UNC-UVA Series Holds Major Post-Season Implications

It’s now or never for the UNC baseball team this weekend, as it hosts the Virginia Cavaliers at Boshamer Stadium in the final ACC weekend series of the year–with each team looking to put themselves in a favorable position heading into next week’s conference tournament.

The Tar Heels come into the matchup placed seventh in the league, with a 13-13 mark in ACC games and an overall record of 32-19, while Virginia sits in 10th, at 12-15 in conference play and 30-19 against all competition.

“I just told [the players on Tuesday] that after 50 games [our season’s] boiled down to four games, and now it’s three,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox.

Head coach Mike Fox congratulates his center-fielder, Skye Bolt, after Bolt's ninth home run of the season on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

Head coach Mike Fox congratulates his center-fielder, Skye Bolt, after Bolt’s ninth home run of the season on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

“They get it, they can do the math. You’re either wanting to relish that, and understand it and play well, or you don’t. And if we don’t, and we’re not ready for it, and we don’t play well, we don’t deserve to move on.”

This upcoming series will have a huge say in both the Tar Heels’ and the Cavaliers’ postseason chances.

A series win for UNC could vault them into the top six in the conference, earning them a bye straight in to ACC pool play, while another disappointing performance could place them into a “winner-take-all” play-in game for a second straight year—something center-fielder Skye Bolt would like to avoid at all costs.

“We don’t wanna play that game, we did it last year. Nobody wants to play that game on top of fighting for a spot in the tournament,” says Bolt, “You don’t want to be in the situation that we’re currently in where [we’re] having to find a spot, period.”

“We’re better than our record shows. That’s the game of baseball, but it’s a double-edged sword and we’re wearing it right now, so we just gotta keep playing the ball that we’re capable of–and we have been.”

Last season the Tar Heels finished seventh in the league, and were forced to play NC State in a play-in game in order to reach the round-robin pool play used to determine the conference championship game. They defeated the Wolfpack in Greensboro by a score of 4-3 before eventually bowing out of the tournament in the next round, with a 1-2 record in pool play.

Trevor Kelley has been the team MVP this year out of the bullpen, and has plenty of postseason experience in his four years on campus. (UNC Athletics)

Trevor Kelley has been the team MVP this year out of the bullpen, and has plenty of postseason experience in his four years on campus. (UNC Athletics)

Only the top 10 out of the conference’s 14 teams qualify for the tournament–held in Durham this year–which means both UNC and Virginia could potentially find themselves on the outside looking in if they were to be swept in the series this weekend.

Both teams have performed slightly below some of the lofty expectations placed upon them to start the year, with each squad taking a tumble outside the nation’s top 25.

However, Coach Fox says these teams always seem to play better against one another, which along with the tight standings, should certainly raise the intensity level this weekend.

“We always play well against Virginia and they play well against us,” says Fox, “[There’s] been some great series that we’ve played against them. They’ve swept us and we’ve swept them up there [in Charlottesville].”

“They’re fighting for their life, we’re fighting for our life”

The Cavaliers’ struggles have been one of the top stories across the land after many preseason polls had them ranked second in the nation, but they still have the talent to compete with anyone–even after a crushing injury to their All-American starting pitcher, Nathan Kirby.

That level of talent is something that will require the Tar Heels to be at their very best in all areas of the game.

“They lost [Nathan] Kirby, which kinda hurts them, but they’ve still got good arms. They’re gonna play good fundamental baseball, they’re well coached, and we just gotta go up there and play ball like we’re capable,” says Skye Bolt, “Pitch, play defense, and hopefully continue this offensive swing that we’ve had.”

The Tar Heels' season could come down to one play with the position they're in. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels’ season could come down to one play with the position they’re in. (UNC Athletics)

Bolt has been the leader of Carolina’s recent hot streak with the bats, hitting four home runs over the last five games–putting himself all alone in the team lead in that category after slugging nine long-balls on the year.

With the stakes as high as they are for this series, it can be tough to predict what will happen out on the diamond.

For a man as experienced in pressure situations as Mike Fox, though, it’s a very simple task.

“I think the team that comes in and plays the most relaxed will have the better opportunity to win,” says the coach, “the team that feels the pressure a little bit of ‘if we lose’–playing the ‘if’ game–‘if we lose we’re not gonna…’ If you play that game, you’ll have a hard time winning.”

The first pitch of the series is set to be thrown on Thursday at 7 p.m., with the games scheduled to run from Thursday through Saturday–instead of Friday through Sunday–in order to give the teams an extra day of rest before the beginning of the ACC tournament next Tuesday.

All games will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-uva-series-holds-major-post-season-implications/

Bolt’s Home Run, Bogucki’s Pitching Lead Diamond Heels Past UNC-Wilmington

Skye Bolt homered in the fifth inning to break a 2-2 tie, while little used pitcher AJ Bogucki provided the Diamond Heels with an unexpected boost on their way to a 7-2 victory over the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks on Tuesday night at Boshamer Stadium.

With the crucial non-conference victory, the Tar Heels jump to 32-19 on the year, and also send the Seahawks to their fourth straight loss–which drops the visitors’ record to 33-16.

Although Bolt’s home run swung the momentum over to the home dugout for good, it was Bogucki that provided the story of the night.

“When [pitching] Coach Forbes told me yesterday that I [was getting] the ball on the mound today, I was super pumped,” says Bogucki, “I just wanted to go out there and throw strikes to kinda pick up after last weekend.”

Both teams came into Tuesday’s match-up as victims of weekend sweeps, with the Tar Heels putting together their longest losing streak of the season when they were swept by Notre Dame.

Even crazier, Bogucki had thrown just 10.1 innings this season prior to this game, but head coach Mike Fox and his staff decided to start the Pennsylvania native on the mound in favor of freshman left-hander Hunter Williams, a mid-week starter in each of the past seven weeks, due to Williams’ recent struggles–which include going just 2.2 innings on April 22nd at UNC-Wilmington in the first match-up between the teams this year.

Landon Lassiter had an RBI single in the second, and went 2-x for the game. (UNC Athletics)

Landon Lassiter had a pair of RBI singles, and went 3-4 in the game. (UNC Athletics)

He did not disappoint either, holding steady against the Wilmington lineup for five innings while allowing just two runs on three hits–striking out eight hitters in the process.

Teammates helped Bogucki’s cause when they scored two runs in the bottom of the second inning–one on a sacrifice fly by shortstop Logan Warmoth and the other by way of a Landon Lassiter RBI single–giving him some necessary breathing room against all of the scrappy bats in the Seahawk dugout.

Not until there were two outs in the top of the third did Wilmington pick up its first hit of the night against Bogucki, even though they came into the game batting .306 as a team (For some perspective no player on UNC has a batting average that high).

Aided by a highly effective slider, the sophomore also struck out six Seahawks over the first three frames–forcing the batter to swing for strike three each time.

However, he found a bit of trouble in the top of the fourth after he walked first baseman Corey Dick, because the next man he faced, designated hitter Joe Bertone, drilled a game-tying two-run homer which just barely stayed fair as it slipped over the fence in right-field.

But the Tar Heels’ hottest hitter as of late, junior center-fielder Skye Bolt, did his part to make sure his pitcher’s efforts wouldn’t be wasted.

Facing a 1-0 pitch from Seahawk reliever Jared Gesell, Bolt caught it with the sweet spot of his bat, sending the ball over the right-field wall for a solo home run that put his team back out in front.

“Any time you reclaim the lead after they tie it up, they had a little momentum, they had some base runners on…it’s good to get your team back on top,” says Bolt.

For the sixth inning Coach Fox made the move from Bogucki to lefty reliever Zach Rice, who presented a distinct matchup advantage against a Wilmington batting order stacked with seven left-handed hitters.

A solo shot in the fifth inning by Skye Bolt (right) proved to be the difference. (UNC Athletics)

A solo shot in the fifth inning by Skye Bolt (right) proved to be the difference. (UNC Athletics)

Rice got out of the frame only having to face three batters, but was pulled from the game in the seventh after allowing a lead-off single to Seahawk pinch-hitter Zach Canada.

The next man up out of the Tar Heel bullpen was senior Trevor Kelley, still the 2015 NCAA relief appearance leader, and also a Wilmington native.

Kelley got out of the inning by getting Kennard McDowell to ground into a double play, before striking out right-fielder Zach Shields two hitters later to keep UNC out in front.

Carolina was then able to extend the lead in their half of the seventh when Wilmington mishandled a potential double play ball in the field, allowing freshman designated hitter Brian Miller to come to the plate with the bases loaded. Miller then smacked the first pitch he saw over the heads of the infielders, bringing two more runs in for the home team.

With Kelley still cruising on the mound in relief, the Tar Heel bats decided to come out and put up another pair of runs in the eighth–just for good measure. Tyler Ramirez’s double brought home Logan Warmoth, with Ramirez later scoring on Landon Lassiter’s second RBI single of the night, all but ensuring a Carolina victory.

After tossing a scoreless ninth, Kelley was credited with a three-inning save, earning his third save of the year while his Tar Heels completed a 2-0 season sweep of his hometown school.

The win was UNC head coach Mike Fox’s 1300th of his career, truly a mind-boggling achievement.

Fox’s focus after the game, though, was on Bogucki, saying that not only was it the best he’s seen the sophomore pitch, his performance also could not have come at a better time for this team.

“We’ve seen him in practice, we’ve seen him in the fall, and we’ve told ourselves [the coaching staff] that ‘it’s in there, but when’s it gonna come out?’ “, says Fox, “And boy did it come out at the most opportune time for us, and the most critical time for us. He pitched well.”

Up Next:

The Diamond Heels will stay in Chapel Hill this weekend for their final conference series of the regular season, as they are set to host the Virginia Cavaliers for a three game set which will run from Thursday through Saturday, instead of the usual Friday through Sunday schedule. All of those games will still be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves.

Game Notes:

  • UNC is now 56-13 all-time against UNCW, including a 19-4 record under Mike Fox.
  • Skye Bolt’s home run in the fifth was his fourth in the Tar Heels’ last five games.
  • The three hits allowed by Bogucki were a career best for him in games where he got the start. Twice last season Bogucki started games and surrendered four hits.
  • Kelley Tracker: Trevor Kelley has now appeared in 36 of UNC’s 51 games to lead the NCAA in that category.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/bolts-home-run-boguckis-pitching-lead-diamond-heels-past-unc-wilmington/

Tar Heels and Seahawks Set For Battle

Coming off a disappointing weekend series at Notre Dame where they were swept for the first time all season long, the UNC baseball team looks to regroup in this, the final week of the regular season. The first chance they’ll get comes Tuesday, as the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks make a visit to Boshamer Stadium for a rematch of a game the Tar Heels won 6-5 in 12 innings back on April 22nd.

The two teams come in to the match-up with fairly similar overall records, with UNC sitting at 31-19, while the Seahawks are at 33-15.

In addition, each squad is riding a three game losing streak after the weekend, with Wilmington being swept also by No. 18 College of Charleston.

Last time the Tar Heels and Seahawks got together it was in Wilmington, and the game took nearly five hours to complete–with Carolina tacking on the winning run when right-fielder Tyler Ramirez scored on a 12th inning balk.

It’ll be important for the UNC pitchers to get back on track after giving up an average of seven runs per game to Notre Dame over the weekend, especially trying to recover against a tough Wilmington lineup that features five everyday players hitting .300 or better.

Although freshman Hunter Williams has been the Tar Heels’ normal mid-week starting pitcher, his recent struggles—unable to make it through three innings in his last three starts–may prompt head coach Mike Fox to make a switch.

Either way, this game holds serious NCAA tournament implications for each team, as they battle for seeding position coming down the stretch.

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

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-and-seahawks-set-for-battle/

Walk-Off Homer Wins Series Finale For Notre Dame, UNC Swept For First Time All Year

In thrilling fashion, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rallied from six runs down to defeat the No. 24 UNC baseball team 8-7 on a walk-off home run by pinch-hitter Kyle Richardson–in a game where the ball just could never seem to stay in the park–with the teams combining for seven long balls on the day.

Losing all three games in South Bend drops the Tar Heels to 13-13 in the ACC with a 30-19 record against all competition, while Notre Dame jumps to 15-12 in league play and 33-18 overall.

Sunday also marks the second time the Fighting Irish had to rally from three or more runs behind to defeat the Tar Heels this weekend.

Just as they did yesterday in the first game of the doubleheader, the Tar Heels homered in the top of the first inning to put the pressure on the home team.

Skye Bolt hit a grand slam for UNC in the second inning to put the Tar Heels ahead 6-0.  (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt hit a grand slam for UNC in the second inning to put the Tar Heels ahead 6-0. (UNC Athletics)

Sophomore right-fielder Tyler Ramirez followed up Skye Bolt’s walk with a deep drive over the wall in right center-field off Notre Dame starter Nick McCarty, spotting Carolina a two run lead before the Fighting Irish had seen a chance at the plate.

Benton Moss, the outstanding UNC senior starting pitcher, then worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the first to set up his team with a chance to extend their lead and take control of the game early.

Three walks by McCarty in the very next frame loaded the bases for Skye Bolt, who took full advantage of his opportunity–blasting a grand slam for his second home run in as many days.

Given a six run lead, everything seemed to be going in the Tar Heels’ favor, but Notre Dame first baseman Zak Kutsulis had other ideas.

A walk by Ryan Lidge and a single from Robert Youngdahl put two men on for Kutsulis in the bottom of the second, with the first baseman crushing a 1-0 pitch from Benton Moss over the fence–immediately cutting UNC’s cushy lead in half.

After the Tar Heels added one more tally in the third on a deep sacrifice fly by Joe Dudek which scored Korey Dunbar all the way from second base, their bats fell flat–getting no hits from the fourth through sixth innings– as the Fighting Irish chipped away at the lead with a few more home runs.

The Irish rally continued in the bottom of the fourth, when Kutsulis caught hold of another pitch from Moss for his second home run of the day, this one a solo shot with nobody on base.

More of the same ensued two innings later–in the Notre Dame half of the sixth–as Robert Youngdahl smashed a solo home run of his own, inching his team just a little bit closer.

Benton Moss pitched well, but allowed the Fighting Irish to swing their way back into the ball game. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss pitched well, but allowed the Fighting Irish to swing their way back into the ball game. (UNC Athletics)

Carolina head coach Mike Fox finally pulled the plug on Moss in favor of reliever Trent Thornton after the senior had finished the sixth inning having given up five hits and five runs, with all those runs coming by way of the long ball.

Thornton worked a perfect seventh inning, but like Moss, found trouble keeping the ball inside the park in the eighth and ninth.

A lead-off home run in the bottom of the eighth from Fighting Irish sophomore Cavan Biggio made it a one run UNC lead, and then Kyle Fiala tripled in the next at-bat before eventually scoring to tie the game heading into the final frame.

Failing again to provide a spark was the heart of the Carolina batting order–Skye Bolt, Tyler Ramirez, and Korey Dunbar–who each were set down by a pair of Notre Dame relievers in what turned out to be the Tar Heels final chance at the plate.

Fittingly enough the game would end on yet another home run, as Kyle Richardson took Thornton deep with two outs to seal the sweep for the home team–marking the first time all season long the Tar Heels have been swept.

Up Next:

A chance to recover awaits the Tar Heels on Tuesday night when they return home to Boshamer Stadium to take on the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks.

Game Notes:

  • Notre Dame has now swept two top 25 opponents this season, as they also swept Florida State earlier in the year.
  • The six-run comeback is also the biggest of the year for the Fighting Irish.
  • Skye Bolt now has eight home runs this year for UNC, which leads the team.
  • Cavan Biggio, who homered for the Irish in the eighth, is the son of former Houston Astro and MLB Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/walk-off-homer-wins-it-for-notre-dame-unc-swept-for-first-time-all-year/

Notre Dame Sweeps Doubleheader Against UNC, Takes Series

They played two games and 18 innings of baseball on Saturday at Notre Dame’s Frank Eck Stadium, with the Fighting Irish coming out on top of the No. 24 UNC baseball team in both legs to take the series win.

A late offensive rally helped Notre Dame take the first game of the afternoon by a score of 10-5, as they scored the game’s final eight runs–while pitchers Ryan Smoyer and Brandon Bielak combined to hold the Tar Heels to four hits in the nightcap, with the Fighting Irish taking the second game by a score of 3-1.

Sweeping the day’s games moves Notre Dame to 14-12 in the ACC and 32-18 overall. UNC falls to 13-12 inside the conference, with a 30-18 mark in all games.

Game One

The Fighting Irish snapped a 5-5 tie against the Tar Heels’ top two relievers, Trevor Kelley and Trent Thornton, by scoring five times in the bottom of the eighth to take control of the series with a series opening 10-5 victory.

Skye Bolt hit a solo home run in the top of the first, his seventh of the season, to give the Tar Heels the first lead in a game which they had every opportunity to come out on top.

Notre Dame tied the game in their half of the third inning against UNC starting pitcher Zac Gallen on an RBI fielders’ choice by left-fielder Ryan Bull, and then pulled in front in the fifth inning on a run-scoring single from another guy named Ryan–catcher Ryan Lidge.

Zac Gallen pitched well in the first game, but was let down by his bullpen. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen pitched well in the first game, but was let down by his bullpen. (UNC Athletics)

After that, Bolt ignited a big Tar Heel rally, leading off the sixth frame with a walk, before coming around to score and tie the game on a double from freshman designated hitter Brian Miller.

The team in light blue did not stop there, however as they scratched across three more tallies in the frame, as they were helped by an error in center-field by Notre Dame’s Kyle Richardson.

Richardson’s blunder on Logan Warmoth’s fly-ball followed an RBI single by Alex Raburn, and let Raburn reach home with Warmoth advancing all the way to second.

When Warmoth came home on Eli Sutherland’s single, the score had been pushed to 5-2 in favor of the Tar Heels, with all of the momentum seemingly residing in the visiting dugout.

Then Jake Shepski happened.

Shepski, the Fighting Irish’s freshman designated hitter, hit a home run off of Gallen in the Notre Dame half of the sixth that turned the tide in favor of the home team. Gallen, who went 5.2 innings on the day and allowed three runs on five hits, was done after hitting the batter directly after Shepski.

UNC head coach Mike Fox made the move to senior Trevor Kelley (5-2), his most reliable bullpen arm, to try and hold onto the lead heading into the final innings, but Kelley was not able to keep the Irish off the scoreboard.

First he allowed a game-tying two run homer to Ryan Bull in the bottom of the seventh, and then he put the first two men he faced in the eighth on base–resulting in four earned runs for the Wilmington native, as Notre Dame converted on seemingly every opportunity they had against Kelley’s replacement, Trent Thornton.

By the end of the late onslaught, the Fighting Irish had come back from a three run deficit and scored in each of their last four trips to the plate to bury the Tar Heels into too deep of a hole to dig out of in their final turn at the plate.

Reliever Scott Tully (4-4) , who picked up the win by pitching the final 2.1 innings, finished the game off with a perfect ninth by striking out Korey Dunbar and Brian Miller before getting Joe Dudek to fly out to close the book on the day’s opening act.

Game Two

Right away Notre Dame jumped on Carolina freshman starting pitcher JB Bukauskas for two runs in the first inning, added another in the third, and then held on from there–behind the superb pitching of Ryan Smoyer and Brandon Bielak.

Bukauskas (4-2) walked the first two batters he faced before allowing Ryan Lidge to single home Cavan Biggio, striking first blood for the Irish.

Outfielder Robert Youngdahl then followed up with a sacrifice fly, which scored Kyle Fiala for the second run of the inning.

JB Bukauskas, on the other hand, struggled in his start. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas, on the other hand, struggled in his start. (UNC Athletics)

For the day Bukauskas would last for just three innings, surrendering three runs on four hits as he struggled with his control–walking five batters as well.

Alex Raburn’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning off of Smoyer (7-0) served as the only offense the Tar Heels could muster in the second leg of the doubleheader, with the team struggling to get anything going all night long.

Smoyer would pitch the first six innings before being relieved by Brandon Bielak, who pitched just as well, as neither man gave up more than two hits.

Following Raburn’s RBI, Carolina received a single from Eli Sutherland in the seventh and another from Joe Dudek in the ninth, but were otherwise completely shut down against the powerful Notre Dame pitching staff.

On the bright side for UNC, the unheralded bullpen trio of Hansen Butler, Spencer Trayner, and lefty Zach Rice combined to throw the final five innings without ceding any more offense to the Irish, giving up no runs on just three hits in that time frame.

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will look to avoid the series sweep on Sunday with senior Benton Moss going to the mound to face-off with Notre Dame’s Nick McCarty. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on WCHL and ESPN3.

Doubleheader Notes:

  • This was the first time Notre Dame and UNC have met as ACC opponents.
  • Notre Dame leads the nation in fielding double plays.
  • The Tar Heels have now lost three of their past six games after previously winning 12 of 14.

GAME ONE BOX SCORE

GAME TWO BOX SCORE

 

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/notre-dame-sweeps-doubleheader-against-unc-takes-series/

UNC’s Hot Hitting to be Tested at Notre Dame

With bats starting to round into form after two blowout wins during the week, the No. 24 UNC baseball team will face a stiff test this weekend when it travels to South Bend to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who sit at 12-12 in the ACC, but hold an impressive 30-18 mark against all competition.

The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are scorching right now, having won 14 of their last 17 games to improve their record to 31-16, and 13-10 inside the conference.

Something will have to give when these two teams meet on the diamond. The Fighting Irish boast a staunch team pitching ERA of 2.99, while Carolina has scored 25 runs in its last two outings.

Notre Dame's pitching staff has been one of the best in the nation this season, from top to bottom.(ndsmcobserver.com)

Notre Dame’s pitching staff has been one of the best in the nation this season, from top to bottom.(ndsmcobserver.com)

Tar Heel center-fielder Skye Bolt, who is tied for the team lead with six home runs, says his team can’t take anything for granted against this hard-nosed Notre Dame team.

“[Notre Dame’s] a rowdy bunch–a rowdy, scrappy, hard-nosed team. [They’re] new to the conference [and] out to prove themselves that they can play ball, and they’ve done that thus far,” Bolt says.

“They’ve got a real good record, they’ve been playing really good baseball, and they can pitch really well, so we’re gonna have to go out there with the same approach that we’ve had–take our walks, but still being aggressive, what we like to call a ‘yes’ hitter [looking to swing] until the ball is out of the zone.”

UNC head coach Mike Fox has long been critical of his team’s offense this season, and is hesitant to say his team has fixed their woes in that area, at least until he sees what they can produce this weekend against the tough Fighting Irish pitching staff.

“We’re gonna find out this weekend,” Fox says about how much progression his bats have made, “Notre Dame’s pitching numbers are scary good, we’re playing on turf, and they’ve turned almost 60 double plays [this season]. I’ve heard all kinds of stories [about playing] up there.”

Three low-scoring games are expected for this series, which could make Coach Fox’s decision to limit senior starter Benton Moss’s pitch count on Tuesday very important, especially if the rainy forecast holds up–potentially forcing the teams to play a double-header on Saturday.

“We weren’t gonna throw [Moss] past five innings no matter what [on Tuesday], Fox says, “[Even] if the score had been close. If we’d been behind he might have thrown less, but [five innings] was enough.”

Benton Moss will be ready to go this weekend, no matter the weather. (UNC Athletics)

“He’s got four days rest and he’s [scheduled] to throw again, and with rain [forecasted] up there, we don’t know what we’re gonna do. We gotta always be careful because we could end up playing a single [game] on Friday and two [games] on Saturday if they’re calling for rain Sunday. So we probably didn’t want to throw [Moss] more than 50 pitches, actually.”

In that Tuesday start against UNC-Asheville, Moss picked up his seventh victory of the season while throwing 64 pitches across five innings, surrendering just one run in the process.

Sophomore Zac Gallen (3-3, 2.84 ERA) will take the mound on Friday for the Tar Heels to begin the series, and he’ll likely face-off with Notre Dame’s Ryan Smoyer, who is 6-0 on the season with a 2.56 ERA. First pitch for the opener is set for 7 p.m.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-hot-hitting-tested-notre-dame/

National Title Runs Begin In Chapel Hill

It will be a busy weekend for many UNC spring sports with NCAA Tournaments getting underway right here in Chapel Hill.

In tennis, second-seeded North Carolina begins its national title quest as a host for the the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women’s Tennis Championship at Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.

The 27-1 Tar Heels will hope to advance out of a regional that features Dartmouth, Quinnipiac and William & Mary right here in Chapel Hill.

First up, Carolina will take on Quinnipiac at 12 p.m. Saturday.

Brayden Schnur pumps himself up (UNC Athletics)

Brayden Schnur pumps himself up (UNC Athletics)

As for the men’s tennis team, the No. 13 Tar Heels will also be hosting NCAA action at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, but they’ll serve it up Friday at 1 p.m. against William & Mary in round one.

The 21-10 Tar Heels will be hoping to bounce back from a tough loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

As for the UNC lacrosse teams, the third-seeded Tar Heels, 12-3 overall, will welcome winners of the Patriot League, Colgate, to Chapel Hill Sunday for a game slated for 5:15 p.m.

Head coach Jenny Levy’s women’s lacrosse team, which lost a heartbreaker to Syracuse in the ACC Tournament championship game, will get its NCAA Tournament campaign started Sunday at 1 p.m. at UNC’s Fetzer Field.

The No. 2 Tar Heels will take on the winner of the Florida-Stanford first round game to be contested Friday.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/national-title-runs-begin-in-chapel-hill/

Offense Explodes to Power UNC Baseball Past Elon

For the second straight night, the No. 24 UNC baseball team came out swinging like some mad-men, scoring 10 runs in the first four innings on their way to an easy 14-2 victory over the Elon Phoenix on Wednesday night inside the walls of Boshamer Stadium.

The margin of victory is Carolina’s biggest of the season and the 14 runs scored are the most by the Tar Heels all season long.

With the dominant non-conference win, UNC pushes its record up to 31-16 overall, while the Phoenix have now dropped four of their past five games, and fall below the .500 mark–now at 23-24 so far in 2015.

One thing can be said for certain about this game; it was clear right from the get-go that the Tar Heel bats had no intentions of this being a competitive affair.

“Pretty much it [played] out the way I would have like to scripted it out,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox, “I know it was a long game, but we got guys on the mound we needed to, we got guys in the [batter’s] box we needed to, got [backup catcher] Ryder Ryan behind the plate which we needed to, so a lot of good things today.”

The Tar Heels had no problems moving runners and scoring runs on Wednesday. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels had no problems moving runners and scoring runs on Wednesday. (UNC Athletics)

A pair of singles from Tyler Ramirez and Landon Lassiter off Elon lefty starter Jake Stalzer (2-6) kicked off the action in the bottom of the first inning, with Ramirez eventually scoring on catcher Korey Dunbar’s sacrifice fly to get things rolling.

Then in the second, Joe Dudek led-off with a double to left-center field, and then came around to score on an RBI bloop single from junior second baseman Eli Sutherland.

However, when Elon came to the plate in the top of the third, UNC freshman left-hander Hunter Williams lost his control–walking the bases loaded with two outs in the frame–prompting the coaches to make an early move to their bullpen “savior”, senior Trevor Kelley (5-1), who did what he does best by striking out right-fielder Ryan Cooper to escape the inning unscathed.

That would be the last time the outcome of the game was ever in doubt, because from then on it was smooth sailing for the Tar Heels, as they made sure the Phoenix never had a shot at coming back to life.

Elon’s bullpen responded to the missed opportunity by walking four men and hitting another, while allowing an enormous six-run inning in UNC’s half of the third.

Zack Gahagan capped off the six-run third inning by picking up two RBI with a double to left-center field. (UNC Athletics)

Zack Gahagan capped off the six-run third inning by picking up two RBI with a double to left-center field. (UNC Athletics)

The hit batter (Adam Pate) and two of the walks (to Joe Dudek and Alex Raburn) came with the bases loaded, accounting for three of those runs. Another one scored on a sacrifice fly by freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth, and the final two came on a double by fellow freshman Zack Gahagan.

Seemingly unsatisfied with the eight run lead, center-fielder Skye Bolt went ahead and extended the margin to double digits in the bottom of the fourth with a towering two-run homer to right-field off Elon’s Casey Jones–his sixth of the season.

“Hitting is contagious,” Bolt says, “When one guy gets going, then the rest follow. We’ve been looking for that spark [offensively], and it’s [been] provided here recently.”

Not until the top of the sixth did Elon scratch across a run, which they picked up when catcher Austin Leeney hit an RBI single off UNC lefty reliever Zach Rice.

Of course, the Tar Heels answered with three more tallies of their own in their half of the sixth, led by a two-run double from Joe Dudek, who led all hitters with three RBI in the game.

And although Elon scored again in the seventh, UNC kept up its torrid pace with an RBI triple in its next turn at the plate from little used freshman Brooks Kennedy–adding salt to an already deep Phoenix wound.

Mercy was finally shown in the eighth, when the Tar Heels failed to score for just the second time all night long, before sealing it up, and shutting it down in the ninth without allowing Elon anything to go home smiling about.

“That’s the only thing we’ve been missing is a little bit of, I guess, additional hitting,” says Skye Bolt about the recent offensive surge, “We’ve been pretty good with timely hits, and [in situations], but it’s always comforting for both your defense and your pitching to know that [their] bats are starting to swing it well.”

Up Next:

Awaiting the Tar Heels this weekend is their final ACC road series of the regular season, as they’ll travel to South Bend, Indiana to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, with the opener scheduled for Friday night at 7 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Elon’s designated hitter, senior Casey Jones, took over on the mound in the bottom of the third once UNC’s lead had reached 5-0.
  • The Tar Heels’ previous biggest margins of victory this season came at home on March 24th in a 9-0 win against Appalachian State and again in last night’s 11-2 win against UNC-Asheville. This marks the first game they’ve won by double digits in 2015.
  • UNC has also won 10 games in a row against Elon, with the Phoenix last defeating the Tar Heels in 2010.
  • Ten different players recorded an RBI for Carolina in the game.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/offense-explodes-to-power-unc-baseball-past-elon/

Tar Heels in the Pros: Harrison Barnes

The University of North Carolina has a long-standing tradition of sending its basketball players to the NBA. A breeding ground for sensational talents such as Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Rasheed Wallace, and Vince Carter, UNC has produced a star more recently in Harrison Barnes.

***Listen to the story***

A two-year member of Roy Williams’ program, Harrison Barnes entered the NBA draft in 2012 after his sophomore season at UNC. Since then, the standout shooting guard has been a starter for the Golden State Warriors in two of his three years in the league. In his second season with the Warriors, Barnes only started 24 of their 78 games, a change that he did not acclimate to very well.

Barnes at Cameron Indoor (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Barnes at Cameron Indoor (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“After my rookie season I felt like we had a good year, I felt like we could have kept the same guys and continued doing what we were doing. We just made some changes and it was just a different experience for me because I had come to the league and I was used to playing a certain way my rookie year, and to come and play a different role and play with a different unit and all that was why I struggled statistically,” Barnes recently told NBA.com.

Barnes’ statistical averages did take a hit in the 2013-2014 season coming off the bench; his field goal and three-point percentages dropped in his sophomore slump.

This season, his third, has by far been Barnes’ best. He started all 82 of the Warriors’ regular season games; he shot 48% from the field as well as 41% from three-point range, and took care of the ball, averaging less than one turnover per game in the regular season.

The rising star has not forgotten his collegiate experience, saying how his wish growing up was to play at North Carolina.

“That was a dream to play at Carolina. I remember I used to tell kids when I was 14 or 15 years old, I was like ‘I’m gonna play on the big stage, I’m going to go play at Carolina’ and these kids used to laugh me out of the gym. ‘Come on man, stop it. North Carolina? That’s the big stage.’ And that was always something I dreamed for and worked for, North Carolina was always the spot for me,” Barnes says.

Barnes has quickly found himself yet another family outside of his home state of Iowa in the Bay Area of northern California. The Golden State fans there have embraced him and have even given him a nickname: “The Senator.”

“That came from Jim Barnett [Warriors TV color analyst],” Barnes says. “I think we were just doing like a little Q&A interview my rookie year and he was like ‘You know you’re always going into politics and your answers are always so well-parsed I’m gonna start calling you “The Senator”,’ and I thought he was joking but he kept calling me that and calling me. Now every time he sees me he says ‘How’re you doing, Senator?’.”

Barnes has been known for his calm and often stately demeanor, even during his time at UNC, but his competitive side is no secret, either. As an important starter for the best team in the NBA, Barnes’ reputation grows with each passing game. Along with stars like Klay Thompson and MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors have their eyes set on the highest of goals: winning an NBA championship.

Barnes at the 2014 NBA All-Star Dunk Contest (LA Times)

Barnes at the 2014 NBA All-Star Dunk Contest (LA Times)

“You know obviously it’s a very big accomplishment to win the division, that’s something we didn’t do obviously my first two years here. So, it’s a big goal, big milestone but it’s still a long journey to where we want to go,” Barnes says.

Starting their second round series this week against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors are hoping to move on to the Western Conference Finals and face either the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Clippers.

Next week on “Tar Heels in the Pros,” we’ll feature an ageless wonder – Vince Carter of the Memphis Grizzlies.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-pros-harrison-barnes/

Benton and the Bats Lead Diamond Heels Past UNC-Asheville

Returning to action after a six day break for final exams, Benton Moss put together his second straight terrific start, and the Tar Heel bats came alive early, to lead the No. 24 UNC baseball team to an impressive 11-2 win over the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday night.

The senior from Enfield, North Carolina improved to 7-0 on the season, delivering five strong innings of one-run ball to move the Tar Heels to 30-16 so far this year, while dropping Asheville to 20-27, as the teams begin the final month of the regular season.

In his last start on April 26th at home against Boston College, Moss tossed eight shutout innings, and surrendered just two hits on his way to the victory.

Joe Dudek had three RBI on Tuesday to lead the Tar Heels' early offensive outburst. (UNC Athletics)

Joe Dudek had three RBI on Tuesday to lead the Tar Heels’ early offensive outburst. (UNC Athletics)

He retired the first nine Bulldog hitters he faced in this game, and found trouble just once–in the top of the fourth inning, when the first three men up all reached base, capped by a run-scoring single from center-fielder Joe Tietjen.

After a scoreless fifth inning from Moss, Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox decided to make the switch to sophomore reliever AJ Bogucki to begin the sixth, despite the senior having thrown just 64 pitches, likely in an effort to preserve him for a second start this week on Sunday at Notre Dame.

Entering the stretch run, it’s been well-documented that the pitching from Moss and his starting counter-parts has carried UNC this season, but on Tuesday the right-hander got some much-needed support from his hitters as well.

“I thought we had some opportunities when we bunted some, which was kind of our goal tonight, to try to get some runs early,” says head coach Mike Fox, “It was nice to score early, kind of take a deep breath, and then get some other guys on the mound.”

Carolina’s heavily maligned offense capitalized against an Asheville team which entered Tuesday’s match-up with a sky-high team pitching ERA of 6.23, giving Moss an six run lead through just three innings, scoring three runs in both the second and third innings.

The surge began when freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth laid a fantastic bunt down the first base line, allowing catcher Korey Dunbar to come home and score the first run before a play could be made.

Teammates cheer the offense on from the dugout. (UNC Athletics)

Teammates cheer the offense on from the dugout. (UNC Athletics)

Warmoth and designated hitter Adam Pate then executed a double steal, taking second and third base from Asheville left-handed starter Lucas Clarke (4-7)–still with no outs in the inning. UNC followed up with an RBI groundout from Joe Dudek and a sacrifice fly by Alex Raburn, which scored Warmoth and Pate.

More of the same ensued in the third for the Tar Heels, as Dunbar and Pate each scored for a second time on Dudek’s two-run single–giving Dudek three RBI in the first three frames–before Alex Raburn got his second RBI of the day when his base-hit scored Dudek.

“We didn’t really worry about the [Asheville pitching] numbers so much,” says Dudek, “I think we were all itching to play after a week [off]….We know this is an important stretch for us right here. We realize the urgency for all these games.”

“We just played aggressive tonight and it worked out well.”

Action cooled down after Asheville scored their run in the top of the fourth, with neither team able to manufacture anything else until the top of the eighth inning when the Bulldogs broke through against AJ Bogucki for their second run of the night–coming by way of an RBI single from first baseman Hunter Bryant.

Not risking any funny business, Coach Fox turned to his bullpen workhorse, senior Trevor Kelley, to come on and escape the inning without any more damage being done.

And he would do just that, earning the final out of the eighth to keep the Bulldogs from shrinking their deficit any more.

In addition, the Carolina offense tacked on an additional five runs in the bottom of the eighth to make sure the lead was out of reach for freshman reliever Brett Daniels, who worked a scoreless ninth to complete the dominant Tar Heel team effort, and end the misery for Asheville.

All in all, Moss, one of team’s two senior leaders, says he was happy to see his team score as much as they did playing their style of baseball–with all 11 runs coming without the luxury of a single long-ball.

“Coaches have talked a lot to us about how we’re not gonna go up there and every one of our batters hit home runs. We’re a team where we’re gonna manufacture runs,” Moss says, “And it was good to see that we’re moving the ball, we’re putting it into play in the right places, bunting when we need to….and getting dudes to the next base.”

Up Next:

Another mid-week home game at Boshamer Stadium awaits the Diamond Heels tomorrow, as they’ll host the Elon Phoenix on Wednesday night with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • All nine hitters in the Tar Heel starting lineup got a chance to bat in the second inning.
  • While Coach Fox has criticized his team for failing to hit well with runners in scoring position, the Tar Heels went 7-15 (.467) in that situation on Tuesday.
  • Hunter Bryant, Asheville’s power hitting first baseman, came into the game with 11 home runs, and went 2-4 with an RBI in this game.
  • Trevor Kelley became just the eighth Tar Heel to make 100 career relief appearances in a Carolina uniform when he entered the game in the top of the eighth. For the season, he now has pitched in 33 of UNC’s 46 games.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/benton-and-the-bats-lead-diamond-heels-past-unc-asheville/