moss in the fourth. Then after trimming the deficit with another run in the fifth, the Cardinals exploded for four runs in the sixth to take control of the game for good.
“I felt like I had good stuff,” Moss said after the game, “Obviously coming off a little short rest [after pitching Saturday against Virginia]. But still, I felt like a competed and made most of my pitches. I have to give it to McKay, he pretty much had my number all night unfortunately, but it’s all good. I felt like I was hitting most of my spots.”
Moss was replaced on the mound during the sixth inning rally after McKay doubled and later came in to score. He worked 5.1 innings while giving up five runs on five hits–including three to McKay, who came a triple short of hitting for the cycle.
With his team trailing by four runs, reliever Lincoln Henzman–the second freshman pitcher of the night for the Cardinals–took over for Leland with no outs in the third and held strong against the UNC lineup for the next six innings. In total, Henzman allowed no runs on just three hits while striking out six batters.
Missed opportunities will certainly haunt the Tar Heels after this one.
With no outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, they came out with nothing to show for it. Catcher Korey Dunbar struck out, and then Leland forced both Logan Warmoth and Joe Dudek to pop out–making Ramirez’s long ball the only damage Louisville suffered in the frame.
Again in the next inning the Tar Heels had a chance to tack on a couple more tallies when they put runners on first and second base with only one out.
As has been the case all year long though, the hitters failed to capitalize–as Alex Raburn and Landon Lassiter each flew out to end the threat.
“We needed to score more runs. Obviously you can’t ever have enough runs, especially against a good lineup,” UNC Head Coach Mike Fox said.
“We missed an incredible opportunity in the first two innings,” Fox said, “That somewhat has been the tale of our season, where we have a chance to go up two or three runs there early. And we did have a big inning, but we could have had more than one, and I think you have to in order to beat a team like Louisville.”
During the ninth inning, the Tar Heels final chance to make a comeback of their own, Louisville closer Zack Burdi retired the side in order–getting Skye Bolt to pop out to end the game.
After the game, Coach Fox couldn’t help but to tip his hat to a great Louisville team hailed by many to be a favorite to win not only the ACC Championship, but the National Championship as well.
“I don’t know that anybody expected anybody in our league, whether its a first year team or a team that’s been in the league for 100 years, to go 25-5 in our league,” said Coach Fox, “That’s a tremendous accomplishment. Some of the best teams we’ve ever had in the ACC haven’t been able to do that.”
“It’s quite impressive,” he added.
Next on the schedule for the Diamond Heels is a matchup with No. 13 Florida State (39-18, 18-13 ACC). The teams have not played yet this season. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Facing a potential “do or die” scenario on Tuesday, Zac Gallen led the struggling UNC baseball team to their most important victory of the season–a 5-3 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies in Durham that puts the Tar Heels into the pool play portion of the ACC Tournament.
Had Carolina (33-22, 14-16 ACC) lost, there was speculation that they may not be selected for the NCAA tournament.
Those worries can likely be put to bed now, thanks to Gallen’s clutch performance–which also preserves the thin UNC pitching staff for the rest of the week.
Gallen (4-3) worked 6.2 innings for the game, surrendering just two runs on eight hits. He struck out seven hitters in the process.
Versatile infielder Alex Raburn had three hits for the Tar Heels to lead the offensive charge. Landon Lassiter had a pair of doubles and Skye Bolt picked up two RBIs to help the cause.
Virginia Tech’s season is likely over, as they finish the year at 27-27 overall and 13-17 in the ACC.
The Tar Heels’ All-ACC second team starting pitcher came out on top this time in his pitching rematch with Hokie left-hander Kit Scheetz.
“The main thing for me is just to try to keep my composure”, Gallen said after the game.
“If I make my pitches most of the time they’re going to get themselves out. I just try to stay out of the middle of the plate and make them hit my pitches, not try to give up any free hits. So luckily today I made some good pitches. I got some help from the defense, they really bailed me out,” he added.
Gallen allowed a lead-off single to Virginia Tech center fielder Saige Jenco in the first inning, but then struck out the side–in a moment that foreshadowed what was to come.
Trouble looked like it had found Gallen in the second when he surrendered a base hit and a pair of walks to load the bases for Virginia Tech. Jenco then picked up his second single of the day, striking first blood for the Hokies.
But the sophomore from Gibbsboro, New Jersey remained calm and got shortstop Alex Perez to fly out and end the inning without any further damage being done.
The Hokies had another chance to break the game open in the top of the fourth–putting runners on first and third with just one out–but once again Gallen kept his composure and escaped the jam.
Not until the seventh did he leave the game after giving up the Hokies’ second run. Jenco struck again with a two-out double, which was directly followed by an RBI single from Perez.
Reliable senior Trevor Kelley then took over for Gallen to pick up the final out of the frame.
After letting the Hokies creep to within one run in the top of the eighth, Kelley found himself in a difficult position with runners on first and third and only one out.
“It was a big situation. I had to get like two back to back strikeouts. And for me I’m just I’m more of a ground ball guy. And to get two strikeouts in a big situation, that’s very rewarding for me,” Kelley said.
The senior from Wilmington then returned to the mound and worked a scoreless ninth inning to seal the deal–striking out two more Hokies on his way to the save.
Meanwhile, Scheetz (3-4), who defeated Gallen by going seven strong innings on April 17, lasted just four on Tuesday.
Although he kept the Tar Heel offense at bay during the first three frames, he was done in by his defense in the bottom half of the fourth–as the momentum shifted completely.
Carolina got a huge break when Jenco dropped a routine fly ball in center field hit by Landon Lassiter to lead off the inning. Lassiter advanced all the way to third on the error, coming home to tie the game soon after on a sacrifice fly from Skye Bolt.
Two more runs would score for UNC–on a pair of RBI singles from freshman roommates Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan–to give Gallen a comfortable cushion to work with on the mound the rest of the way.
An RBI groundout from Skye Bolt in the next inning proved to be the difference in a win that did not come easy.
A perfectly executed suicide squeeze play by Eli Sutherland in the Carolina half of the eighth sent Korey Dunbar across the plate for the fifth, and final, Tar Heel run of the game.
“[We’ve] got to play under pressure,” said UNC Head Coach Mike Fox, “Our team has competed pretty much all year, we just haven’t been great”
“But we got the win that we needed to….we’ll focus on that. We need to continue to get better as a team, certainly,” he added.
The Tar Heels are now a part of a four team group that includes No. 3 Louisville, No. 13 Florida State, and Clemson.
UNC will play Louisville on Wednesday at 7 p.m., Florida State on Thursday at 7 p.m., and Clemson on Friday at 3 p.m.
The team with the best record in the group after Friday will play in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.
As the ACC baseball tournament begins at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday eighth-seeded UNC will take on the ninth-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the second of two play-in games–and a loss could potentially end the Tar Heels’ season.
Just a few short weeks ago it was thought that the Tar Heels could potentially host an NCAA Tournament regional at Boshamer Stadium.
Now they’ve been swept in back-to-back ACC series for the first time since 2001 on their way to a 13-16 record in league play. Pair that with an unspectacular 32-22 overall mark and you get a head coach with six College World Series appearances just hoping to play past Tuesday.
“I think Tuesday’s do or die for us,” said Mike Fox, “I don’t think you can finish 13-16 in your conference–and lose the play-in game–and go to the NCAA Tournament.”
“That’s me just speaking, not looking at all the numbers and all the teams. I think you gotta earn you way in.”
You have to go back again to 2001 to find the last time a UNC baseball team missed the NCAA tournament, a year where it finished 31-26.
Virginia Tech also the finished the year at 13-16 in league play, but with an overall mark barely above .500–at 27-26.
The conference tournament format—which has the teams finishing seventh through tenth compete in “winner take all” play-in games in order to advance to the pool play portion of the event—does not sit particularly well with Coach Fox.
“I do not like one-and-done, I’ve voiced my disapproval of that from day one,” said the coach, “There’s Virginia [in] seventh, and they’ve been playing well, and now they’re in a one game elimination. And that’s tough because they’re a good team. I think they’re deserving, especially with the way they finished [sweeping UNC this past weekend].”
“It’s hard. Baseball’s just not that type of game where it should be just one game elimination. That’s just my opinion.”
To move on, the Tar Heels will need a victory against a Virginia Tech team that has already proven it can beat this UNC squad, doing so on April 17 in Blacksburg against Carolina’s All-ACC Second Team starting pitcher Zac Gallen—a loss that has not been forgotten in Chapel Hill.
“Yeah, Virginia Tech gave us certainly all we could handle up there,” said Coach Fox, “We’re starting Zac Gallen [on Tuesday] and he pitched the first game up there and got knocked around pretty good. Gave up a couple long-balls.”
“They’re gonna present all kinds of problems for us.”
The most notable threat wearing a Virginia Tech jersey on Tuesday will be first baseman Brendon Hayden. Hayden was named to the All-ACC First Team after ending the regular season with 11 home runs–including a pair against UNC–51 RBIs, and a .314 batting average.
Although there is a possibility UNC could play three or four more games this week, Coach Fox can’t look past Tuesday–especially when it comes to thinking about how he’ll use his pitchers.
“When you put yourself in this position to play on Tuesday, you’re set up for whatever the league decides to do with you, in terms of the next three days, and we really can’t think about that. All hands are on deck with our pitching staff,” he said.
If Carolina does win its play-in game, it would be placed into a group alongside Louisville, Florida State, and Clemson. Louisville and its first-round MLB draft prospect, starting pitcher Kyle Funkhouser, would be the opponent on Wednesday.
The Tar Heels are competing in the play-in round for the second year in a row, having defeated NC State 4-3 last year in Greensboro.
UNC also defeated Virginia Tech 4-1 in the 2013 ACC Championship Game, which was the last time the tournament was held in Durham.
First pitch for the game Tuesday is scheduled for 3 p.m.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tuesday-holds-the-key-for-tar-heels-ncaa-hopes/
The Virginia Cavaliers scored five runs in the sixth inning against five different Tar Heel pitchers on Saturday, en route to an 8-2 victory over the UNC baseball team at Boshamer Stadium–giving the senior day festivities for Benton Moss and Trevor Kelley an unpleasant ending.
Carolina has now been swept in each of its last two ACC series, the first time that’s happened since 2001. The Tar Heels finish the regular season 13-16 in the conference and 32-22 overall.
Meanwhile, the successful weekend road trip helps the Cavaliers finish at 15-15 in ACC play and 33-19 against all competition.
“I don’t know how [Virginia’s] lost 15 games in the league, as well as they played. They obviously played well and we didn’t” said UNC head coach Mike Fox, “[We] didn’t make pitches and we haven’t swung the bat well in ACC play. Getting six or seven hits has kind of been our norm. We obviously needed better than that today.”
Benton Moss struggled in his final game at Boshamer Stadium–lasting just 3 innings while giving up two runs–and his fellow senior, Trevor Kelley, took over and pitched well initially, but ultimately ran into trouble against the talented Virginia lineup.
Kelley brought some life into the stadium after the Cavaliers loaded the bases in the fourth inning with no outs. The senior from Wilmington escaped the jam with a pair of strikeouts and an inning-ending groundout by shortstop Daniel Pinero.
Right fielder Tyler Ramirez then blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game at two apiece, but the crowd was quickly silenced by Virginia’s explosion in the sixth.
“We definitely wanted to come out and play well for those two [Moss and Kelley] because we love those guys, they’re awesome dudes,” Ramirez said afterwards, “So it’s definitely disappointing not being able to put up some runs for them and give them a [win] on senior day.”
Kelley hit the first batter he faced in the frame and later allowed a one-out single to Adam Haseley. Pitching Coach Scott Forbes then came out to the mound to remove Kelley, who received a loud ovation from the crowd as he stepped off the mound in Chapel Hill for the last time.
Then the wheels fell off.
Immediately Virginia pounced on junior Trent Thornton for runs in the next three at-bats–back-to-back RBI singles from Pinero and Matt Thaiss followed by a sacrifice fly from Kenny Towns put the Tar Heels in a 5-2 hole.
Zach Rice took the ball from Thornton, but was sent right back to the dugout after walking the only man he faced.
Then freshman Hansen Butler met a similar fate as Thornton–allowing the two batters he saw, Robbie Coman and Joe McCarthy, to slap run-scoring singles before he was benched in favor of Spencer Trayner, who finally ended the inning.
And as they have all weekend long, the Tar Heel hitters looked absolutely confused at the plate against Virginia’s dominant pitching staff.
They managed just six hits in this game, while finishing the series having scored just five runs–three of which came from Tyler Ramirez’s two home runs.
Afterwards, both seniors–Moss and Kelley–were very emotional about losing their final home game in a Carolina uniform—something Coach Fox says will heal with time.
“I feel bad for them,” said Fox, “But it doesn’t take away from what they’ve done here. I think over time they’ll see that. I’m sure today’s a sore spot, but over time I think you look back over your whole career–which I’m sure they’ll do.”
ACC Tournament action begins on Tuesday at 3 p.m. for the Tar Heels. They’ll be competing in one of the two play-in games against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Pitchers for that game have yet to be determined.
Their fifth consecutive conference loss drops the Tar Heels to 13-15 in the ACC and 32-21 overall, but there was a silver lining. They clinched a spot in next week’s ACC tournament with Wake Forest’s loss at Duke on Friday.
Virginia also clinches its spot in the tournament, and improves to 14-15 in league play–while increasing its overall mark to 32-19.
Much like his teammate Connor Jones on Thursday, left-handed starting pitcher Brandon Waddell baffled the Tar Heel lineup all night. Waddell (3-4) worked seven shutout innings on his way to the win, giving up seven hits while striking out six batters in his best start of the season.
“They know how to attack our hitters,” said UNC head coach Mike Fox, “I mean, Waddell when he needed a strikeout threw [his] cutter to our righties down and in. And they make big pitches when they needed to. That’s the sign of an experienced pitcher who knows when he needs to make a big pitch with guys in scoring position–and they were able to do that.”
“They’re very well coached,” Fox added.
The Cavaliers also jumped all over Carolina freshman starter JB Bukauskas (4-3) right away–constantly making hard contact with Bukauskas’ 95 mph fastball on their way to five runs in the first two innings.
Kenny Towns, the Virginia third baseman, hit an RBI double with two men on base to open scoring in the first inning. He then came in to score shortly after. A wild pitch to the next batter, Pavin Smith, let Matt Thaiss cross the plate while Towns advanced to third. Smith then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to bring Towns in for the third run of the frame.
Pitching Coach Scott Forbes visited the mound to speak with his young pitcher during the opening frame, but decided to let him try and work out his issues.
Virginia was just fine with that decision, as they tacked on two more runs in the second–both coming with one out.
That would be the end of the road for Bukauskas, after giving up five runs on just 34 pitches. It was the shortest start of the season for the freshman (1.1 innings), who also happens to be a Virginia native.
“JB’s gotta learn to pitch,” said Coach Fox, “He’s gotten by in high school with just–kinda what you see out there–‘just kinda rear back and throw it’. And that doesn’t happen at this level…he’s learning that.”
Trevor Kelley extended his NCAA lead in relief appearances when he came out of the bullpen for Bukauskas and pitched the next 2.2 innings–holding the Cavaliers scoreless in that time.
Kelley was replaced by freshman Hansen Butler to begin the top of the fifth. Butler finished the inning, but not before Virginia extended its lead on an RBI single by designated hitter Jack Gerstenmaier.
The Tar Heels best chance to take a chunk out of the lead in the first half of the game came in the second inning. A string of fortunate outcomes helped them load the bases against Cavalier lefty Brandon Waddell despite not picking up a hit.
Center fielder Skye Bolt reached on an error, and a pair of walks to Korey Dunbar and Joe Dudek gave freshman Zack Gahagan a prime opportunity to drive in some runs. Waddell escaped the jam, though, getting Gahagan to strike out on four pitches.
From there UNC scattered five hits over the next four innings against Waddell until its next big chance in the bottom of the seventh.
Gahagan led off the frame with a single, which was followed by Tyler Ramirez’s second base hit of the game–putting runners on first and second with no outs.
However, Alex Raburn grounded into a double play, and then Landon Lassiter flew out to keep Virginia’s shutout alive.
Not until Waddell was removed from the game in favor of reliever Josh Sborz did the Tar Heels put some runs across the plate.
Freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth smacked a two-run double off of Sborz, which drove in Dunbar and Eli Sutherland–preventing UNC from being kept off the scoreboard for the first time all season.
But it was not enough to climb out of the early hole, as Sborz tossed a scoreless ninth to preserve the victory.
After all of Friday’s ACC action, the Tar Heels know they have a spot in the conference tournament. But they’ll have to win a play-in game on Tuesday to advance into the pool play round that runs the rest of the week.
Warmoth said that might not be a bad thing for this team.
“We wish we didn’t have to play in the play-in game, but right now I’m trying to tell people I’d rather play in that game right now, [try to] win Tuesday to get some momentum going into the real tournament, and then not stopping, not looking back,” he said.
The series, and the regular season, will conclude with tomorrow’s finale. First pitch is set to be thrown at noon, with senior Benton Moss (7-0, 3.17 ERA) taking the mound for the Tar Heels. Virginia’s starter is yet to be determined.