UNC Refuses to Let Hurricanes Sweep Through Chapel Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next:

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

Game Notes:

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



UNC Drops Extra Inning Heartbreaker to Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We should have won today,” adds Fox.

Up Next:

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

Game Notes:

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



Ninth Inning Collapse Dooms UNC Against Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next:

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

Game Notes:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



No. 4 Carolina Meets No. 1 Wisconsin In West Coast Battle

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team, 26-11 overall, takes on top-seeded and 33-3 Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament West Regional Semifinal Thursday night at 7:47 p.m. in the Los Angeles STAPLES Center.

***Listen to the story***

For the veteran Badgers, the Sweet Sixteen has become customary. They’ve made it to this stage of the Big Dance in four of the past five years.

Frank Kaminsky is a special player for the Badgers (Badger Athletics)

Frank Kaminsky is a special player for the Badgers (Badger Athletics)

But this year, Wisconsin is the heavy favorite to progress even further. Armed with the first No.1 seeding designation in the school’s history, head coach Bo Ryan says he’s honored to represent the Big Ten in a big way.

“We’re just very pleased to represent the Big Ten and our University in the Sweet Sixteen. These guys definitely have had the kind of season that they’ve earned every inch of this. Hopefully we can go out to L.A. and get something done,” Coach Ryan says.

Less is more for Wisconsin. The fewer the number of possessions, the more of a premium will be placed on ball control, and frankly, up to this point, the Badgers have been far less turnover-prone than the Tar Heels.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says having played Virginia a couple times this season has helped Carolina prepare for the Wisconsin challenge.

An in-form Marcus Paige is vital for UNC's postseason success (Todd Melet)

An in-form Marcus Paige is vital for UNC’s postseason success (Todd Melet)

“Even if they’re not a team that traditionally plays slow, they’ll slow it down against us. They think that’s an advantage. We’ve played against that a lot this year. I think that will help us moving forward into this game. Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the country at doing that,” Paige says.

Although the Tar Heels would rather play an up-tempo style, UNC head coach Roy Williams says he’s not convinced his club will be able to establish a pace to their liking against the Badgers.

“Wisconsin is a one-seed for a reason. They’re able to get you to play their tempo more than you can get them to play the tempo you want. You guys have heard me say I’d much rather win in the 90’s, but if you want to be a really good team you’ve got to win in the 60’s or 50’s or whatever it is,” Coach Williams says.

The Tar Heels dive to the floor in their pregame ritual (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels dive to the floor in their pregame ritual (Todd Melet)

In practice this week, UNC has attempted to simulate the methodical tenor of the Wisconsin offense, but Coach Williams is under no illusions. The Hall of Famer says at this level, it’s hard to replicate what the best players in the nation can do.

“You can’t really simulate what the dickens Wisconsin is going to do. We talk to them about it, show them the tape and the whole bit, but you can’t do it. If they’re really good, you can’t really speed it up, you just better be able to play at a different pace,” Coach Williams says.

One of the stars in L.A. this weekend will be Wisconsin’s National Player of the Year candidate, Frank Kaminsky. The consensus Big Ten Player of the Year can do it all and is averaging 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

But Wisconsin is by no means a one-man show. Kaminsky says having all the pieces to the puzzle in place feeds into his confidence.

Roy Williams will no doubt be animated in the STAPLES Center (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams will no doubt be animated in the STAPLES Center (Todd Melet)

“We’re going into games expecting to compete, play hard and come out on top. When you get to stage like this, we were able to do it last year. We know what it takes. We know what we need to do on and off on the court. When you have that recipe for success with people in front of you, you know what it takes and know what to do,” Kaminsky says.

So what’s the game plan for Carolina? Coach Williams says the Tar Heels will need to lock in defensively, limit turnovers and make high-percentage shots.

“All the time I’m saying, ‘Let’s give them one bad shot.’ Our first goal is always to steal the ball, but you don’t do that much any more. I’m going to think about cutting down their field goal percentage, us making a high percentage and not turning the dadgum basketball over,” Coach Williams says.

UNC leads the all-time series with Wisconsin, 2-0, and won the most recent encounter in 2011, 60-57.

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Hunter Williams’ Gem Leads Tar Heels to Victory Over App State

Making just his third career start on the mound, 6’3″ freshman left-hander Hunter Williams had his eyes set on continuing the recent string of outstanding starting pitching for the Tar Heels.

“Coach challenged us, for the starting pitchers to just try and dominate the first five to six innings, so we don’t have to use as much of the bullpen,” Williams says, “And I just tried to fulfill that challenge.”

And he left no doubts about that with his performance at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday night, leading the 22nd ranked UNC baseball squad to a 9-0 win over the Appalachian State Mountaineers, who fall to 7-17 with the loss.

Carolina picks up their second straight victory, and improves their overall record to 15-9 for the year.

Right out of the gate Williams (1-1) struck out the side in the first inning, showing off an impressive array of pitches. His hard 93 mile per hour fastball often was used to set the table for his curveball and slider, both of which showed great movement on Tuesday.

Six shutout innings, six strikeouts, and only two hits, was the stat-line for the big lefty in the signature outing of his young career, as he cruised to the win with ease.

Of course, it always helps a pitcher’s confidence when he’s throwing with the lead, which is exactly what Williams was blessed with in the Carolina half of the first.

Zack Gahagan drove in the Tar Heels first run, and later scored himself in the first inning. (UNC Athletics)

Zack Gahagan drove in the Tar Heels first run, and later scored himself in the first inning. (UNC Athletics)

Fellow freshman Zack Gahagan put a single through the right side of the infield off of App State starter Reed Howell, driving home right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, who reached on a bunt single and stole second base to make the play possible.

Gahagan then found home plate himself, after his freshman classmate, and roommate, shortstop Logan Warmoth, hit an RBI single of his own to put the Tar Heels ahead by two after the first inning.

Nine pitches was all it took for Williams to sit the Mountaineers down in order in the top of the second, before his teammates added on another pair of runs, courtesy of a two-out error by Appalachian’s right-fielder Brandon Burris. The drop on Landon Lassiter’s deep fly ball allowed Korey Dunbar and Elijah Sutherland to come around and build UNC’s lead up to four.

“I think anytime you go out and put runs out on the board first, first and foremost, is a tell-tale sign of when we’re playing good ball,” says UNC center-fielder Skye Bolt, “I think Lassiter and Ramirez at the top of the lineup are good table-setters, and you always want to play with those two guys on base in the first inning. Playing ahead is a lot more fun than playing from behind, I’ll tell you that.”

The surge ended Reed Howell’s day on the mound after throwing just two innings, forcing App State to dive into their bullpen depth to begin the third. Howell (0-2) was credited with the loss.

Stout defense from Logan Warmoth at shortstop helped Hunter Williams out greatly. (UNC Athletics)

Stout defense from Logan Warmoth at shortstop helped Hunter Williams out greatly. (UNC Athletics)

Offense kept on flowing for the Tar Heels in the fifth, as they tacked on three more tallies, throwing some more dirt onto the Mountaineer cause in the process.

After each team put a doughnut on the scoreboard in the sixth, another lefty, sophomore Zach Rice, came on in relief for Hunter Williams, putting an end to his remarkable night. Rice started out by getting himself in a bit of trouble, with one out and runners on second and third, but Hansen Butler relieved Rice and was able to escape–with the shutout intact–on a strikeout and a pop-out to the two men he faced.

Although the game was safely out of the Mountaineers’ reach, it seemed Skye Bolt still wasn’t comfortable yet, jacking a huge two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to extend the Tar Heels’ lead to nine.

Over the final two frames, Spencer Trayner threw a 1-2-3 inning for UNC in the top of the eighth (including two strikeouts), followed by more of the same (even two more strikeouts) from freshman Jason Morgan in the ninth to close up shop on what amounted to a three-hit shutout by a combined five Tar Heel pitchers.

“We’re trying to get our bullpen a little bit better, so that’s why we’re running (Hansen) Butler, (Zach) Rice, (Spencer) Trayner, and (Jason) Morgan out there,” Coach Mike Fox says, “Those are guys that need to continue to pitch and gain some confidence…we gotta keep getting better out of the bullpen, and we were a little better today.”

Up Next:

A top 25 showdown awaits Coach Fox and his team, as the 21st ranked Miami Hurricanes make the trip north to Chapel Hill to face-off with the Tar Heels for a three game ACC series, beginning on Friday night. Carolina is 5-4 in the conference so far, while the Hurricanes lead the Coastal Division with a mark of 6-3.

Game Notes:

  • Tuesday marked the 24th game of the season for UNC, and the first in which junior infielder Alex Raburn did not earn a start. However, he did sub into the game later on at third base for freshman Ryder Ryan.
  • Hunter Williams failed to make it more than three innings in each of his previous two starts, making tonight by far his best career performance. His season ERA falls to 1.32 in 13.2 innings of work.
  • The Tar Heels improve to 5-1 in games in which they commit no errors.
  • Bolt’s homer was his fourth of the season, moving him into the team lead all by himself.



Tar Heels Touch Ground In LA Reaching For Stars

The Tar Heels have touched down in L.A. and will be reaching for the stars in a town full of them when they suit it up against the top-seeded Wisconsin Badgers Thursday night at the Staples Center.

***Listen to the story***

For the first time since 2012, Carolina finds itself still dancing in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

But despite the hiatus, UNC head coach Roy Williams says his team hasn’t lost sight of its big dreams and aspirations.

Roy Williams will be looking to impart all his experience to his players (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams will be looking to impart all his experience to his players (Todd Melet)

“I think at this round, we’re happy where we are, but hopefully we’re not satisfied. I always tell them that each round you go, the excitement, the fun and everything gets so much greater,” Coach Williams says.

With that said, unlike in years past, Coach Williams says he’ll need to show this year’s squad the ropes. There aren’t many players on the roster who have experience in the latter rounds of March Madness.

But the good thing for Coach Williams is the Tar Heels should be all ears to his coaching.

“To me, it’s sort of like, ‘okay guys, you’ve never been here so you better listen to what we got to say,’” Coach Williams says.

Junior point guard Marcus Paige says he’s going to soak up every minute of the California sunshine and would prefer it be more than a few days’ stay.

“It will be a lot of fun. You never want the season to end. It’s winding down. Now I want to make it out of the second weekend. We made it out of the first; let’s make it out of the second. We’re looking forward to the challenge that Wisconsin brings,” Paige says.

Marcus Paige will need to continue his fine form Thursday (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige will need to continue his fine form Thursday (Todd Melet)

In contrast to the Tar Heels, Wisconsin has experience in spades. The Badgers have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in four of the past five seasons and most certainly aren’t satisfied with stopping at that stage this year.

The slow, methodical pacing to Wisconsin’s offense will be eerily reminiscent to the ACC’s Virginia. Luckily for the Tar Heels, they’ve experienced recent success against that plodding style. UNC topped UVA in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

But still, Paige says he knows the challenge ahead remains formidable.

“I think it’s so different from the way we want to play. Sometimes, we have issues with that and struggle with turnovers. In a game with fewer possessions, taking care of the ball becomes more important. We’re definitely capable of playing in these games,” Paige says.

Thursday’s challenge may be made even stiffer by the status of Kennedy Meeks’ knee injury. Right now, it remains a mystery. But Coach Williams says he’s doubtful he’ll have the sophomore forward’s services Thursday.

But with or without Meeks, the show must go on, and the Tar Heels will be hoping to avoid taking their final bow against the Badgers.


Sweet Caroline! Mavunga Powers Tar Heels To Sweet Sixteen

At times, it was a master class of inside-outside offense at its best. Down the stretch, it looked more like a nervy collapse. But above all, for the Tar Heels, it was a win.

***Listen to the story***

The fourth-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team used sophomore forward Stephanie Mavunga’s 27 points and freshman Jamie Cherry’s patented last-second ‘Cherry Bomb’ to get past Ohio State, 86-84, Monday night at Carmichael Arena and in turn, advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.

Jamie Cherry delivered in the clutch for Carolina (Smith Hardy)

Jamie Cherry delivered in the clutch for Carolina (Smith Hardy)

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 26-8 overall while the Buckeyes finished their 2014-15 campaign with a 24-11 record.

After surrendering an 18-point halftime lead, Cherry came up big in the clutch, finding the net with .4 ticks left on the clock.

UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell says she looked to the heavens for some guidance on the final possession.

“She can shoot and light it up. There at the end, it was sort of divine intervention. I just thought, ‘put Jamie in.’ I knew she could make it,” Coach Hatchell says.

Playing at a staggering pace that had Mavunga herself gasping for air on the sidelines, the Tar Heels used their patented up-tempo, ‘track meet’ offense to motor out to a commanding 50-32 halftime lead. The 50-point output tied Carolina’s season-high for a half of basketball.

In an even bigger first-half surprise, the nation’s leading scorer, Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell, was held down to a mere four points on 2-11 shooting.

In her place, OSU junior guard Ameryst Alston tallied 30 points to lead all scorers. Mitchell eventually found her game as well, finishing with 25 points.

Carolina continued to dominate out of the halftime locker room, inching closer to the finish line with a steady offense and determined defensive effort.

But the Buckeyes continued to fight, hitting key shots and taking full advantage of Tar Heel miscues to eventually tie the game at 84-all with 5.1 seconds remaining.

Sylvia Hatchell has her Tar Heels back in a familiar place - the Sweet Sixteen. (Smith Hardy)

Sylvia Hatchell has her Tar Heels back in a familiar place – the Sweet Sixteen. (Smith Hardy)

And that’s when Cherry checked in, knocking down an aggressive runner to ignite the Carmichael crowd and save the day. The buzzer beater sent the UNC players into a frenzy. Coach Hatchell beamed, clenched fists held high in the air.

“Taking the big shot, it’s a big shot and everybody dreams of hitting the shot,” Cherry says. “I just wanted us to move on to the Sweet 16, especially for our seniors. … I didn’t want it to end here for them.”

Survive and advance they say. Well, survive, Carolina did.

Mavunga credited her little brother for inspiring her standout performance. The secret? A simple slogan.

“I’m a matchup they don’t want to see. He told me that’s what he said all day before his high school game last week. He went off in that game. I’m like, man, spitting some knowledge. I’m a matchup they don’t want to see,” Mavunga says.

The Tar Heels won’t need to travel far for the next round – just down the road to the Greensboro Coliseum. But the opponent may in fact be a ‘matchup they don’t want to see.’

UNC will take on revenge-minded and top-seeded South Carolina Friday in a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen encounter in which the Tar Heels toppled the Gamecocks on their way to the Elite Eight.



Hungry UNC Baseball Team Awaits Visit From Mountaineers

A rare series win in Atlanta over Georgia Tech has the 22nd-ranked UNC baseball team feeling better about themselves heading into their Tuesday home game with the 7-16 Appalachian State Mountaineers.

Despite an uncharacteristic 14-9 overall record for the Tar Heels, they can find comfort in knowing they defeated the Yellow Jackets in a series for the first time since 2009. That statistic alone has to comfort those who were afraid this team may have started to lose its way.

Carolina fans should also be excited by the return of senior Benton Moss from injury to a weekend starting rotation that has displayed hints of dominance so far this season. Moss threw six innings, allowed just one run, and struck out eight hitters on the way to a win in Saturday’s second game. He was previously sidelined for three weeks due to precautionary reasons relating to tightness in his pitching arm.

Increased offensive production from Korey Dunbar has been crucial for Carolina. (UNC Athletics)

Increased offensive production from Korey Dunbar has been crucial for Carolina. (UNC Athletics)

Bullpen woes have also been a major cause for concern amongst the Tar Heel faithful in 2015, so Coach Mike Fox had to have been delighted that only his top two relievers were needed throughout the entire weekend in Atlanta, junior Trent Thornton and senior Trevor Kelley, each of whom picked up a save for their efforts.

Offensively, UNC has received a huge boost from the bat of  junior catcher Korey Dunbar. Home runs in two of his past three games, including the game winner in the series opener at Georgia Tech, have helped Dunbar take over the team lead in slugging percentage (.607), while he’s also quietly churned out enough hits recently to also raise his batting average to an impressive .357 mark.

On Tuesday, they’ll look to continue the winning trend against an App State team that’s dropped 11 of their last 13 games and that claims just one pitcher with an ERA below 3.90. The Mountaineers are led on offense by junior utility-man Dillon Dobson, who is hitting .337 with a team-leading six home runs and 17 RBI.

The game is scheduled to take place under the lights, with first pitch scheduled for 6 P.M. Starting pitchers are still to be announced.


‘Second-Half Marcus’ Back For Sweet Sixteen Trip

The Tar Heel men’s basketball  team defeated the fifth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday night in Jacksonville to advance to the second week of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

***Listen to the story***

The latter rounds of March Madness used to be a formality for the Tar Heels, but in recent years, nothing has been a guarantee. But here they are – back where Carolina belongs.

Yes, how sweet it is! Using an up-tempo pace more to Roy Williams’ liking, the Tar Heels fought past the Razorbacks, 87-78, to advance and keep their big dreams of national glory alive.

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 26-11 overall while the Razorbacks finished their season with a 27-9 tally.

Coach Williams certainly had plenty to smile about after the game. The Hall of Famer tied his mentor, the late Dean Smith, with 65 NCAA Tournament wins – second-most all-time.

Things apparently got a little wild in the postgame locker room.

And you can’t blame Roy for celebrating; he says it’s been a tough year.

“Losing Coach Smith, losing Ted Seagroves – my big-time buddy, losing Stuart Scott, the stuff we’ve had going on, it’s been a hard year – it really has. I probably acted sillier in the locker room after this game than I have in quite a while. I’m going to try to enjoy the dickens out of this one for a while,” Coach Williams says.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige went off in Jacksonville, scoring 20 of his eventual 22 points in the second half to lead the Carolina scoring charge.

Yes, ‘Second-Half’ Marcus is back, folks!

Paige taking it to the basket (Todd Melet)

Paige taking it to the basket (Todd Melet)

“I think it was more the media that pegged that name on me. My teammates went along with it after it got some notoriety. I don’t know what that’s all about. I just try to help my team win. In big moments, I feel like I get put into positions to succeed by my teammates. Sometimes, if you have a poor first half you want to do whatever you can to erase that and make up for it,” Paige says.

Paige’s renewed health was put on full display and with a zero turnover performance turned in by teammate J.P. Tokoto, the Tar Heels proved to be a formidable force.

Can Carolina keep it going? Thursday will be the next chance to watch the Heels strive to achieve ‘elite’ status, or rather, advance to the Elite Eight round of the Big Dance.

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