If there’s one thing for sure about the No. 15 UNC baseball team this season it’s that any championship hopes will depend on how much its offense can help out its dominant pitching.
Poor hitting led to losses last week against a pair of teams that have lost twice as much as they’ve won–UNC-Asheville and Virginia Tech. However, the Tar Heels went to Charlotte’s BB&T Stadium Wednesday night and crushed the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks 15-0.
Coming into the game eighth and ninth in the nation in ERA, respectively, UNC and South Carolina were expected to play a low-scoring, grind-it-out game showcasing two of the nation’s elite pitching staffs.
After starting off the year 18-2, UNC rediscovered its offense and improved to 24-9 in front of a sell-out crowd of over 10,000 people that included its head basketball coach, Roy Williams.
Sophomore lefty Hunter Williams did his part for the Tar Heels on Tuesday–tossing 6 1/3 shutout innings while allowing six hits and striking out four–but the bats made sure the stable of nine Gamecock arms weren’t able to do the same in UNC’s most impressive victory of the year.
South Carolina was also on a four-game winning streak but falls to 28-6 after the loss.
Second baseman Eli Sutherland opened scoring with a three-run double in the fourth inning off South Carolina starter Taylor Widener after the righty walked the bases the loaded.
From there the Tar Heels never let up.
Facing Gamecock reliever Vince Fiori with two outs in the fifth, UNC’s leading hitter–Tyler Ramirez–brought home Adam Pate and Tyler Lynn with a double. Two batters later, Ramirez scored on an RBI single by freshman Brandon Riley–putting the Tar Heels ahead 6-0 by the game’s halfway mark.
By the seventh inning South Carolina was already using its fifth and sixth pitchers of the night and clearly seemed deflated.
UNC, however, had no concerns for the Gamecocks’ emotions–picking up five more hits and tacking on five more runs in the seventh.
Logan Warmoth, Zack Gahagan, Cody Roberts, and Brian Miller each had RBI hits in the frame to join the list of Tar Heels–eight in all–who drove in a run during the night’s offensive explosion.
The final man to join the list, freshman Kyle Datres, didn’t even start the game.
Datres was brought in as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. He then matched Sutherland’s early effort with his own bases-clearing double–making it 14-0 in favor of the Tar Heels.
A wild pitch by reliever Kyle Anderson added insult to injury for the Gamecocks, when it allowed Datres to score the 15th, and final, run of the night.
In a fitting gesture, UNC sent out Charlotte native Chris McCue–who had thrown just 2 1/3 innings before Wednesday–to pick up the final three outs and cap the shutout.
McCue walked one man, but struck out the other three–putting the bow on a statement win for the Tar Heels.
Never mind the revenge this win will surely give Tar Heel fans after what happened last fall.
In a season that so far has been filled with walk-off wins and spotted with tight one-run losses, UNC proved on Wednesday that when it plays to its fullest potential it has the talent to defeat any team in the nation.
With a road series this weekend against defending national champion Virginia, UNC needs its bats to stay hot in order to improve its position in the tight ACC Coastal Division race. The Tar Heels and Cavaliers will play a three-game series beginning on Friday.
In a shocking turn of events at Boshamer Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Virginia Tech Hokies ended their 17-game losing streak by scoring three runs in the final two innings against the No. 13 Tar Heels.
Aided by a pair of crucial UNC fielding miscues, the Hokies were able to steal a 4-3 win –preventing what would have been an important weekend sweep.
After taking a 2-1 lead on Tyler Ramirez’s RBI single in the seventh inning, the Tar Heels appeared to be well on their way to another victory. Instead a dropped liner by shortstop Logan Warmoth with one out in the eighth allowed Virginia Tech to tie the game on a safety squeeze the very next at-bat.
Then with the bases loaded in the ninth, UNC second baseman Eli Sutherland misfired trying to turn an inning-ending double play—allowing the Hokies to score two more.
Needless to say, Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox wasn’t pleased.
“You gotta have that clock in your head to come off the bag,” Fox said, referencing the fact that Sutherland’s errant throw likely would not have gotten the second out even if it was on target. “Giving them one is fine, but giving them two obviously turned out to be the killer for us.”
UNC—which fell to 23-9 and 8-7 in ACC play—still had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth despite the late errors.
Ramirez hit a solo home run off reliever Cole Kragel with two outs to make it 4-3, before the Hokies made a dramatic error of their own. Third baseman Sam Fragale put his throw to first in the dirt after Warmoth hit a soft grounder—which then led to a walk by Brandon Riley and Kyle Datres getting hit by a pitch.
Sutherland came to the plate with the bases loaded and the winning run at second, but popped out to foul territory on a 3-2 count after taking three straight balls to begin the at-bat.
“They’re somewhat playing ‘not to lose’ because that’s kinda been the mindset that they’ve been in,” Fox said. “So we thought if it gets a little pressure on ‘em [we had a chance to win.]
“You gotta give [Kragel] credit, man,” Fox added. “He goes 3-0, then comes back and throws three strikes and at least makes us swing. That’s a pretty tough position to be in when your team’s lost that many.”
Ramirez, who led the Tar Heels offensively with his two RBI hits, was one of the few UNC players to have success against Virginia Tech lefty Packy Naughton—who used great command of his 92 mph fastball to limit the Tar Heels to just six hits during his seven innings on the mound.
UNC starter Jason Morgan, on the other hand, walked five batters and hit two more during a shaky stint that saw him pulled with one out in the fifth.
It was just an all-around sluggish performance from the Tar Heels, something Ramirez touched on afterwards.
“It’s extremely frustrating, especially against a team we know we can beat,” Ramirez said. “But we knew they were gonna come out today and compete. They had their best arm throwing and he pitched well, they played well as a team.
“We just couldn’t get it done today.”
Although UNC badly wanted to win Sunday to make up for being swept last weekend, Fox hopes his team will dig deep and find motivation within themselves—or at least from the large crowd expected in their next game–as the schedule tightens up.
Next weekend UNC travels to Charlottesville to take on defending national champion Virginia, but first the Tar Heels will play South Carolina on Tuesday in downtown Charlotte at the new ballpark used by the Charlotte Knights.
“If they’ve got a hangover from [Sunday], then maybe 11,000 people will help them get over it,” Fox said, alluding to the expected attendance for Tuesday. “It’ll be a fun atmosphere. That’s the type of environment you’d like to play in against a very good team.”
First pitch time is set for 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday. The Gamecocks are 28-5 in 2016, which should present a much different challenge than the Hokies–who are now 11-22 (2-13 ACC) with their win over the Tar Heels on Sunday.
On a night windy enough to cancel the postgame fireworks show at Boshamer Stadium, JB Bukauskas made sure fans wouldn’t go home empty-handed.
The hard-throwing sophomore from Ashburn, Virginia struck out a career-high 13 hitters Saturday night in No. 13 UNC’s 4-1 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Bukauskas now has a 5-1 individual record and lifts the Tar Heels to 23-8 (8-6 ACC) in 2016. His performance comes on the heels of Zac Gallen’s complete game masterpiece on Friday–which also included 13 strikeouts.
Unlike Gallen though, Bukauskas only had 7 1/3 innings to reach the mark as his night was ended prematurely.
Virginia Tech shortstop Ryan Tufts broke up Bukauskas’ no-hitter in the sixth with a single, before ending the shutout with a solo homer in the eighth–the only offense registered against the righty all night.
Tufts’ 2-for-3 effort at the plate also represented half of the Hokies’ four hits in the game–but it wasn’t enough to keep his team from losing its 17th straight game and falling to 10-22 (1-13 ACC).
Often labeled as a guy who just rears back and lets his 97 mph fastball do the talking, Bukauskas’ improvement as a pitcher in his second year–he’s allowed more than two runs just twice this season–has largely been attributed to the development of a slider that touches 88 mph and is absolutely filthy.
Gallen–one of the team’s two captains–has also taken Bukauskas on as sort of an apprentice this season.
“He’s become one of my better friends on the team,” Bukauskas said of Gallen. “Just watching him, how he throws that cutter, then works in to his slider sometimes–I took a little note out of his book with that one, throwing it harder.
“We throw bullpens together so we’re always right there with each other–working on things together and learning from each other.”
He then paused before saying, “Well mostly, me [learning] from him, but yeah, I’d say there’s a little competition just because [we’re the Friday, Saturday guys.]”
At one point during the game, from the fourth through sixth innings, Bukauskas recorded nine consecutive outs by picking up strike three. He also retired 12 straight Hokies after walking the first batter of the game.
“That’s hard to do against anybody,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said when reminded of Bukauskas’ achievements. “I was keeping track of it a little just taking notes on what their hitters were doing, but yeah that’s hard to do. He was good tonight, lots of swings and misses.”
Fox paused for a second. “What else can I say?”
UNC freshman catcher Cody Roberts had an RBI single in the fourth inning to open scoring against Virginia Tech starter Jon Woodcock–before a sacrifice fly from shortstop Logan Warmoth doubled that lead in the fifth.
Eli Sutherland finally ended the night for Woodcock in the seventh with a two-run single hit hard to right field, but the Hokies made it interesting once Bukauskas was done for the night.
With the bases loaded and just one out following Tufts’ eighth-inning homer, Tar Heel reliever Brett Daniels forced an inning-ending double play to escape the jam.
After Daniels allowed back-to-back singles to start the ninth, UNC turned to junior AJ Bogucki to pick up the save. Bogucki then recorded a fielder’s choice before ending the game with back-to-back strikeouts.
It was an important win for UNC because it clinches a series win in the tough ACC–however with the way the Hokies are floundering, and given that the Tar Heels were swept last weekend at Miami, Fox sees Sunday’s game as just as important.
“When you get swept in this league, you gotta try to get a sweep–if nothing else to offset it,” the coach said. “I know we had one on the road against Duke but it’d be nice to get another one because it’s only gonna get tougher from here–or so they tell me.”
The series finale is set to begin Sunday at 1 p.m.
Each Friday night during this college baseball season UNC fans are treated to what’s known around Boshamer Stadium as “Gallentine’s Day”–the chance to see junior starting pitcher Zac Gallen work his magic.
This particular Friday, Gallen–who has now officially embraced being called “The Milkman”–decided to take it up a notch.
The Gibbsboro, New Jersey native delivered perhaps the best performance of his career against Virginia Tech, throwing all nine innings in the No. 13 Tar Heels’ 6-0 victory over the Hokies at the Bosh.
In doing so, Gallen gave up just four hits and struck out a career-high 13 batters–the first UNC pitcher to do so since current New York Mets All-Star Matt Harvey, now referred to by some as “The Dark Knight,” fanned 15 Clemson Tigers back in 2010.
Coming off a huge upset loss on Wednesday to UNC-Asheville, the Tar Heels got the boost they needed to avoid losing to a Virginia Tech squad that has lost 16 games in a row and boasts a record of just 10-21 (1-12 ACC).
UNC jumps to 22-8 with the victory, and goes back above .500 in the ACC standings at 7-6 in league play.
Gallen–known for his ability to keep the ball in the strike zone–threw strikes on an astonishing 80 of his 118 pitches in the game. The righty also picked up his fourth win of the season (4-2) after running into some tough luck over the last two weekends against Georgia Tech and Miami, teams that UNC went a combined 1-5 against–including his only two losses of the year.
“That’s something [UNC sophomore pitcher] JB [Bukauskas] and I were talking about in the outfield the other day at practice,” Gallen said after the game. “He was just like, ‘Hey man everything feeds off of you.’
“So that’s just kinda my job on Friday night is to set the tone and leave the door open for those next two guys that are gonna throw [Saturday and Sunday].”
Helping Gallen’s cause offensively for the Tar Heels was freshman infielder Kyle Datres.
Benched against UNC-Asheville on Wednesday due to his struggling bat, Datres was put back into the lineup as the designated hitter–the first time he’d occupied that role in his college career.
He responded by going 2-for-3 with a home run–another career first–and two RBIs.
Sophomore Brian Miller drove in UNC’s first run of the game with an RBI single in the third, but Datres’ solo shot in the fourth is what pumped energy into the crowd.
“It felt really good,” Datres said. “I was in a little slump there, took a couple games off. Been working on my swing the last couple weeks, so to get that out of the way means a lot.”
Datres’ RBI single in the bottom of the sixth gave Gallen a 3-0 lead, which would prove to be plenty of cushion.
UNC didn’t let up on the gas though, as it doubled that advantage with a three-run eighth–highlighted by Zack Gahagan’s two-run single, which he drilled into right field.
Gallen came back out for the ninth to a large ovation, but put his complete game hopes in jeopardy by allowing a single to the lead-off man.
Had he not struck out the next three hitters, UNC head coach Mike Fox said he was ready to make a change given Gallen’s high pitch count.
“These guys are going six days of rest between starts,” Fox said. “I don’t know exactly how much he threw last Friday, but that was probably his last batter [tonight].”
The coach then smiled. “But I won’t tell him that.”
Instead the junior finished off his first complete game of the season, and second of his career. This type of performance has become the norm for Gallen, who has started to make his name well-known in Chapel Hill.
The next step?
Making that nickname,”The Milkman,” stick.
“It’s fine by me,” he said of the moniker. “A nickname, it’s an honor, especially when you play at a place like this.”
UNC will see the Hokies again on Saturday night, with first pitch set for 6 p.m.
No it wasn’t quite Villanova at the buzzer for the national championship, but the No. 13 UNC baseball team ran into some heartbreak of its own on Wednesday at Boshamer Stadium.
Despite having the bases loaded and just one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Tar Heels fell victim to a crazy, game-ending double play–losing 3-2 to the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs.
UNC is now 21-8 after picking up its first mid-week loss of the season. Asheville improves to just 8-22 with the win.
The Tar Heels played arguably the sloppiest game they’ve played all year, but were able to fight back to at least put themselves in position to win.
It just didn’t work out that way this time.
Junior center fielder Tyler Ramirez hit a hard drive to center field in the game’s final at-bat that appeared as if it would at least score the tying run no matter what.
Problem is, UNC-Asheville’s Joe Tietjen made an incredible diving catch and UNC’s Brian Miller–who was halfway between second and third base at the time–didn’t quite get the memo.
Tietjen noticed Miller needed to tag up before he could advance so he quickly threw the ball in to second for the final out, ending the game right then and there.
“Baserunning 101,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said after the game, visibly frustrated. “We’re just trying to tie the game there. We’re not trying to win it, we were trying to tie it. Our kids know that.
“You just turn around and stand there [on second base],” the coach continued, when asked what Miller should have done. “It’s an easy read, we practice it every single day. If he catches it, go back to second base, we score and tie the game. If he doesn’t run to third and make him make a play.””
Had Miller not been thrown out, UNC would have had its hottest hitter in recent games–shortstop Logan Warmoth–at the plate with a chance to win it.
The team’s fastest player and leader in stolen bases, Miller decided he wanted to try and take care of business a bit earlier.
“I thought it was in the gap,” Miller said. “I was trying to score, but I just made the wrong read too quick and it cost us.”
All this late-inning drama was only possible because the Tar Heels found themselves in a 3-0 hole by the bottom of the sixth inning.
That happened because offensively UNC was unable to get anything going, recording just six hits on the day.
The only two runs the Tar Heels scored came following a trio of walks in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With the bases loaded and one out, Warmoth hit a sacrifice fly. Then freshman Brandon Riley doubled home another run before Adam Pate flew out–ending the only threat the Tar Heels put together before the final sequence.
“It’s a hard skill,” Fox said. “We have a sign on our board [in the locker room] that says, ‘Hitting is the most difficult skill in sport, therefore don’t rely on it to win.
“I probably need to go take that down, because they’re taking it a little too far,” he added.
The Tar Heels will host Virginia Tech at Boshamer Stadium this weekend for their three-game ACC series. First pitch on Friday is set for 7 p.m.
Having lost five of its last seven games after starting 2016 with an 18-2 record, the No. 13 UNC baseball team needed a win to get momentum back on its side.
With an 8-1 victory at Boshamer Stadium over the tough High Point Panthers on Tuesday night, the Tar Heels hope to be headed back in the right direction.
UNC gave up leads in all three of its games against No. 3 Miami this past weekend, falling victim to its first sweep of the season.
However, the Tar Heels jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning on Tuesday and made sure to hold on to it this time–improving to 21-7 in 2016.
The first-inning spurt was kicked off by a one-out RBI triple from center fielder Tyler Ramirez, who finished the game 2-for-4 at the plate.
“It was definitely good to get those five in the first just to relax and kinda go out there and play,” Ramirez said after the game. “Because I think after getting swept in Miami it was difficult.”
Sophomore shortstop Logan Warmoth–hitting in the clean-up spot for the first time this year–drove Ramirez home following the first-inning triple, and was the only other Tar Heel to have multiple hits. The Florida native went 2-for-3 and also walked twice.
Seven straight hitters ended up reaching base against High Point starting pitcher Cooper Jeffers (2-1) in the first inning and control problems were a big reason why. Jeffers handed the Tar Heels their third and fourth runs of the game with a pair of bases loaded walks–which ended his day after recording just one out.
Throughout the entire game, High Point’s pitchers walked UNC 13 times. The Tar Heels pounded out just eight hits but were able to score eight runs because of this.
Not only that, the first two innings took nearly an hour to complete.
“It was one of those games where we were kinda in there laughing that this is why people don’t like baseball,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said, chuckling. “We were on pace for a four-and-a-half hour game through two innings.
“Nobody slept last night after the basketball game,” Fox added, referencing the Tar Heels’ loss to Villanova in the men’s basketball National Championship game. “So everybody was tired wanting a quick game.”
Although High Point doesn’t necessarily present the same challenges as the top-tier ACC opponents that UNC has struggled with lately, the Panthers have quietly put together the best start in school history—even after falling to 20-9 with the loss.
High Point was able to break through for a run in the fifth against UNC lefty Hunter Williams, who struggled with his control as well–walking five batters in his own right.
However, the Tar Heel bullpen continued their early-season dominance–holding the Panthers to just two hits over the final 4 1/3 innings.
These mid-week games against feisty opponents are where the Tar Heels sometimes didn’t bring the necessary effort a year ago–which ultimately cost them a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
UNC is now 7-0 against mid-week competition this year after going 12-3 a season ago–with losses to Coastal Carolina, Davidson, and UNC-Greensboro.
As important as it was to get back to winning in general, this game was also part of a season-long initiative Fox has set for his team.
“That’s been a big goal of ours is to run the table mid-week,” the coach said. “That’s gonna be a big challenge–especially at home–but I thought [High Point] was a huge challenge for us–[especially] coming off of a loss, then last night with basketball.”
The Tar Heels will have another chance to win a mid-week game on Wednesday as they host UNC-Asheville on what’s being billed as “Wing Wednesday,” with 50-cent wings on sale at Boshamer Stadium.
Following a miracle sent from the heavens down to Houston–an off-balance, game-tying three-pointer by UNC guard Marcus Paige with four seconds remaining–Villanova forward Kris Jenkins got the ball wide open at the top of the key.
Jenkins then calmly swished a three of his own–leading the Wildcats to an unbelievable 77-74 victory over the Tar Heels in Monday night’s NCAA National Championship Game.
“All we needed was 4.7 seconds of defense,” an emotional Paige said after the game. “It didn’t work out.
“Kris is their best three-point shooter and he got a pretty clean look—for whatever reason,” he continued. “There’s 75 possessions in the game, and they just happened to get the last one and make the shot.”
UNC, led by Paige, had just put together a furious run to rally from 10 points down in the final five minutes.
It clearly wasn’t supposed to end like that.
The Tar Heels had proven doubters wrong all season, and this was supposed to be their moment and their time.
It was supposed to be time for Paige and his fellow seniors Brice Johnson and Joel James to end their college careers the right way, and it was supposed to be time for fans to flood Franklin Street so they could celebrate all night.
Instead, it was Villanova that was left with all the time—those 4.7 seconds to be exact—after Paige’s prayer.
All UNC head coach Roy Williams could do from the sidelines was watch.
“I saw Kris shoot it,” Williams said. “And his follow-through looked great. I pretty much knew it was going in—and it was.
“It was helpless,” the coach added, after pausing for a second to keep from choking up. “It was not a good feeling.”
Jenkins, the legal brother of UNC guard Nate Britt, set off every firework inside NRG Stadium as his shot instantly became one of the most memorable in NCAA history–leaving the Tar Heels—and the entire town of Chapel Hill–in a state of disbelief.
“When we were down 10, in the huddle I promised them—if they do what I told ‘em to do we’d have a chance to win the game at the end,” Williams said. “I just didn’t go guard Kris.”
Although Villanova needed to go the length of the floor to get a shot off, the Wildcats put the ball in the hands of their senior leader—and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player—Ryan Arcidiacono.
Having already amassed 16 points in the game the Tar Heels were focused on him and guard Phil Brooks, who had 20.
Jenkins, who inbounded the ball, was supposed to be picked up by Johnson–according to Williams–but the Tar Heel big man was wandering around down low. Aricidiacono then found Jenkins and tossed him the ball as he cut past–leaving Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks having to scramble out late.
The ball left Jenkins’ hands with just a split second remaining, and the rest is now history.
“It’s so crazy,” Williams said. “A couple of times we rolled the ball [inbounds] to save a couple of seconds and that was the smart thing to do. Maybe if it hadn’t have gone in we’d have had it in overtime.
“The difference between winning and losing in college basketball is so small,” he continued. “But the difference in your feelings is so large.”
Villanova’s high-pressure defense forced the Tar Heels into a three-point battle and prevented them from getting comfortable inside all night long. With a Villanova player consistently fronting him in the post, Johnson was limited to just 14 points.
UNC’s other top forwards, Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, combined to score just eight as UNC was outscored in the paint for just the sixth time all year.
However, Berry had 20 points–including 15 in the first half–and made all four threes he took in one of his best performances of the year.
Justin Jackson even hit a trio of three-pointers to keep UNC alive early on.
But at the end it still appeared Paige was going to get the storybook ending he deserved–even after struggling for most of the year.
The man Williams calls a “tough little nut” scored eight of his game-high 21 points in the final two minutes–including the three that appeared it would hand UNC its sixth national championship.
Like most fairy tales, though, it was just too good to be true.
“You want that to be your moment,” Paige said. “As bad as you’ve ever wanted anything in your life, you don’t know how much our team wanted this game.
“We just came up a little bit short.”
The Tar Heels are expected to return to Chapel Hill at around 2 p.m. on Tuesday. For the seniors–Paige, Johnson, and James–it was their final time wearing a UNC jersey out on the court.
For the first time during the 2016 college baseball season the No. 7 UNC baseball team found itself on the wrong end of a series sweep–as the Tar Heels were defeated 7-4 on Sunday by the No. 4 Miami Hurricanes.
Sophomore Brian Miller–who started in left field for UNC–went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs and a pair of doubles at Mark Light Field in Miami. One of those doubles drove in a pair of runs and put the Tar Heels ahead 3-0 in the top of the second inning.
The Hurricanes simply held strong and waited for the Tar Heels to crack, their go-to plan all weekend long.
Although UNC entered the series 16-2 in games where it scored first, Miami rallied to win after facing early deficits three consecutive times.
The Hurricanes are now 23-4 (10-2 ACC) this season while the Tar Heels drop to 20-7 (6-6 ACC).
Right-hander Jason Morgan (2-3) worked through the fourth inning on Sunday without giving up a run to Miami, but the fifth was a completely different story.
After putting the first three hitters in the frame on base–two walks sandwiched around a single by Carl Chester–Morgan’s day was done early.
The 6-foot-6-inch righty had thrown just four complete innings and 68 pitches, but the walks were his third and fourth of the day–a foreshadowing of the control issues that haunted the Tar Heels in the late innings.
Reliever AJ Bogucki came in to a bases-loaded situation and immediately struck out Miami’s Zack Collins. Bogucki then gave up a two-run double to Jacob Heyward that opened up the dam. A wild pitch brought a third run home, followed later by a sacrifice fly from Johnny Ruiz and an RBI single from Willie Abreu.
Just like that, it was 5-3 in favor of the Hurricanes.
Each team was kept quiet through the sixth and seventh innings, but for a brief moment in the eighth it appeared as if the Tar Heels were about to put together a rally–as they have so many times before this year.
Catcher Cody Roberts singled with two outs, and then came home to score after the next at-bat on Miller’s second double of the day–making it a one-run ball game.
Miami then turned to its star closer Bryan Garcia a little bit earlier than normal. Garcia validated that decision by getting Tar Heel second baseman Eli Sutherland to fly out.
Then the control problems came back for the UNC pitching staff.
The Hurricanes loaded the bases in their half of the eighth against reliever Spencer Trayner–who gave up two hits and a walk. After the Tar Heels turned to lefty Zach Rice in response, Miami simply took ball four and extended its lead.
Freshman Cole Aker took the mound after Rice’s mistake, but had a pitch mishandled behind the plate by Roberts–who did not start the game, entering as a pinch-hitter for Brandon Illies in the top half of the inning.
The passed ball gave Miami all the comfort it would need to get to the finish.
Down three runs and down to their final three outs, the Tar Heels were only able to muster up a two-out single by Brandon Riley–their 11th hit of the afternoon.
Garcia then retired Adam Pate to end the game, and the sweep.
UNC returns home to Boshamer Stadium for a Tuesday night contest with High Point on April 5 at 6 p.m.
Entering this college basketball season, the 2016 Tar Heels found themselves atop the national rankings carrying massive expectations–despite never having reached the game’s biggest stage.
After the top-seeded Tar Heels’ knocked off Syracuse 83-66 in the National Semifinals on Saturday night in Houston, the team head coach Roy Williams said is his favorite of all-time is now one game from fulfilling all of its preseason promise.
Ever since the start of March, after the Tar Heels beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium to clinch the ACC regular season crown, UNC has been on a death march of sorts.
First the Tar Heels won the conference tourney in Washington D.C., and now over the last three weeks they seem fully intent on taking what they believe is rightfully theirs—the national championship.
Joel Berry powered through the Syracuse zone with ease on his way to a near triple-double (eight points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds) while UNC’s lovable big man tandem of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson wreaked havoc in the middle—combining for 31 points and 17 rebounds— as the Tar Heels have now won every NCAA tournament game by at least 14 points on their way to the finals.
“Couldn’t be prouder for a team than I am for this team right here,” Williams said during the postgame press conference. “We beat a Syracuse team that had been great down the stretch, and is very difficult for us to play.
“These guys up here were sensational,” the coach continued, referring to Berry, Johnson, and Meeks—who were next to him at the table. “I couldn’t be having a more fantastic ride than I’m having right now.”
It was also known at the beginning of the year that the Tar Heels would struggle with their perimeter shooting. The truth is though, not even an 0-for-10 start from beyond the arc could stop them on Saturday.
Berry’s ball penetration created a number of good looks inside and helped the Tar Heels build a comfortable double-digit halftime lead.
Syracuse, however did manage to cut its deficit to just seven points after taking off on a 10-0 run midway through the second half.
Of course, then the man picked as UNC’s Player-of-the-Year candidate in the preseason—Marcus Paige—put a stop to that run with the Tar Heels’ first three of the night.
“I got a little excited on the sideline at that,” Williams said of Paige’s shot. “If you think about it, and if I had time to reflect, I’d say ‘Yes,’ that it couldn’t be more appropriate that it was Marcus Paige that did that.”
Following Paige’s big play, sophomore wing Theo Pinson stepped up and drilled a three of his own, as UNC then marched easily to victory—showing that when this Tar Heel team makes its shots from beyond the arc they’re basically unbeatable.
Pinson–the team’s Energizer Bunny who finished with five points–and senior forward Joel James—the bench celebration leader who had four points–each made solid contributions as substitutes in a balanced effort where no player shot the ball more than 12 times.
Johnson’s 16 points and 9 rebounds topped the stat sheet, but all he wanted to talk about afterwards were the team’s unsung heroes.
“Theo stepped up and really made some big-time shots,” Johnson said. “And Joel [James] too. Joel played some terrific minutes in the first half.
“That’s how we wanna play,” he continued. “We just wanna play together. It’s a team sport. We don’t really care who gets the most points. We’d rather it be spread out the way it was today.”
And that’s the thing. This special group of Tar Heels has proven all season long that they’re everything everyone thought they might be—and then some.
They’re talented, experienced, and unselfish—playing for something bigger than themselves.
Now only Villanova stands between UNC and its sixth national championship–and for Williams his third since returning to Chapel Hill in the summer of 2003.
It’s been an emotional run filled with all the clichés you can think of, but now they’re here one game away—which is why the coach took some time afterward to thank those that have inspired it.
“I really wish Stuart Scott was here tonight,” Williams said, referencing the late ESPN anchor and Tar Heel alum. “And I really wish [former UNC head coaches] Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge and my best friend in Chapel Hill, Ted Seagroves, were here.
“The last year and a half’s been awfully difficult because of all that,” he continued. “But they’re up there somewhere smiling and having a good time—and Stuart’s saying ‘Boo-yah.’”
The Tar Heels will take on the Villanova Wildcats for the title starting at 9:09 p.m. It’ll be yet another late tip time for UNC, but at least this time it’ll be with the biggest prize of them all on the line.
If UNC needed a reminder of what it takes to truly be among the nation’s elite baseball teams, it most certainly got one Friday night–as the No. 7 Tar Heels fell 10-4 to the No. 4 Miami Hurricanes at Mark Light Field in South Florida.
A participant in last year’s College World Series, the Hurricanes (21-4, 8-2 ACC) and their experienced lineup forced UNC ace Zac Gallen into his toughest start of the year–pounding out 15 hits in the game.
Gallen (3-2) was finally pulled after giving up four runs and six hits in the fifth inning, allowing Miami to break a 1-1 tie and open up a comfortable lead that would hold up the rest of the way.
Over his first five starts of the season, Gallen went at least seven innings in each. In each of his last two–against Georgia Tech last Friday and this game against Miami–he was unable to last longer than five.
In all, the junior surrendered 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings–striking out four hitters while throwing 91 pitches.
Despite defeating Davidson this past Tuesday in a non-conference game, the Tar Heels have dropped three of their last four conference outings and are now 20-5 overall and 6-4 in the ACC.
This shows that the young Tar Heels–while still extremely talented–have met their match in the ACC gauntlet.
Wins are always at a premium in a conference that boasts eight teams in the most recent D1baseball.com Top 25 poll–including UNC’s past two weekend opponents.
After Miami broke through against Gallen in the fifth inning, the Tar Heels experienced another let down in the sixth.
A combination of three relievers–Cole Aker, Chris McCue, and Taylor Sugg–struggled to find the strike zone in the frame, walking three Miami hitters and hitting another.
The end result was three more runs for the Hurricanes–one following a wild pitch by Sugg–with the benefit of just one hit.
Entering the night UNC was 14-0 this season in games where it scored in the first inning.
Freshman designated hitter Brandon Riley, who reached base in all six of his at-bats for the Tar Heels against Davidson, drove in Brian Miller with a double in the first inning on Friday–representing the only run UNC was able to scratch across until the late stages of the night.
Miami tied the game in the second inning, then rode its starting pitcher–junior Thomas Woodrey–through the seventh. Woodrey (3-2) wasn’t spectacular, striking out just two batters, but he was good enough to limit the Tar Heels to only four hits on 102 pitches.
At one crucial moment in the top of the fifth UNC loaded the bases against Woodrey with two outs and the game still tied 1-1. However, Woodrey got Miller to line out to left field–putting an end to the threat immediately.
Not until Woodrey was removed from the game did the UNC bats finally start to break through, but by then it was too late.
Looking for the late boost that has become common this season, UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth drove in a pair of runs of reliever Keven Pimentel in the visiting half of the eighth inning to make it an 8-3 ballgame.
Although that never-say-die attitude has benefited UNC is most games this season, the Hurricanes’ star right fielder, Willie Abreu, quickly put an end to any of those thoughts with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth.
Right fielder Adam Pate picked up an RBI single for UNC off Pimentel in the ninth– however the next batter up, Riley, flew out to end the contest.
The Tar Heels will have a chance to even up the three-game series with the Hurricanes on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.