Sweet Caroline! Tar Heels Top Razorbacks To Advance

Using an up-tempo pace more to Roy Williams’ liking, the fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team fought past fifth-seeded Arkansas Saturday night, 87-78, to advance to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.

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.

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

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

“It would be the most embarrassing thing of my life probably, so I’ll just leave it like that,” Coach Williams says. “But I do enjoy acting silly and having fun. I am emotional and wear my feelings on my sleeve a lot in both directions, very happily or very mad, too. … I hope the cameras weren’t all over the locker room, let’s put it that way.”

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.

“Well, if I could play just as well in the first half as I do in the second half, I would prefer to do that, but sometimes it happens that way,” says Paige, who has been nicknamed “Second-half Marcus.” “Sometimes, if you have a poor first half, you want to do whatever you can to erase that and make up for it the second, and that’s what I’ve been able to do a couple times.”

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.

J.P. Tokoto cleaned up his act Saturday night (UNC Athletics)

J.P. Tokoto cleaned up his act Saturday night (UNC Athletics)

Arkansas junior Michael Qualls led his squad with 27 points and 10 rebounds, but Razorback head coach Mike Anderson says he was disappointed in the officiating, especially down the stretch.

“I thought the thing that really disrupted the game was a lot of free throws, a lot of whistles,” Coach Anderson says. “It was almost opposite of the first half. The first half they let them play, and I guess in the second half they said, `Let’s slow this down. We can’t keep up with them. Let’s slow it down.”

Despite UNC big man Kennedy Meeks picking up his fourth foul a mere three minutes into the second half, the Tar Heels managed to maintain a somewhat comfortable lead in the waning moments.

The Tar Heels will now face the winner of Sunday’s contest between top-seeded Wisconsin and No. 8 seed Oregon Thursday in Los Angeles.


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UNC WBB Holds Off Liberty in NCAA First Round

The Tar Heels were able to hold Liberty off in the second half despite the Flames attempt to come back from a 14-point deficit. With a final score of 71-65, North Carolina lives to play another game in the NCAA Tournament.

“I knew it was going to be a tough game because Liberty’s tough and it’s just typical of these first round games that we’ve been seeing in both the men’s and women’s tournaments. So we’re happy for the win and we’re looking forward to playing on Monday night.”

The fourth-seeded Tar Heels shot 49 percent and Allisha Gray led the way with 17 points. Stephanie Mavunga put up 12 points and credits the guards for pressuring the offense at the top.

“We fronted the post a lot. That was really a big thing,” Mavunga said. “Also, the on-the-ball defense from the top and the wings… the guards did a really good job mirroring the ball that way they didn’t have a good look so they couldn’t pass it into the post as easily.”

Womens Photos LU vs UNC NCAA Tourney

Liberty made a run in the second half and cut Carolina’s 14 point lead to 65-59. Coach Sylvia Hatchell says poor rebounding gave the Flames an opportunity to come back.

“Our rebounding was…. I don’t know what words you could use to describe it… but it was pretty bad. So we have to do a lot better job with that,” Coach Sylvia Hatchell said.

Womens Photos LU vs UNC NCAA Tourney 14

Senior Latifah Coleman scored 15 points—the most she has scored in 2015. Coleman says having Coach Hatchell back this season is emotional for the team.

“Every time we think about the tournament and last year we get filled with emotion. I mean, having Coach Hatchell back is great it’s just more fuel to the fire and there’s more purpose to what we do and why we do it,” Coleman said.

North Carolina plays Ohio State Monday night at Carmichael Arena in the 2nd round of the tournament.



UNC Baseball Wins Series, Splits Doubleheader With Yellow Jackets

In some exciting ACC action on Saturday, the 22nd ranked UNC baseball team split a doubleheader with their Coastal Division foes, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech rallied from a five run deficit to take the first game 6-5 on Thomas Smith’s walk-off single, before Benton Moss pitched Carolina to a 5-1 victory in the second leg.

UNC is now 14-9 overall, with a 4-3 mark in the conference, while the Yellow Jackets sit at 16-7 overall and an identical 4-3 ACC record.

Game One

In the first act of the afternoon it looked like victory was a sure thing for the Tar Heels, however Georgia Tech had other plans, in the second consecutive game between the two teams to be decided in the ninth inning.

Freshman JB Bukauskas was cruising on the mound early on, Korey Dunbar picked up where he left off last night with an RBI double in his first at-bat, and third baseman Alex Raburn hit a Grand Slam in the top of the fourth that put UNC ahead by five runs.

The feat was made even more impressive by the fact that Georgia Tech starting pitcher Brandon Gold came into the game with a 3-0 record and a flawless 0.61 ERA.

JB Bukauskas continues to be lights out for UNC, despite getting a no decision in Game 1. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas continues to be lights out for UNC, despite getting a no decision in Game 1. (UNC Athletics)

But the Yellow Jackets were not going to lie down that easily.

After managing just three hits and no runs against Bukauskas through the first five innings, they found the chink in the young phenom’s armor early in the sixth.

Tech second baseman Wade Bailey singled home A.J. Murray for the first run, and ended Bukauskas’s day. UNC head coach Mike Fox went with his reliable workhorse, Trevor Kelley to try and get out of the inning, but not before right-fielder Ryan Peurifoy drove in two more to bring the boys from Atlanta within striking distance.

With the game becoming closer and closer, the Georgia Tech bullpen certainly did their part to aid the come back, as their combination of Patrick Wiseman, Devin Stanton, and Zac Ryan combined to throw the last four innings without allowing a single hit to a Tar Heel batter.

By the eighth inning, the dam finally broke. Peurifoy picked up his third RBI of the day on a clutch triple off of Kelley, who pitched the final 3.2 innings of the game, that pulled the lead within one. Then center-fielder Daniel Spingola’s ground rule double down the left-field line allowed Peurifoy to come across and tie the game.

Although Carolina was able to pull out the big hit when it mattered last night, it was not to be in this one. Alex Raburn walked to lead off the ninth, but the next three men went down in order, to give the Yellow Jackets a prime opportunity to steal this one away.

They would do just that, as first baseman Thomas Smith singled to drive in super-freshman Kel Johnson, and put the finishing touches on a 6-5 victory and an improbable comeback.

Thomas Smith was the hero in the first game, hitting a walk-off single. (fromtherumbleseat.com)

Thomas Smith was the hero in the first game, hitting a walk-off single. (fromtherumbleseat.com)

Game Two

Right away in the second game the Tar Heels showed how bad they wanted to recover from the collapse earlier in the day and earn the series win.

After each team manufactured a run in the first inning, up came UNC’s savior from last night, Korey Dunbar. On the first pitch he saw from Yellow Jackets’ starter Cole Pitts, Dunbar sent a deep blast to to left center-field to give Carolina a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.

Back on the mound for the Tar Heels after three weeks away from game action was senior starter Benton Moss.

Judging by today’s outing, it appears Moss is back to full form, as he worked a full six innings, striking out eight Georgia Tech hitters, and allowing just one run on 94 pitches.

Pitts lasted five innings for his team, and kept the game close by not surrendering anything else after Dunbar’s home run, but once the bullpen took over, the Carolina offense had a shot at redemption for their hitless performace against the relievers in the first game.

They were able to scratch across a run in the sixth on a fielder’s choice by Alex Raburn, which scored Skye Bolt. In the next inning, mistakes hurt Georgia Tech dearly, as UNC plated two more runs, one due to a wild pitch and the other because of a throwing error.

Trent Thornton retired all nine batters he faced on the way to his fourth save of the year. (UNC Athletics)

Trent Thornton retired all nine batters he faced on the way to his fourth save of the year. (UNC Athletics)

Last night’s credited winner, junior Trent Thornton, came in at the beginning of the seventh in relief of Moss, and he was on point.

Thornton cruised through the Yellow Jacket lineup tonight after giving up the game-tying home run to Kel Johnson on Friday. He struck out five of the nine batters he faced over three innings, did not allow a hit, and earned his fourth save of the year.

Up Next:

Tuesday marks the next game on the schedule for the Tar Heels, as they’ll welcome the Appalachian State Mountaineers to Boshamer Stadium for a game under the lights. First pitch for that one is set for 6 P.M. Starting pitchers are still to be decided.

Notes From The Day:

  • Alex Raburn’s home run for UNC in Game 1 was his second in a three game span, after having previously hit none for the year. Korey Dunbar achieved the same feat today with his homer in Game 2.
  • Game 2 marked Benton Moss’s first start since going out with arm tightness after the Rhode Island series in late February.
  • UNC scored 10 runs in total on the day, despite cranking out just 11 hits.
  • The Tar Heels also hit just 2-21 with runners in scoring position for the entire day.




Dunbar’s Ninth Inning Homer Leads UNC Past Georgia Tech

The UNC baseball team came into Friday’s series opener at Georgia Tech needing to make a statement.

Having slipped to 22nd in the polls, and lost five of their past seven games, North Carolina got what they were looking for when catcher Korey Dunbar played hero, hitting a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning that broke a 3-3 tie, and led the Tar Heels to a 5-3 victory in Atlanta on Friday night. UNC improves to 13-8 overall and 4-3 in the conference with the win.

Leaders of the ACC Coastal division heading into the weekend, the Yellow Jackets rallied late in the game to tie things up, but were put out for good after Dunbar’s clutch bomb. Their record falls to 15-6 overall, with a 4-3 ACC mark.

Making his third consecutive Friday start for the Tar Heels was sophomore Zac Gallen, who took a loss last weekend after giving up eight runs in 3.2 innings at Pitt, but struck out 12 Duke batters in a win the week before–in a masterful performance.

To defeat a team as tough as Georgia Tech, UNC needed an appearance from the Gallen that was last seen mowing through the Blue Devil lineup.

Skye Bolt was back in center-field on Friday night after being benched on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt was back in center-field on Friday night after being benched on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

Attention was also focused on junior outfielders Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter, to see if they would respond in a big way after they were each benched for Tuesday’s game against Davidson, and called out publicly by Coach Fox for ongoing academic issues.

In the first inning, it was clear that the “Good Gallen” had shown up in Atlanta, retiring the side in order, including striking out Georgia Tech’s top two hitters, outfielders Keenan Innis and Kel Johnson (both men are hitting above .350 on the year).

And in the top of the third, Bolt and Lassiter got their chance to remind everyone, especially Yellow Jacket starter Jonathan King, what they’re capable of.

Lassiter singled, after Korey Dunbar led off the frame with a double, to set up right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, who hit a sacrifice fly to score Dunbar and give UNC the first lead of the game.

Two batters later, Bolt raked a two-out double into right-centerfield that allowed Lassiter to come around and score. The next man up, freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth followed up with a double of his own, sending Bolt in to give the Tar Heels a three-run lead.

Catcher Korey Dunbar’s double kicked off a three-run third inning and his homer in the ninth clinched the game. (UNC Athletics)

The way Gallen was pitching, it appeared that would be more than enough to secure a victory. Through four innings Georgia Tech had yet to score, and recorded just two hits.

Not until the fifth inning did the Yellow Jackets manage to manufacture some scoring, getting a run on shortstop Connor Justus’s RBI single, but the damage was stopped right there, as Gallen retired the next two men up to escape the inning.

Despite giving up a hit to Kel Johnson in the sixth, Gallen added three more strikeouts to his total–Georgia Tech swinging and missing for the third strike each time.

He lasted seven full innings in total, coming out after surrendering a hit to the first batter he faced in the bottom of the eighth, and as his pitch count reached 98. For the game Gallen struck out seven Yellow Jackets while scattering seven hits, only giving up more than one hit in the fifth, where Georgia Tech got their only run off of the sophomore right-hander.

Trouble struck when junior Trent Thornton took the mound out of the bullpen. Thornton (1-1) got Keenan Innis to fly out, but everything changed in the next at-bat, when Kel Johnson stepped into the batter’s box.

Johnson crushed a two-run home run to right field, tying the contest with just one out in the inning. The Tar Heels would get it together, however, and head into the top of the ninth with the game tied at three apiece.

It was Dunbar's first homer of the season. (UNC Athletics)

It was Dunbar’s first homer of the season. (UNC Athletics)

Adam Pate led off the inning with a single off of reliever Tanner Shelton (1-1), forcing the Yellow Jackets to bring in another pitcher, Matt Phillips.

A sacrifice bunt by second baseman Elijah Sutherland put Pate on second, and brought Korey Dunbar to the plate for his magical moment, which allowed Thornton to pick up the win, and gave the loss to Shelton.

Picking up his second save of the year in the bottom of the ninth was Trevor Kelley, the senior making his team leading 15th relief appearance of the year. Kelley did what he’s done all year, striking out two of the three men he faced in the inning.

Up Next:

Rain in Sunday’s forecast has moved Sunday’s game to Saturday, meaning the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets will close out the series with a doubleheader tomorrow.

Game 1 is set to begin at 1 P.M. and features JB Bukauskas (3-1, 2.70 ERA) on the mound for UNC, taking on senior Cole Pitts (0-1, 3.97 ERA). Game 2 will start approximately 40 minutes after the conclusion of the first game and will mark the return of the Tar Heels’ senior starter Benton Moss (2-0, 2.30 ERA), as he faces Georgia Tech’s Brandon Gold (3-0, 0.61 ERA).

Game Notes:

  • Landon Lassiter went 2-5 with a double in his return to the lineup, while Georgia native Skye Bolt went 1-2 with a double, a stolen base, an RBI, and two walks (one of them a hit-by-pitch)
  • Georgia Tech’s right-fielder Kel Johnson, who came in with an NCAA freshman high six home runs, went 2-4 with the late two-run homer, but also added two strikeouts.
  • UNC’s pitching held the Yellow Jackets to a 2-14 (.143) performance with runners on base.
  • Trevor Kelley’s ERA drops below the 1.00 mark, as he now has pitched 28 innings and allowed just three earned runs.



Tar Heels Hoping To Clean Up Act Against Arkansas

After surviving Harvard’s upset bid Thursday night, the fourth-seeded UNC men’s basketball team turns its attention to fifth-seeded Arkansas for a Round of 32 meeting Saturday night at 8:40 p.m. in Jacksonville.

***Listen to the story***

17 turnovers. That’s a stat that’s had Roy Williams scratching his head since the Harvard great escape.

But it’s not a new dilemma. The Tar Heels, sporting a 25-11 record overall; have struggled to take care of the basketball all season long.

Justin Jackson came up big Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson came up big Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Nevertheless, they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and after a narrow 67-65 victory in round two of the NCAA Tournament, Coach Williams is relieved.

“Right now I feel like I won the lottery. Tommy Amaker did a much better with his team than I did with mine. We were extremely lucky. It’s the luckiest I’ve ever felt after a basketball game in my entire life,” Coach Williams says.

UNC freshman Justin Jackson emerged as the hero against Harvard, scoring the game’s final four points when all the momentum was going the other way.

Jackson says he was mentally prepared to step up and take the final shot.

“If I was open, I was going to shoot it. If they come up on me, I wasn’t going to, but they backed off,” Jackson says.

Everybody’s a winner come tournament time. They all know how to win. That’s why any slips in concentration can prove especially fatal.

Jackson says the Tar Heels can’t afford to take the pedal off the metal at this point.

Theo Pinson is back healthy and adds to UNC's depth off the bench (Todd Melet)

Theo Pinson is back healthy and adds to UNC’s depth off the bench (Todd Melet)

“There were times that we were all the way in it. Then there were lulls where I don’t know what it was, we just kind of relaxed. Harvard’s a great team and took advantage of that,” Jackson says.

Arkansas, 27-8 overall, slipped by Wofford, 56-53, in a back-and-forth game that featured 18 lead changes, 10 ties and neither team ahead by more than five points.

Razorback head coach Mike Anderson says he’s just fortunate to still be dancing.

“What a gutsy performance. It was a game that was played at their pace. We were fortunate to be on the winning side. They just ran out of time. Thank goodness they ran out of time. But we executed when we had to,” Coach Anderson says.

The Tar Heels will have to look out for SEC Player of the Year Michael Qualls. The junior guard scored 20 points Thursday night and can morph into a one-man highlight reel at times. The guy’s been a regular on the SportsCenter Top 10 plays segment.

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls is a game-changing player for the Razorbacks (Wholehogsports.com)

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls is a game-changing player for the Razorbacks (Wholehogsports.com)

Can the Tar Heels contain him Saturday? It will be an intriguing proposition for junior forward J.P. Tokoto and company.

But Jackson is more concerned with the play of his own team. In particular, he says the lapses in concentration that have plagued Carolina for the majority of the season have got to be wiped out.

“It’s not ‘is what it is’. It’s the first round game and Harvard is a great team. We just got to go back and change it. Next game, we can’t have that because the next game will be even harder. We’ve talked about it all season, but it’s the NCAA Tournament, so we’ve got to change it,” Jackson says.

If the Tar Heels can cut out the sloppy stretches of basketball and avoid turnovers, they’ve demonstrated a strong proclivity to scoring on offense and should be in good shape. But if the erratic play continues, Saturday could very well be the final destination in UNC’s postseason journey.


‘Lucky’ Tar Heels Hold Off Crimson, Survive and Advance

UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto knocked down a silky smooth three-pointer to open proceedings Thursday evening inside the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Carolina. The waters got rocky.

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team built a hefty 16-point lead in the second half and from there, held on for dear life down the stretch to scrape past a pesky Harvard team, 67-65. With the victory, the Tar Heels survived to fight another day in the NCAA Tournament and improved to 25-11 on the season.

***Listen to the story***

Roy Williams was in full voice Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams was in full voice Thursday night (Todd Melet)

With the loss, the Crimson finish with a 22-8 overall record and 11-3 mark in Ivy League play.

17 turnovers almost sent the Tar Heels to the exit doors early, but thanks to freshman forward Justin Jackson, Carolina found the escape hatch in the nick of time.

Jackson, who finished with a team-leading 14 points, saved the day for UNC, finishing with a flourish. Jackson scored the game’s final four points to avoid the upset bug on a day that was already full of them.

“I feel like I won the lottery. Tommy Amaker did a much better job with his team than I did with mine,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Carolina’s length and athleticism troubled Harvard for the majority of the contest and allowed UNC to amass a 36-26 rebounding advantage and an edge in points in the paint. But Harvard capitalized on those 17 Carolina turnovers to the tune of 29 points to get to the doorstep of victory.

“You can’t say enough about the effort our kids put forth. We battled to get back in it. I thought we played with great poise. Wesley Saunders […] carried us to put us into position to have a chance. I’m very proud of our team,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker says.

Harvard senior guard Wesley Saunders did all he could for his team, totaling a game-high 26 points on 8-14 shooting. Routinely, Saunders left the Tar Heels in the dust on his way to the basket – beating them off the dribble.

“He was a load. We knew that. Last year, he was player of the year in their league. We tried to focus on him with our team. J.P. [Tokoto] really did a pretty doggone job, but he was really hard to guard,” Coach Williams says.

And yes, there was only one reason Harvard was hanging around in the early going…that was Saunders, who scored his team’s first ten points. Meanwhile, Carolina was getting contributions from a cast of characters ranging from big man Joel James to streaky sophomore Isaiah Hicks to points leader Marcus Paige.

J.P. Tokoto tallied 7 points and grabbed 7 rebounds (Todd Melet)

J.P. Tokoto tallied 7 points and grabbed 7 rebounds (Todd Melet)

An 11-0 UNC run spearheaded by a suffocating defense set the tenor of the contest. When Kennedy Meeks is beating opponents down the floor for a quick score, it’s not a good sign for the opposing team. That happened Thursday night.

However, some sloppy turnovers and an over four-minute scoring drought from Carolina in the waning moments of the first half kept Harvard alive, but by halftime, the Tar Heels had stretched out their scoreboard lead to a 36-25 margin thanks to 56-percent shooting from the floor.

The second half opened with a Justin Jackson three-point snipe that got the Heels off and running again, building up what seemed like a commanding 16-point lead. Carolina was having its way on the glass using every last mismatch inside to its advantage.

Justin Jackson saved the day for Carolina (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson saved the day for Carolina (Todd Melet)

But there was no quit in the Crimson. Things got mighty interesting. Harvard took the lead at 65-63 on a three-pointer and a foul from who else but Saunders with under two minutes to play. Scrappy, opportunistic offense coupled with a methodical tempo powered the determined Crimson attack.

Meanwhile, Carolina couldn’t do much right in the closing stretch with turnover after turnover leading to a lot of concerned looks on the Tar Heels’ faces.

But in the end, the rally fell short. The Heels somehow remained cool under pressure in the crucible of the inspired late-game surge by their opponents. When Saunders’ final three-point shot – an open look – missed its mark, Roy Williams and the rest of Tar Heel Nation could breathe a huge sigh of relief.

“I’m thrilled we’re still here and still playing. These two guys – Marcus [Paige] made two big shots and Justin [Jackson] made two big shots. If we had played a little bit better, it may not have required that, but you have to give Harvard credit. It’s driving me wacko, but having said that, we’re still here playing,” Coach Williams says.

Despite the scare, Coach Williams kept his unblemished record intact. The Hall of Famer is now 25-0 in Round of 64 NCAA Tournament games as a head coach.

Next up for the Heels comes a Saturday Round of 32 meeting with fifth-seeded Arkansas, who downed No. 12 Wofford, 56-53.


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Tar Heels Hope Atlanta Will Bring New Life

During head baseball coach Mike Fox’s 17 year tenure at UNC, there’s been one letter many have come to associate with the program: the W.

That’s why five losses over the past seven games by Fox’s 22nd ranked Tar Heels, paired with a sub-standard 12-8 overall record (3-3 in conference), have raised some eyebrows as they head to Atlanta this weekend to face the ACC Coastal Division leaders, the 15-5 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-2 in the ACC).

For comparison’s sake, Carolina’s 2013 team, which placed third at the College World Series, lost only 12 games the entire regular season (out of 71 total).

Logan Warmoth has been a bright spot on defense ever since taking over at shortstop. (UNC Athletics)

Logan Warmoth has been the bright spot on defense ever since taking over at shortstop. (UNC Athletics)

“We’ve had our struggles, but we’ve gotta regroup. We’ve gotta play better defense, that’s the bottom line,” Coach Fox says, “They got a short ballpark down there, you gotta do your best to keep the ball in the ballpark, fly balls down there have a tendency to go out.”

Defensive issues have severely hurt the Tar Heels in the early going, with the proof being found not only in the statistics, but also in the win-loss column.

Last year’s 2014 team finished 35-27 and was bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and was considered an anomaly by the Carolina faithful. That team allowed 27 unearned runs (usually the result of defensive errors) and committed 75 errors throughout their 62 game campaign.

Believe it or not, in just 20 games this year, the Tar Heels have already given up 30 unearned runs and recorded 33 errors. Those numbers have to mean something, right?

Georgia Tech freshman Kel Johnson will present a significant challenge. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech freshman Kel Johnson will present a significant challenge. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

Whatever it means, they’ll surely have to figure out a way to deal with Georgia Tech’s freshman slugger, Kel Johnson. In his 85 at-bats, Johnson has lit up scoreboards everywhere he’s played, racking up a .365 average with six homers and 23 RBI.

In their previous game, a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday to Davidson, they came just inches shy of overcoming a ten-run deficit to win the game. Despite picking up another loss, freshman Brian Miller, leading the team with a .450 batting average, says they plan to use the rally as motivation moving forward.

“We’re gonna have to put those first four or five innings behind us, but a takeaway from this game is obviously that last inning, where we battled and got a lot of guys some good at-bats, and got in there and hit the ball hard,” Miller says, “so hopefully it’ll carry over and we’ll win the series this weekend.”

Another hugely important factor heading into Atlanta will be the status of veteran outfielders Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter, both of whom were mysteriously removed from the lineup on Tuesday. Coach Fox did not hold back when explaining why he made the moves.

“That’s not rest, that’s them not doing what they’re supposed to do,” says Coach, “We have tutors here for a reason, and we pay for those, the athletic department pays for those tutors, and when you’re required to go to them you’re required to go. And if you don’t you’re short-changing yourself, somebody else, and you’re being selfish.”

“I don’t tolerate that here, and that’s why they didn’t play,” Fox added.

Veteran leadership from players like Bolt and Lassiter will be necessary, as well as the young freshman on the team have produced, if this team expects the ship to turn around over the last two thirds of the season.

We’ll find out how they respond with their backs against the wall starting on Friday night, with first pitch scheduled for 7 P.M.


Win or Go Home: UNC’s Tourney Journey Begins With Harvard Obstacle

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team, 24-11 overall and 11-7 in ACC play, gets its 2015 NCAA Tournament campaign underway Thursday night at 7:20 p.m. in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The opponent? The No. 13 seeds and Ivy League champions, the Harvard Crimson.

***Listen to the story***

Expectations are always high for the Tar Heels this time of year. But what’s the secret to NCAA Tournament success?

The Tar Heels will be hoping for a deep push in the NCAA Tournament (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels will be hoping for a deep push in the NCAA Tournament (Todd Melet)

UNC head coach Roy Williams has been to seven Final Fours and says it’s a mixture of skill and mentality.

“First of all, talent. The one thing we understand is how significant and important it is. We try to be ready to play the first day. We’ve always tried to get our kids to understand the next game and not to be looking down the road. I think we really do focus on the first opponent and do that all the way through it,” Coach Williams says.

So does this year’s Carolina squad have the makings of a Final Four group? Coach Williams says recent developments have him optimistic.

“I think two things get me a little excited. One, I think we’re getting a little healthier, which always makes it easier. The other thing, I think we gained something from the ACC Tournament. I think at times, we played very well. We showed some toughness, played four games in four days and were fresh in the fourth game because we wanted to be fresh mentally,” Coach Williams says.

But there are a couple fallibilities that could keep the Tar Heels from their ultimate quest for Indianapolis.

“That’s been the story all year long. We’ve got to cut down on the turnovers, stop making the silly fouls and make sure we do a much better job on the backboards. Some of the games this year we’ve been great rebounding. Silly fouls and the turnovers are what we have to improve on all the time,” Coach Williams says.

A healthy Marcus Paige is vital for UNC's postseason success (Todd Melet)

A healthy Marcus Paige is vital for UNC’s postseason success (Todd Melet)

Tommy Amaker’s Harvard Crimson program, 22-7 overall and 11-3 in league action, is getting well adjusted to life in March Madness. For the fourth straight season, Harvard will represent the Ivy League in the bracket.

Coach Amaker says his players are hoping to acquit themselves well against a program they have a great deal of respect for.

“We’re healthy, excited and are very hopeful for our kids to embrace the moment against a program and a team that’s historic and storied. We certainly have an amazing amount of respect and admiration for UNC and their historic program. What an opportunity for us and amazing moment for us to represent our school and our conference,” Coach Amaker says.

The feeling is mutual. Coach Williams says his relationship with Coach Amaker spans back a few decades.

“I really enjoy and like Tommy Amaker. I competed against him when he was at Duke. I was an assistant here [UNC]. I talk to Tommy on the road all the time. I think he’s a marvelous person and has done a really nice job there. Our team will be focused on Harvard. We won’t be looking past them,” Coach Williams says.

Interestingly, Harvard leads the all-time series with Carolina 2-0, but not much stock should be placed in that head-to-head. After all, the two schools haven’t met on the hardwood since 1926.

JP Tokoto assaults the rim (Todd Melet)

JP Tokoto assaults the rim (Todd Melet)

One of the X-factors for the Tar Heels is generally rangy, athletic junior forward J.P. Tokoto, who can lock in defensively and provide electrifying offensive fireworks.

Tokoto says attention to detail and focus will determine UNC’s tournament destiny.

“It’s win or go home. Our level of intensity and level we play at is going to be huge for us. It’s going to be a determining factor of whether we’re going to stay in the tournament and be able to play or be sent home early,” Tokoto says.

That’s the Big Dance – equal parts tragedy and ecstasy. It’s what makes it such compelling theatre. The Tar Heels hope to have an extended stay on the game’s grandest stage.


Dramatic Tar Heel Rally Falls Inches Short

A relentless offensive attack on the young UNC pitchers in the early innings was enough for the Davidson Wildcats to hold on in the ninth for an exciting 12-11 win over the 22nd ranked Tar Heels, sending Coach Mike Fox’s club to their fifth loss in their last seven games, and an overall record of 12-8. Davidson continues to head in the opposite direction, improving to 10-5 and earning their fifth win in six games.

Falling behind by ten runs is usually a death sentence for any baseball team, but the Tar Heels fought valiantly after finding themselves in that position at one point, scoring nine runs in the last three innings to bring themselves within one.

With the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth and two outs, an incredible leaping catch at the left-field wall by Davidson outfielder Ty Middlebrooks robbed Logan Warmoth of a walk-off hit, and prevented a comeback for the ages.

Ty Middlebrooks' leaping grab prevented a Tar Heel comeback for the ages. (UNC Athletics)

Ty Middlebrooks’ leaping grab prevented a Tar Heel comeback for the ages. (UNC Athletics)

“All I could do was just put the ball in play and just hope the best happened,” Warmoth says, “Obviously, it didn’t, but it’s alright, we kept on battling the whole game, which really shows what this team is all about.”

Unfortunately, pitching woes right from the get-go sank the Tar Heels yet again.

Carolina’s mid-week games have presented plenty of challenges related to pitching depth, exposing one of the team’s major problems through the first third of the 2015 campaign. Since the big arms reserved for the weekend (Benton Moss, JB Bukauskas, Trent Thornton, Zac Gallen) aren’t typically available to provide long innings during the week, the bullpen depth is counted on to step up their production in these kind of games.

Desperately looking to get out of their recent funk, the Tar Heels turned to sophomore AJ Bogucki to come through on the mound against the Wildcats, in just his second start of the season.

“We gotta get somebody that can start a game in the middle of the week and give us some innings,” Coach Fox says, “Some of those other guys have gotta step up and give us more than two innings or we’re gonna fight like that in every mid-week game.”

Coach Fox went with AJ Bogucki starting on the mound. (UNC Athletics)

Three at-bats ended up being all it took, though, for Davidson to jump out to an early two-run lead.

A one-out error in center-field by Adam Pate, who was filling in for Skye Bolt, allowed Davidson’s Ryan Lowe to get all the way to third base, which set up the RBI chance for first baseman David Daniels.  Daniels’ singled to score the first run, and then he would end up scoring himself later in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Sam Foy.

After setting the side down in order in the top of the second, Bogucki (0-2) again found trouble in the third. A base-hit and a walk put two Wildcats on base with no outs, just good enough to earn the hook from pitching coach Scott Forbes, who placed the ball in the hands of Spencer Trayner.

Davidson right-fielder Lee Miller seemed to be just fine with that decision, crushing a two-run double that extended the lead for his team, and ended Trayner’s day just as quickly as it began. The next man up out of the Tar Heel bullpen was 6’6″ freshman Jason Morgan, who met a similar fate, surrendering a three-run double to Alec Acosta, before he was able to record the last two outs and stop the bleeding.

It was all Davidson at the beginning. (UNC Athletics)

The onslaught continued into the fourth inning, as David Daniels added to his RBI total with a two-run bomb to left-field off of Morgan. Then Acosta drove in another off of lefty Nick Raquet, burying UNC in a ten-run hole, that could have been described at the time as about “six-feet deep.”

Not until the freshman shortstop,Warmoth, hit his first career home-run, a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth, did the crowd at Boshamer Stadium have anything to cheer for.

Brian Miller knocked in the second RBI for the Tar Heels in the next inning when his single scored second baseman Elijah Sutherland, and closed the gap to just eight runs.

Teammates rejoice with Alex Raburn after his three-run homer in the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

Teammates rejoice with Alex Raburn after his three-run homer in the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

Davidson added a couple more runs of their own in the seventh–drawing a pair of bases loaded walks against reliever Hansen Butler, before the Tar Heels answered in their half with three more tallies on a two-run double from first baseman Zack Gahagan and a follow-up RBI single by Warmoth.

It was just too little, too late, as the Wildcats held on by the skin of their teeth in the final inning to take home the win.

Alex Raburn hit a three-run homer, Brian Miller drove in his second run of the day, and Zack Gahagan hit a two-run single, all in the bottom of the ninth, to pull Carolina within one with two outs on the board, and give them a chance to pull out a miraculous win.

Wildcats’ closer Cody White then saw Warmoth step in to the batter’s box and the rest is history.

“It’s a crazy game, I’ve seen some crazy things happen on the field,” says Coach Fox, “And that would have been something if that ball would have gone out or gone off the wall and we’d have won right there. We probably wouldn’t have deserved to, but I give our kids credit for battling.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heel baseball bus is off to Atlanta for a tough three-game ACC road series with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who are tied for first in the Coastal Division with a 4-2 conference record thus far.

Game Notes: 

  • Davidson starting pitcher Ryan Lowe also hit second in the batting order, going 1-3 on the day, unusual in college baseball because the designated hitter rule is used to prevent pitchers from having to hit.
  • Freshman Brian Miller, a walk-on out of Raleigh, provided a bright spot for UNC, playing solid in left-field and going 4-5 at the plate with a walk and two RBI. He’s batting .450 on the year.
  • Fellow Tar Heel freshmen Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan combined for 6 RBI. (Warmoth -2, Gahagan- 4)
  • Of the eight pitchers used by UNC in the game, four are freshmen (Morgan, Raquet, Butler, Williams) and three are sophomores (Bogucki, Trayner, Rice).  Chris McCue was the lone upperclassman to make an appearance on the mound.



Struggling Diamond Heels Play Host to Davidson Tuesday

The Diamond Heels return home Tuesday for a midweek test at Boshamer Stadium with an in-state foe, the 9-5 Davidson Wildcats.

Uncharacteristic losses in four of the past six games have dropped Coach Mike Fox and his UNC baseball squad to 22nd in the polls and left Carolina with a less than spectacular 12-7 overall record, to go with an average 3-3 mark in the ACC.

Inefficiency from the bullpen, along with a mix-and-match infield struggling to play solid defense behind the pitchers, has doomed the Tar Heels in recent weeks, especially with injuries to closer Reilly Hovis, starting pitcher Benton Moss and shortstop Wood Myers.

Alex Raburn has played three different infield positions this year at times. (UNC Athletics)

Alex Raburn has played three different infield positions at times this year. (UNC Athletics)

One bright spot over the past few games for the team has been senior reliever Trevor Kelley, who has been Carolina’s “savior” recently, Coach Fox says. Kelley has made appearances in eight consecutive games out of the bullpen, often coming in to escape tight jams. In 27 innings pitched this year, the most on the team by any pitcher, the Wilmington native has allowed just three earned runs.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, come in to Tuesday’s contest having won four of their last five games and are led by a lineup that includes five starters batting .300 or better, which should provide another interesting look for the Tar Heel pitching staff.

Starting pitchers for the game are yet to be determined. First pitch is scheduled for 3 P.M.