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Hokies Stun UNC Baseball: Just Second Loss to VT in Fox Era

On the strength of a five-run sixth inning, the Virginia Tech Hokies rallied to defeat the #23 UNC baseball team by a score of 8-3 on Friday night for a surprise upset victory in Blacksburg, Virginia at English Field.

Coming into the game, UNC head coach Mike Fox boasted a 27-1 record all-time against Virginia Tech, but on this night the Hokies’ huge inning gave them their elusive second victory against Fox. Their last win over Carolina came in 2007.

The Tar Heels fall below .500 in the ACC with the loss, dropping to 9-10 in the conference, while their overall record slips to 23-15. Virginia Tech jumps to 8-11 in the league and 19-20 in total after the big win.

Zac Gallen cruised through the first five innings, but found trouble in the sixth. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen cruised through the first five innings, but found trouble in the sixth. (UNC Athletics)

Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the sixth, the Hokies struggled to string together hits against UNC starting pitcher Zac Gallen (2-3) through the first half of the proceedings–but everything changed when shortstop Alex Perez stepped to the plate to lead things off.

Perez hit a solo shot to tie the game, giving new life to the Virginia Tech dugout.

Then the floodgates opened up.

Erik Payne singled in the next at-bat, before immediately coming home on a home run by first baseman Brendon Hayden. When Sean Keselica singled to mark the fourth consecutive hit for the Hokies, Gallen’s outing was done.

Coach Fox turned to his NCAA leader in relief appearances, senior Trevor Kelley, to try and get out of the inning without any more damage, but two wild pitches by Kelley, along with an RBI single by third baseman Ryan Tufts, led to two more Hokie runs–with the Tar Heels all of a sudden finding themselves in a four-run hole.

Leading the charge for UNC on offense was junior left-fielder Landon Lassiter, who went 3-5, with an RBI triple in the top of the seventh, which scored Skye Bolt and brought Carolina back within three.

Landon Lassiter accounted for three of the Tar Heels 10 hits on Friday. (UNC Athletics)

Landon Lassiter accounted for three of the Tar Heels 10 hits on Friday. (UNC Athletics)

However, that was as close as they would get the rest of the way.

A two-run double by the Hokies’ second baseman Sam Fragale off of UNC reliever Spencer Trayner in the bottom of the seventh increased the lead to five, where it would stay until the finish.

Two scoreless innings from Luke Scherzer and Aaron McGarity kept the Tar Heels from putting up a late game fight, allowing singles to Brian Miller and Skye Bolt, but nothing more–sealing the upset win for the home team.

Up Next:

Carolina gets a chance at redemption in Game Two of the series on Saturday, as they’ll send freshman phenom JB Bukauskas (3-1, 2.68 ERA) to the mound to face off with Virginia Tech left-hander Jon Woodcock (2-2, 3.66 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on WCHL’s airwaves.

Game Notes:

  • Tyler Ramirez doubled in the top of the third inning off of Tech starter Kit Scheetz (2-1), scoring Landon Lassiter to give the Tar Heels the first lead of the game.
  • Virginia Tech’s Alex Perez, who homered to begin the sixth inning rally, went 2-4 with two RBI, also driving in a run with a double in the bottom of the third.
  • Tar Heel pitchers struck out only two batters for the entire night (Gallen and Kelley each had one).
  • UNC continued to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 1-11 in that situation on Friday.

ACC Race Heats Up As UNC Baseball Visits Virginia Tech

As one of five teams tied at 9-9 in the ACC, the UNC baseball team hopes to distance itself from the crowd this weekend, heading to Virginia Tech to face the Hokies in an important three-game conference series.

Overall, the Tar Heels are 23-14 this season, while Virginia Tech is 18-20, with a 7-11 mark in league play.

The Tar Heels sit tied for second in the ACC Coastal Division with Georgia Tech, while Wake Forest, Clemson, and Notre Dame are all tied for third in the Atlantic division.

As tight as the standings are, that’s not the main focus for UNC head coach Mike Fox.

“We don’t focus on any of that. We don’t put the standings up [in the clubhouse], we don’t put the statistics up there, [the players] have all that stuff if they want it,” Fox says.

The Tar Heels know each game at the end of the season will be a battle. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels know each game at the end of the season will be a battle. (UNC Athletics)

“But they’re silly if they start looking at all of that, we’ve just gotta get better as a team game by game, and do what we can to play a little bit better.”

Sophomore first baseman Joe Dudek shares similar thoughts when he says that it’s all about keeping a focused mindset in a league as competitive as the ACC.

“We understand how competitive this league is, and having to go out there and be focused every pitch, from the first one to the last one, is important,” says Dudek.

“I think we have good focus. As long as we keep doing the little things right, I think we’ll win some games.”

Although UNC has won six of its last seven games, and three of its last four in the conference, Coach Fox still sees one glaring problem that needs to be fixed as the games gain more significance from here on out.

“The frustrating thing is we just don’t move the ball as much as we need to,” says Fox, “Strikeouts are strikeouts, they happen, but we seem to strikeout a lot with people in scoring position.”

For them to improve, Fox says his hitters can’t rely on just one player to do all the heavy lifting.

“We can’t rely on one or two guys in our lineup. We’ve gotta have some production from the bottom of the order. We’ve been really streaky offensively. Guys get hot and then they go in the other direction,” Coach says.

Despite a recent slump offensively, Zack Gahagan has remained sharp at third base. (UNC Athletics)

Despite a recent slump offensively, Zack Gahagan has remained sharp at third base. (UNC Athletics)

“Our freshmen are really facing that time of the year where I don’t know whether they’re tired, or if they’re pressing a little bit. Other teams watch and know your weaknesses, and you have to make adjustments. So we’ll have to get those guys going.”

Freshmen infielders Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan started off the year hot enough to where Coach Fox was hitting them in the number three and four spots in the batting order as recently as March 28th at home against #10 Miami. But recent struggles have pushed Warmoth (.254, 1 HR, 18 RBI) into the ninth, and final, spot in the order, while Gahagan (.239, 2 HR, 27 RBI) has been hitting fifth.

The man who’s had the hot bat for UNC recently, though, is Joe Dudek, with a .317 batting average, and a team-leading slugging percentage of .585–including going 4-9 with two RBI in his last three games. Dudek says he’s confident that this team has the right attributes to make a run late in the season.

“I think this team’s got a lot of fight,” Dudek says, “We’re a gritty team. I think this month is just gonna show. We’ve been putting it together–haven’t had exactly the results we were looking for in some games, couple tough losses here and there–but I think it’s all coming together well, and I think it’s gonna translate into a lot of wins down the stretch.”

Trevor Kelley has been hailed as the team's "savior" by Coach Mike Fox for his ability to pitch in nearly every game. (UNC Athletics)

Trevor Kelley has been hailed as the team’s “savior” by Coach Mike Fox for his ability to pitch in nearly every game. (UNC Athletics)

Unfortunately, Carolina’s bullpen took a hit on Tuesday when it was announced that junior reliever Reilly Hovis, the 2014 closer, will miss the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, putting even more pressure on senior Trevor Kelley (the NCAA leader in relief appearances with 26) to continue carrying the load, says Coach Fox.

“[Kelley’s] been invaluable for us because he’s pitched well, but also because our bullpen’s somewhat kinda been in flux, and hasn’t been as deep as we want it to be, and need it to be, so we’ve used him probably more than we would have liked to have.”

Zac Gallen (2-2, 2.92 ERA) will make the start for the Tar Heels on Friday against the Hokies’ Kit Scheetz (1-1, 6.31 ERA), with first pitch set for 5:30 p.m.

Series Notes:

  • UNC is 27-1 against Virginia Tech under Mike Fox.
  • Former Tar Heel starting pitcher Robert Woodard, the winningest pitcher in UNC baseball history (34-5), is in his second season as the pitching coach for the Hokies.
  • First baseman Brendon Hayden leads the Virginia Tech offense, with seven home runs and 33 RBI, along with a .301 batting average.

No. 1 Tar Heel Women Serving For History

Brian Kalbas’ No. 1 Tar Heels are on the doorstep of history. No women’s tennis team has ever gone undefeated in the ACC regular season. Armed with a deep and talented lineup, Carolina is determined to become the first to do so Friday in Chestnut Hill.

***Listen to the story***

Not everything, though, has been clean sailing. For the first time this season, UNC dropped the opening doubles point Wednesday against arch-rival Duke. Panic could have settled in.

But for this group of Tar Heels that UNC head coach Brian Kalbas calls “special”, that wasn’t going to happen.

Jamie Loeb is one of the premier college players in the nation (UNC Athletics)

Jamie Loeb is one of the premier college players in the nation (UNC Athletics)

“After the doubles, I looked at the players’ faces and eyes – you could tell they weren’t panicked, upset or unnerved by the situation. It was just a matter of going out there, getting off to a good start and putting in some good execution in the start of the singles,” Coach Kalbas says.

Tennis is such an individual sport. So how does this affect the way Coach Kalbas handles his duties?

“Each person needs something a little different. Some need strategy, some need some emotional stability, some can do things on their own and others need you to talk to them. You have to get a good understanding of what they need,” Coach Kalbas says.

Right now, every member of the lineup seems to understand their roles. Coach Kalbas says his team’s depth and experience is paying dividends.

Multiple players have come up with match-clinching victories and earned ACC Player of the Week honors.

UNC winning ITA Indoor National Title. (UNC Athletics)

UNC winning ITA Indoor National Title. (UNC Athletics)

However, most of the attention goes to No. 1 Jamie Loeb. Loeb splashed onto the national tennis stage as a freshman a year ago when she came out of nowhere to seize a singles national title in the fall of 2013 against a stacked field.

But there’s been no sophomore slump for Loeb – a gritty competitor who Coach Kalbas says is getting sharper and sharper with each point.

“She’s really playing unbelievable right now. She’s really turned it on the past few weeks. She’s beaten some good players – Wagner from Miami, her rival Elbaba from Virginia and Capra from Duke. She’s had to be really playing extremely well and very focuses. She’s done an amazing job at that,” Coach Kalbas says.

Coming up just short in a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to UCLA in the 2014 NCAA championship match may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Tar Heels.

Coach Kalbas says the defeat has added fuel to the fire to this year’s charge.

“I think it’s had a major effect. I think we’ve been focused throughout the year, not taking any match for granted, respecting each opponent and what they potentially could do against us,” Coach Kalbas says.

Brian Kalbas has all the pieces to contend for a national championship (UNC Athletics)

Brian Kalbas has all the pieces to contend for a national championship (UNC Athletics)

Up to this point, Carolina is unblemished, sporting a 25-0 record overall and a 13-0 mark in league play. However, that begs the question – would a loss before the NCAA Tournament benefit the Tar Heels?

“This is the kind of team I don’t think would benefit from a loss going into the postseason. I really think this team benefits from winning and getting that motivation that we could do something special,” Coach Kalbas says.

But for now, the ultra-focused Tar Heels have their rackets aimed at Boston College. A win Friday would stamp the Carolina women’s tennis program’s place in history.

“Our team is very record-oriented. They know that no ACC team has gone undefeated during the regular season, so they’re very motivated to do that when we play BC,” Coach Kalbas says.

UNC Reliever Reilly Hovis Has Tommy John Surgery, Out For Season

Reilly Hovis, a junior reliever for the UNC baseball team, has been declared out for the remainder of the 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery Tuesday morning to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow.

Hovis, a native of Gastonia, North Carolina served as the team’s closer last year and was named to the All-ACC first team as a relief pitcher. He was credited with a team-high nine wins in 2014, while also picking up six saves. On top of that, he also struck out 81 hitters in just 64 innings, finishing the year with a 2.25 ERA.

Those numbers were good enough to earn Hovis a spot as a third-team Preseason All-American reliever for 2015, but after struggling mightily in his only two appearances of this year, allowing six runs in just three innings pitched, it was clear there might have been something wrong.

Head coach Mike Fox had hoped to have Hovis return at some point during this year to help out a bullpen that has struggled to find production from anyone other than senior Trevor Kelley and junior Trent Thornton, but that dream has gone out the window with this news.

The surgery was performed by the world famous Dr. James Andrews, and it typically requires at least 12 months of recovery time.

Game Postponed:

In related news, the Tar Heels’ game against UNC-Asheville, which was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium on Wednesday, has been canceled due to heavy rain in the forecast. No makeup date has been announced. Next up, Carolina will travel to Blacksburg, Virginia this weekend for a three-game ACC series with Virginia Tech.

Mother Nature Shortens UNC Baseball’s Win Over High Point

In a game shortened to five and a half innings due to rain, Hunter Williams pitched the UNC baseball team to a 1-0 win over the High Point Panthers on Tuesday night at Boshamer Stadium. The Tar Heels jump to 23-14 with the non-conference victory, and the Panthers fall below .500, with their record falling to 17-18 on the year.

Williams, the freshman lefty continued his recent run of dominance with seven strikeouts and no walks over six shut-out innings. In his past four starts, he’s thrown 24 innings and allowed just two runs and ten hits, completely baffling opposing hitters all month long.

Offensively, the Tar Heels got a lead-off double from junior Alex Raburn in the second inning, which turned into the game’s only run when he was hit home on the next play by another double, this one from catcher Korey Dunbar.

After that, though, the pitchers went back and forth until the rain came, as Carolina picked up just two more hits on High Point starting pitcher Michael Hennessey after scoring in the second, while High Point managed just three hits for the entire six innings against Williams.

Up Next:

UNC has the final game of its seven game home-stand scheduled for Wednesday night as they host the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Alex Raburn made the start at second base over junior college transfer Eli Sutherland, who had started the previous 19 games at the position.
  • With tonight’s big performance, Hunter Williams drops his ERA to 1.14 on the season.

Sankey Guiding Tar Heel Lax To National Glory

For the first time in 23 years, the No. 4 UNC men’s lacrosse team finds itself 3-0 in the ACC and with a 12-1 overall record, the Tar Heels are now hoping to translate that regular-season success into a postseason run.

***Listen to the story***

In their final regular-season appearance in Chapel Hill, 11 Tar Heel seniors went out on top by downing No. 2 Syracuse in thrilling fashion, 17-15.

But senior Joey Sankey stole the attention of the sellout crowd of over 6,000 at Fetzer Field with his record-breaking performance. With his three goals Saturday, Sankey passed Marcus Holman as the all-time leading scorer in UNC history with 214 points and counting.

Sankey slides one into the net (UNC Athletics)

Sankey slides one into the net (UNC Athletics)

“It’s a great honor, you know, being able to have played with Marcus for two years, and he gave me a lot of those points, so it was a great honor to beat him and to have that record. But I’ve played with so many great players here and without them this wouldn’t be possible at all and without the coaching staff, so you have to credit the whole program, but it’s a huge honor and I’m really thankful for it,” Sankey says.

The victory over 11-time national champion Syracuse could be a watershed moment for the Tar Heels and pay huge dividends down the road.

But Sankey says there’s just something about Alumni Weekend that gets the guys all fired up.

“I mean we’ve been fortunate on Alumni Weekend we’ve had a few great games, you know, I think it was my sophomore year with R.G. Keenan coming down winning in overtime, knocking off number one team Maryland last year, so we’ve been very fortunate on Alumni Weekend. Getting the support at Fetzer today was incredible, playing a great team like Syracuse, so it definitely makes it that much sweeter,” Sankey says.

UNC head coach Joe Breschi has been at the helm of the lacrosse program for seven seasons and guided the Tar Heels to the 2013 ACC title, but Coach Breschi says a win against the Orange is a pretty big deal.

“I thought we did a terrific job across the board, that was a great lacrosse game, brought me back to the 80’s when I was here and early 90’s just renewing that rivalry and the up-and-down pace and tempo was fantastic. We knew it was going to be a back-and-forth type game trying to hold them off, they’re so talented,” says Breschi.

A packed-out Fetzer Field (UNC Athletics)_

A packed-out Fetzer Field (UNC Athletics)_

And hold them off they did. Syracuse used a furious four-goal rally to pull within two at 17-15, but in the end, the UNC defense did just enough to secure the ‘W’.

Coach Breschi credits the senior class for instilling an infectious competitive spirit in the rest of the team.

“Sankey and [Jimmy] Bitter and [Chad] Tutton, just all of them have meant so much to this program and to go out on a win in their last regular season game against a great Syracuse team is fantastic. Just so many positives into the weekend – Alumni Weekend – and to come away with a win is just a special thing,” says Breschi.

Next up for the surging Tar Heels comes a Saturday road trip to South Bend to take on the top-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in a showdown that will decide the ACC regular-season championship.

Confidence Growing For UNC Football In Queen City

There will be no Blue & White Spring Football Game this year due to the field renovations at Kenan Stadium, but the Tar Heels took their show on the road to the Queen City last weekend, showing off their offseason improvements.

***Listen to the story***

“I thought we got a lot of great reps and a lot of situations we were able to work on. There will be a lot of things we’ll be able to learn from in this scrimmage. I thought our kids played hard. We got a lot accomplished,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

Jeff Schoettmer meets Elijah Hood (The Charlotte Observer)

Jeff Schoettmer meets Elijah Hood (The Charlotte Observer)

In addition to the field reps, another added bonus from the Charlotte trip for Coach Fedora’s troops is bringing UNC down to an important recruiting hot bed. In addition to a large Tar Heel fan base of all ages, young high school players also took in the action from the sun-drenched bleachers at Rocky River High School.

With UNC, N.C. State, East Carolina and Duke all mining for Charlotte’s best, days like Saturday are vital for the Tar Heels to maintain an edge in N.C. recruiting.

But turning to the here and now, the biggest question mark for this year’s Carolina club will no doubt be the play of the much-maligned defense.

Senior linebacker Jeff Shoettmer says he likes what he’s seeing out of the unit so far.

“It’s the culmination of the whole spring. We’ve put it together. We’ve been practicing four or five weeks. It takes a while to learn a new scheme, but the more reps we get, everyone gets more comfortable with it. We still have a lot of work to do. There were some mistakes here and there, but overall, we played well,” Schoettmer says.

The hiring of Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator stole most of the headlines this offseason and rightfully so – adding a former national champion to the program infuses hype and optimism into a team that needed plenty of it following the disappointing finish to a 6-7 2014 season.

UNC fans look on as the Tar Heels practice (The Charlotte Observer)

UNC fans look on as the Tar Heels practice (The Charlotte Observer)

Coach Fedora, though, says there are still areas to work on before the Tar Heels will be ready for their season opening showdown with South Carolina Sept. 3.

“I think we’re making progress. I think if you ask Gene [Chizik] and those guys defensively, they’re pleased with how the guys have responded. I still think we have a ways to go,” Coach Fedora says.

Yes, there is certainly plenty of work to be done for Coach Fedora and staff, but there seems to be a reinvigorated sense of life and energy around the program. Around the huddle, the team has made its 2015 intentions clear – ACC champions.

High Point Slides Into Chapel Hill to Face Diamond Heels

Back into the Baseball America top 25 poll, the #23 UNC baseball team enters the final two games of what was a seven game home-stand on Tuesday night, as they put their 22-14 record on the line against the High Point Panthers, who come into the game at 17-17 so far in 2015.

The Tar Heels went 4-1 last week at Boshamer Stadium, with a huge series win against their arch-rivals, the NC State Wolfpack, as well as a revenge victory against #18 Coastal Carolina last Tuesday. Those victories came sandwiched around Wednesday’s win against a tough Liberty team, and were enough to get UNC back into national recognition.

Zac Gallen’s complete game victory against the Wolfpack last Friday was the biggest story of the weekend, but the emergence of sophomore Joe Dudek at first base may be the story to keep an eye on during the stretch run, as the New Jersey native went 3 for 4 with a double and an RBI in Sunday’s series finale– likely cementing his spot as a full-time starter in the process.

Joe Dudek waits for his pitch against NC State. (UNC Athletics)

Joe Dudek waits for his pitch against NC State. (UNC Athletics)

For the season, Dudek has started just 12 games, but has played in 22 of the team’s 36–hitting for an average of .342, which is good enough for second on the team behind Brian Miller (.343). On top of that, Dudek has proven to be one of the more powerful bats in Coach Mike Fox’s dugout, leading the team with a .632 slugging percentage, more than 100 points higher than the next man on the list, catcher Korey Dunbar (.529).

High Point, meanwhile, is coming off a series loss to the same Coastal Carolina team defeated by the Tar Heels last week. The Panthers are led on offense by outfielder Josh Greene, who has five home runs and is one of two full-time Panther starters hitting above .300.

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

UNC Baseball Falls Short In Attempt to Sweep Wolfpack

A balanced offensive attack, with five different players driving in runs, led the NC State Wolfpack to a 6-3 victory over the UNC baseball team in their series finale on Sunday at Boshamer Stadium.

NC State improves to 20-14 overall and 8-9 in the ACC, with the win snapping its three game losing streak, while Carolina drops to 22-14 in all games and 9-9 in league play.

Starting pitching dominated the first two games of the series, but on Sunday neither starter could make it out of the third inning.

The long relievers made the difference in this one, as Trent Thornton pitched six innings out of the bullpen, and struck out ten hitters, but also surrendered five earned runs–while Ryan Williamson and Joe O’Donnell combined to go six innings for the Wolfpack, and gave up just one run combined during their time on the mound.

Benton Moss pitched well for two innings, but lost his control in the third. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss pitched well for two innings, but lost his control in the third. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss started out strong for UNC, keeping the Wolfpack off the board for the first two innings, but he began losing his control in the third. After the senior walked the bases loaded with only one out in the inning, UNC head coach Mike Fox had seen enough.

“When any pitcher goes out, and just kinda loses the strike zone, it’s very unusual,” says Fox. “It’s unusual for Benton, he just couldn’t get it back there. We didn’t have a really long inning before, I can’t really explain it. He just went out that one inning, it was very uncharacteristic of him.”

Running in from the bullpen to try and keep the game scoreless was Thornton (1-4), who has spent ample time in the starting rotation during his career.

“It was nice to come out and throw six innings, and kinda get into a rhythm there,” Thornton says. “I should have made a couple pitches a little bit better than they were, which kinda led to the outcome of the game.”

Although Thornton was able to strikeout Logan Ratledge to pick up the second out, Preston Palmeiro drew ball four on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt to strike first blood for the Wolfpack.

Carolina, on the other hand, started out by receiving a one-out double in the first inning from center-fielder Skye Bolt, and another in the second from first baseman Joe Dudek, but they were not able to capitalize on either, as NC State starting pitcher Johnny Piedmonte was able to escape each time.

Trent Thornton came out of the bullpen to pitch six full innings, striking out 10, but also giving up five runs. (UNC Athletics)

Trent Thornton came out of the bullpen to pitch six full innings, striking out 10, but also giving up five runs. (UNC Athletics)

However, the next inning, Piedmonte, a 6’8″ mountain of a man, allowed a two-out double to Landon Lassiter, and then walked Tyler Ramirez to set up freshman Zack Gahagan.

Gahagan then drilled a 1-0 pitch from Piedmonte back up the middle, sending Lassiter home to tie the game up, spelling the end for Piedmonte, as NC State head coach Elliott Avent decided afterwards to turn the ball over to sophomore reliever Ryan Williamson (3-1).

Joe Dudek was the first man to face Williamson, and he promptly hit an RBI single to put the Tar Heels in front before State could get out of the inning.

Currently part of a platoon at first base with fellow sophomore Adrian Chacon, Dudek went 3-4 for the day, forcing Coach Fox to say afterwards that Dudek’s recent hitting has been more than enough to warrant a bigger role in the near future.

“You saw him in there today, and he’s been very impressive the last couple days,” says Coach Fox. “It’s good to see he’s stayed ready. That’s great.”

“He’s ready for his opportunity. You can call me an idiot if I don’t have him in the lineup Tuesday.”

Joe Dudek hit the ball well for the Tar Heel offense on Sunday, going 3-4 with a double and an RBI. (UNC Athletics)

Joe Dudek hit the ball well for the Tar Heel offense on Sunday, going 3-4 with a double and an RBI. (UNC Athletics)

A double in the top of the fourth from Wolfpack freshman third baseman Joe Dunand drove in left-fielder Ryne Willard, and made things all square at two apiece, swinging the momentum back over to the NC State dugout.

That momentum stayed with the Wolfpack in the top of the fifth, as they pounced on Thornton for two more runs to take its biggest lead of the weekend.

After allowing the RBI to Dudek in the third, Williamson settled down on the mound for the Wolfpack–pitching three straight scoreless innings, while Thornton also settled down after handing the lead over in the fifth –striking out six of the next seven batters he faced.

The Tar Heels finally started to claw back in the seventh, on Landon Lassiter’s second double of the day, a hit that drove in Brian Miller and cut the State lead in half.

Thornton then struck out two more guys wearing red, in a perfect eighth inning, to increase his total in that category to double digits for the afternoon– but his offense still needed to scratch across another run to keep the junior from earning the loss.

However, an RBI double with one out in the top of the ninth by Wolfpack shortstop Joel McKeithan ended that dream, as Thornton was pulled in favor of senior Trevor Kelley, who allowed NC State to tack on another run (credited to Thornton), before lefty Zach Rice came in to finish the inning.

In the Tar Heels’ final chance at the plate, they brought the tying run to the plate against NC State reliever Joe O’Donnell, who struck out Alex Raburn and Brian Miller for the first two outs– before allowing a single to Skye Bolt and walking Landon Lassiter.

The teams exchanging a post-game handshake after a hard-fought series. (UNC Athletics)

The teams exchanging a post-game handshake after a hard-fought series. (UNC Athletics)

Refusing to let O’Donnell blow the game all by himself, the Wolfpack turned to Will Gilbert, the junior out of Green Hope High School in Cary, North Carolina, to get the final out.

And he would do just that, getting Tyler Ramirez to fly out to left-field–picking up his second save of the year, and salvaging a win for the visiting team.

“Obviously today’s a tough loss,” says Joe Dudek. “We had the opportunity to do something special, get the sweep at home. You never like to drop the last one, but all these games were close, so to win the series Friday and Saturday in one-run ball games like that, we did get some timely hitting.”

“Overall I think we had good at-bats this weekend.”

Up Next:

Two more games remain on the Tar Heels’ seven-game home-stand, as they’ll face High Point University on Tuesday night at Boshamer Stadium. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Joe Dunand’s RBI double for NC State in the fourth was his first hit of the series. Dunand is the nephew of New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez. He went just 1-10 over the entire series.
  • The all-time series record between the two teams is now 160-129-1 in favor of UNC.
  • The Tar Heels put just five runners in scoring position all game long.
  • Trent Thornton’s 10 strikeouts tied his career high, and were the most he’s ever had in a relief appearance.


Walk-Off Hit-By-Pitch Gives Tar Heels Series Win Over NC State

Zack Gahagan took a pitch on the arm with the bases loaded in the 10th inning to lead the Tar Heel Baseball team to a walk-off 3-2 win over the NC State Wolfpack on Saturday night, clinching the series in the process.

“I’ve never been a part of a walk-off anything,” Gahagan says, “This is my first time, so it’s pretty exciting, especially against State. [They’re a] good team, but way to finish it.”

“It feels awesome, I mean, the rivalry has hit me hard.”

Yes it has. Literally.

The win is Carolina’s fifth in a row, lifting its record to 22-13 overall and 9-8 inside the ACC, while NC State falls to 19-14 with a 7-9 league record with the loss.

It seemed right from the get-go that UNC’s JB Bukauskas and State’s Brian Brown decided to pick up where Zac Gallen and Cory Wilder left off in their fantastic pitchers’ duel in Friday’s series opener.

After the first nine batters of the game for either team were set down in order by the two freshman starting pitchers, the Tar Heels found themselves with a prime opportunity to score in the bottom of the second.

JB Bukauskas cut through the Wolfpack lineup on Saturday night, despite allowing two home runs. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas cut through the Wolfpack lineup on Saturday night, despite allowing two home runs. (UNC Athletics)

Much like Wilder on Friday, Brown displayed a live arm for the Wolfpack, but also had troubles with his control early on–hitting Tyler Ramirez with a pitch, and then issuing walks to Joe Dudek and Korey Dunbar to load the bases with two outs in the frame.

The outcome, though, was no different than it was in Friday’s second inning, with Tar Heel shortstop Logan Warmoth striking out to end the inning–and the threat.

And stuck on cruise control, just like Gallen the night before, was Bukauskas. The flame-throwing freshman, who warms up to the Johnny Cash song “Cut You Down”, was doing just that to a baffled NC State lineup, facing the minimum of 10 batters until senior second baseman Logan Ratledge (the Wolfpack’s leading hitter) stepped into the batter’s box with one out in the bottom of the fourth.

On a 1-1 count, Ratledge got the sweet spot of his bat on a Bukauskas fastball, driving it barely over the wall in left field for the game’s first hit, first run, and first lead.

Carolina responded quickly, getting its first hit of the game in their half of the inning when Zack Gahagan’s groundball took a bad hop and couldn’t be handled by Wolfpack freshman third baseman Joe Dunand. After Gahagan advanced to second base on a wild pitch by Brown, Joe Dudek then smacked an RBI single up the middle to tie the game back at one apiece.

Wolfpack head coach Elliot Avent congratulates Logan Ratledge. (News & Observer/Robert Willett)

Wolfpack head coach Elliot Avent congratulates Logan Ratledge. (News & Observer/Robert Willett)

However, Bukauskas found some more trouble in the top of the fifth, as NC State designated hitter Shane Shepard sent a hanging breaking ball into the right-field trees to put his team back out in front. The second solo bomb of the game for the Wolfpack was also Shepard’s first of his young career.

“They swing a lot, that’s what I think it is. I think they swung at a whole bunch of first-pitch fastballs, and they were just able to get the bat out. They’re a good hitting team,” says Bukauskas.

“I try not to worry about it, I honestly didn’t feel like I could locate very much tonight.”

But again, the Tar Heels refused to stay behind.

Last night’s star, junior center-fielder Skye Bolt, hit a two-out single to score Korey Dunbar on a play that maybe shouldn’t have had a chance to happen, since Dunbar only reached base due to a throwing error by the third baseman, Joe Dunand.

Bukauskas shut down State in the top of the sixth, as he continued to get outs on the mound, but his counterpart Brown was done in the bottom half of the inning after surrendering a lead-off single to Tyler Ramirez.

For the night, Brown delivered five strong innings of four-hit ball, striking out three and giving up just one earned run (two total), but he did labor through 102 pitches during that time frame.

Similar fate found Bukauskas in the top of the seventh, as a walk to left-fielder Ryne Willard spelled the end of the road for the freshman after tossing just 74 pitches.

In all, he worked 6.1 innings, and gave up just four hits, two of which just happened to be homers. Coach Mike Fox decided to make the early switch to the NCAA leader in relief appearances, senior Trevor Kelley (3-1), who was able to get out of the frame unscathed.

“The game’s all about pitching, as we all know,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox, “Trevor Kelley, he’s been our savior this year, so far. He was lights out again tonight. And JB’s pitched into the sixth or seventh inning almost every start in our league. It’s amazing to me how young he is, the composure that he has.”

Aided by an incredible catch in left-field by Landon Lassiter, Kelley sat the Wolfpack down in order in the eighth, setting his team up with a perfect opportunity to steal the victory, however, three consecutive flyouts by the UNC offense ensured the game would come down to the ninth inning–if not extras.

The UNC dugout was on their feet throughout the final innings. (UNC Athletics)

The UNC dugout was on their feet throughout the final innings. (UNC Athletics)

With the State offense failing to score in the top half of the ninth, the pressure was put on NC State reliever Curt Britt, who promptly walked Joe Dudek to lead things off, and was then pulled in favor of freshman Tommy DeJuneas (1-2).

A walk to Eli Sutherland put two men on with no outs, but DeJuneas recovered for back-to-back strikeouts, before getting Brian Miller to fly out to center-field to provide the fans with some extra baseball.

Another 1-2-3 inning from Kelley put the Tar Heels in a favorable position again in the tenth, with the first three men up–Skye Bolt, Landon Lassiter, and Tyler Ramirez–loading the bases on three walks by DuJuneas, bringing Zack Gahagan to the plate with the game on the line.

And after Gahagan got hit by pitch, the Tar Heels were anti-climatic walk-off winners, not needing a single hit in the extra frame to take the win.

“They fought hard yesterday, they fought hard today. It’s one thing that some of the players know each other and want to get the win, but it’s a rivalry, so we gotta come in here and play like it,” says Gahagan.

“It’s our state. That’s what I gotta say,” adds the freshman.

Up Next:

The series will conclude with Sunday’s finale, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. On the mound for the Tar Heels will be senior Benton Moss (5-0, 3.21 ERA). Moss’s opposition will be NC State sophomore right-hander Johnny Piedmonte (1-1, 1.96 ERA). The game will be broadcast online on ESPN3, and carried on WCHL’s radio airwaves.

Game Notes:

  • Shane Shepard, the Wolfpack freshman DH who hit his first career home run in the fifth, came into the game batting just .154, and slugging .231.
  • Two games into the series, Carolina has recorded just eight hits.
  • Logan Ratledge’s homer for State in the fourth extended his hitting streak to 16 games.
  • The Tar Heels have played in extra innings their last three Saturday games (vs Miami, at Clemson, tonight).