From the minute he was brought back to coach his alma mater in 1999, UNC head baseball coach Mike Fox has been battling for Triangle superiority with longtime NC State skipper Elliott Avent.
Although they get along well off the field, that didn’t stop Fox from trying to use Avent’s recent snake-bite injury against him ahead of their crucial rivalry series looming this weekend.
While outside his home last Wednesday evening, Avent and his 10-week-old puppy, Sammi, were bit by a venomous copperhead.
They each ended up fine, but the 60-year-old Avent spent a few hours in the hospital and was forced to miss the Wolfpack’s series against Louisville–which saw NC State swept in ACC play for the first time this season.
It was also the first time in Avent’s career that he was forced to miss games because of a physical ailment.
Before the news found its way to the media, though, Fox heard of his colleague’s bizarre injury through the coaching grapevine and decided to send his buddy a text.
“My wife got bit by one, probably about three years ago,” Fox said. “So as soon as I told Elliott that, he’s bombarding me. ‘What happened? Where was he? Where was she?’”
Noticing how freaked out Avent was, Fox did what any good friend would do. He took the opportunity to mess with him.
“It turned into me just making it seem like it’s a little worse than it was,” Fox said. “Elliott’s a little gullible. He was like, ‘How long does it take to recover?’
“I was like, ‘Months.’”
It’s really nothing more than a coincidence that Avent will be making his return to the field this weekend at home against Fox’s Tar Heels.
But with UNC needing as many wins as it can get in order to gain entry to the postseason, Fox joked that he should have told Avent that his wife hadn’t yet recovered from her bite.
Of course, then Avent—who went back and killed the snake with an umbrella after first trying with a stick—did his best to make sure Fox kept laughing.
“I really was concerned about him,” Fox said about Avent. “He said ‘I’m gonna send you a picture.’ So I thought he was gonna send me a picture because I said ‘Where did you get bit?’
“So I thought he was gonna send me a picture of his ankle—then all of a sudden a picture of the snake pops up on my phone,” Fox said, shaking his head with a big grin on his face. “Only Elliott.”http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/mike-fox-shares-his-side-of-the-elliott-avent-snakebite-incident
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made headlines a couple seasons ago when he told fans and reporters alike to “R-E-L-A-X” following an early losing streak.
As it turns out, the UNC baseball team decided to use that same advice Monday night at Boshamer Stadium in order to win its first ACC series in over a month.
The Tar Heels snapped out of a pressure-induced hitting slump with a seven-run second inning–on the way to an 8-1 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Having totaled just seven hits in their previous two games this series, some Tar Heel players admitted that the “must-win” situation they currently find themselves in has caused them to press more than they should at the plate.
“We knew this was a big one,” UNC freshman third baseman Kyle Datres–who went 3-for-4 with a home run–said after the game. “We try not to look at the standings, but you come down to the end and you know you gotta bear down and get some wins.
“Instead of just playing all tense, we tried to go out there and relax [tonight],” Datres later added, with a wide smile across his face. “It’s a lot more fun that way.”
UNC head coach Mike Fox–though he doesn’t like to view things in “must-win” terms–decided to send an e-mail to his players on Sunday’s off day detailing their current situation.
He then spoke to them again before the game Monday–bringing to light a cold, hard truth.
“I did remind them today that ‘When you told me, yes you wanted to come to North Carolina, guess what? You’re under pressure,” Fox said. “The expectations are to win here. At every sport. It is what it is.”
“They don’t realize it when they say that, because they’re 15 years old,” the coach said, dryly. “But they realize it once they get here.”
An inexperienced group of Notre Dame pitchers–as much as any relaxation or coaching techniques–also played a big role in the Tar Heels’ offensive outburst. The Fighting Irish got just one inning from its starter–freshman Connor Hock (9.1 IP for his career)–before eventually using seven pitchers in the game.
Three different Tar Heels–Brian Miller, Zack Gahagan and Brandon Riley–hit two-run doubles during the second-inning outburst, while shortstop Logan Warmoth also added an RBI single.
It all started after UNC loaded the bases for Miller, putting its top hitter in a position to come through with runners in scoring position–which has been another of the team’s problem areas this season.
By the end of the frame, the Tar Heels had already amassed seven hits–matching their total from the previous 18 innings.
Four of the team’s players ended the game with multiple hits, as Miller and Datres led the way with three apiece.
Datres’ fifth-inning homer–his third of the season–gave UNC some extra breathing room that finally allowed the pitching staff to get in some relaxing of their own.
Right-hander Jason Morgan started on the mound for the Tar Heels, but was pulled after allowing the first two men he faced in the fourth inning to reach base.
AJ Bogucki then took over and tossed five innings of no-hit ball through the eighth to pick up the victory.
“When you go out there, and the game’s 8-0, it’s pretty hard to not be relaxed,” Bogucki said. “You know you can just throw the ball over the plate.”
Spencer Trayner and Hansen Butler combined to finish off the Fighting Irish in the ninth, but not before the shutout was erased by Torii Hunter Jr.’s RBI single.
It was an occasion where yet another great performance by the Tar Heel pitching staff became merely a footnote because of what was going on at the plate.
Nothing matters more for UNC right now than to get its hitters loose–and in a rhythm–down the stretch.
Entering the day, the Tar Heels found themselves in 12th place in the ACC, which matters because only the top 10 teams advance to the conference tournament in Durham.
Notre Dame was 9th in the standings, but drops out of the mix after Monday’s loss–replaced by UNC.
Usually, it’s hyperbole to think each game in a season full of them can be so important.
But for all intents and purposes, the Tar Heels’ postseason has already begun.
“It was like an elimination game,” Fox said. “It wasn’t quite that because we’ve still got three games to play, but if we’d have lost tonight that might have been….close to the nail in our coffin”
UNC will head to Raleigh on Thursday for the beginning of its final, and most important, series of the season against rival NC State–the nation’s No. 13 team.
After taking advantage of a new NBA rule which allows underclassmen more time to receive feedback on their pro draft status before choosing to return to school, UNC small forward Justin Jackson decided Monday evening that he’ll be sticking around in Chapel Hill.
The wiry, 6-foot-8 Jackson–a native of Tomball, Texas–averaged 12.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a starter for the Tar Heels during last season’s run to the National Championship Game.
With this decision, Jackson joins teammate Kennedy Meeks, who announced his own return to UNC back on May 4 after he was not invited to participate in the NBA Draft Combine.
Jackson was the only Tar Heel underclassman to take part in the Combine, joining departed seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson in Chicago for the event.
He decided afterwards that the professional ranks can wait.
“I’m glad I had the chance to enter the Draft and attend the Combine where I was able to meet with a number of NBA executives, and test my game against some of the top players in the country,” Jackson said in a statement issued to the press.
“But after discussing it with my parents and coaches and praying over this decision, the best choice for my basketball future is to return to school and play for the Tar Heels next season.”
Although he has been a major contributor for head coach Roy Williams in each of the last two seasons, pro scouts have long wanted to see a more consistent long-range jumper from Jackson–who often relies on crafty drives and floaters to score his points in the half court.
After shooting just 30 percent from three-point range in his first year on campus, Jackson’s shooting from beyond the arc fell to 29 percent last season–leaving some doubts as to how much improvement he’s made in that area of his game.
According to Draftexpress.com, a site that specializes in the NBA Draft, Jackson’s perimeter shooting (or lack thereof) is what had him ranked as the No. 72 overall prospect–which left him out of most mock drafts.
In today’s NBA, where offenses routinely space the floor with multiple shooters surrounding one big man, a solid three-point shot can make all the difference in how much value a player provides to an organization.
Now, though, Jackson will have at least one more year in the college ranks to work on his game–and possibly get another shot at tournament glory.
He’s expected to be part of a talented starting lineup at UNC that will likely feature Joel Berry II and either Theo Pinson or Nate Britt in the backcourt, with Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks in the post.
“Justin certainly did the right thing in entering the Draft, because it helped him and his family make the decision with the most complete information possible,” Williams said of his small forward. “Justin is a terrific player and an even finer young man.
“He’s going to be a big part of our basketball team next year.”
Looking to turn its recently-earned ACC Championship into something more, the No. 3 UNC women’s lacrosse team first had to take care of an old rival in its NCAA Tournament opener.
The Tar Heels showed no signs of being intimidated however, turning up the heat in the second half of their 15-10 win over the Duke Blue Devils at Fetzer Field on Sunday.
Duke played UNC tight in the Tar Heels’ 7-6 win in the ACC Tournament back on April 29, but the Blue Devils weren’t able to hang around for all 60 minutes this time.
Not once during the game did UNC (17-2) trail the Blue Devils (11-9), as junior Molly Hendrick poured in four goals to help lead a dominant offensive showing by the home team.
Sammy Jo Tracy added three goals and two assists to the Tar Heel cause, while Aly Messinger, Carly Reed and Ela Hazar each found the back of the net twice.
Each of Hazar’s goals came during a deciding run after halftime, where UNC turned its slim, 9-8 lead into a comfortable victory.
Just 10 minutes was all the Tar Heels needed in the second half to build a 12-9 advantage–which was their largest lead of the day.
The goals kept on coming over the next ten minutes, with UNC eventually going ahead 14-9 before Duke scored another.
Reed then put the finishing touches on the Tar Heels’ effort by scoring their 15th–and final–goal.
No scoring by either side occurred over the final 11 minutes.
UNC was more than happy to sit on the lead after a back-and-forth first half where it failed to break free, and surrendered hat tricks to Duke’s Grace Fallon and Kelci Smesko.
Fallon and Smesko each scored once more in the second half–finishing with four goals apiece–but the Blue Devil offense ran dry due to a lack of other options.
The Tar Heel women now join their male lacrosse counterparts in the NCAA Quarterfinals, just one win away from their fifth appearance in the Final Four in the last seven seasons.
Awaiting UNC is the No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The quarterfinals are scheduled to be played on May 21 and 22, with game times not yet determined.
It’s on to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the No. 3 UNC men’s tennis team.
The Tar Heels continued their march toward the National Championship on Sunday, becoming one of 16 teams left standing after their 4-0 victory over the Tulane Green Wave in the second round of the NCAA Team Tournament.
Despite a tough challenge from Tulane, which has the nation’s No. 3 ranked player, Dominik Koepfer, UNC’s depth ultimately provided the difference at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center–improving the Tar Heels’ record to 27-4 this season.
Tulane finishes its season with a mark of 16-9.
The Tar Heel duo of Robert Kelly and Brett Clark–the country’s No. 3 doubles team–defeated Koepfer and his teammate, Chi-Shan Jao, 6-4 to clinch the doubles point for UNC.
By that time, Anu Kodali and Ronnie Schneider had already dispatched of Tulane’s Sebastian Rey and Ian Van Cott, finishing their doubles match with a 6-2 win–putting Kelly and Clark in position to put the Tar Heels on the board first.
Tulane, however, with Koepfer and Constantin Schmitz–ranked 99th in the nation–forced UNC’s Schneider and Brayden Schnur–each among the country’s top 30 players–into tight competition in the singles portion of the event.
Typically in singles competition the Tar Heels rely on Schnur and Schneider as two “guaranteed” points.
That’s where the depth came into play, as three other UNC players were able to finish off wins in their matches before the top-ranked foes could finish theirs .
Kodali was the first to pick up an individual win, defeating Tyler Schick 6-1, 6-2 to put the Tar Heels up 2-0–while Clark (6-1, 6-4) and Kelly (7-6, 6-0) finished up wins soon after to seal the team victory.
The Tar Heels now willl head to Tulsa–where they’ll face the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Friday, May 20 at 5:00 p.m.
On Friday night Zac Gallen and Hansen Butler combined to deliver a crucial shutout victory for the UNC baseball team, despite the Tar Heel offense scoring just three runs on four hits.
Sophomore JB Bukauskas attempted to pull off the same feat on Saturday at Boshamer Stadium, but couldn’t get much in terms of run support as Notre Dame’s three-run sixth inning proved to be the difference in the Fighting Irish’s 3-1 victory.
Stuck in a stretch run marred by inconsistency at the plate, the Tar Heels now fall to 32-19 (11-15 ACC) in 2016.
The Fighting Irish, meanwhile, move to 27-23 (11-13 ACC), which actually puts them ahead of UNC in the conference standings due to the tiebreaker being winning percentage in league games.
Lefty Michael Hearne was sensational for Notre Dame, holding the Tar Heels without a hit until the bottom of the sixth inning–when freshman catcher Cody Roberts unleashed his first career home run to left field.
UNC ended up with just three hits–Roberts’ homer and infield singles by Tyler Ramirez and Logan Warmoth–which brings their total for the weekend to seven.
“I think we’re just putting way too much pressure on ourselves,” Roberts said after the game. “If we could score those runs we were scoring early in the season [we’d be alright].
“I think now we’re pressing so hard to try and get those wins that we’re waiting until the sixth or seventh inning to get those runs.”
The lack of offensive firepower prevented Bukauskas from earning his seventh win of the season for the Tar Heels, which seemed as if it could have been a sure thing given the way the sophomore dominated the first five innings.
Through the first half of the game, the Ashburn, Virginia native surrendered just two hits–matching Hearne’s dominance every step of the way.
However, a two-run blast by Notre Dame center fielder Matt Vierling in the sixth inning completely flipped the game on its head–taking momentum away from a UNC team that has relied heavily on its pitching in ACC play.
“I can’t really do anything about the ‘no runs,'” Bukauskas said when asked how Vierling’s big swing affected momentum. “We’re just struggling really bad at the plate right now. Their guy [Hearne] was really crafty.
“But [the home run] didn’t affect me too much out on the mound,” he continued. “It was just a bad pitch. I left it out over the plate. It happens. It was just a bad time for it.”
Cole Daily, the Fighting Irish third baseman, singled home the visitors’ third run of the game later in the frame with a hard liner up the middle–all but ensuring it would be Bukauskas’ final inning of the night, considering he had reached the 100 pitch mark.
After Roberts homered for UNC in the bottom half of the sixth, Ramirez and Warmoth opened the seventh with their back-to-back infield hits.
A sacrifice bunt by freshman Brandon Riley then moved the tying run to second base with just one out, before Hearne got Zack Gahagan to strike out swinging and forced Eli Sutherland to fly out.
Ramirez and Warmoth ended up being the last base runners UNC was able to get, as reliever Sean Guenther came on in the eighth inning and retired all six men he faced to shut the door on his first save of the year.
The lack of pop from the Tar Heel bats has the team on the verge of missing the ACC Tournament for the first time under head coach Mike Fox.
With only 11 wins in conference, UNC will likely need to win at least two more to reach 13–which was the minimum number won by any of the league’s 10 participants last year.
Not only that, the players, especially the hitters, know what’s at stake.
If they can’t qualify for their own conference tournament, there’s a slim chance that they are still able to qualify for the NCAA Tournament–despite having a number of quality wins this season outside the league.
“That’s on them,” Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox said about his players feeling the pressure. “We’re in this position because we’re in this position. I don’t know how to undo that.
“I can tell the kids to relax, but it’s them in the box,” the coach continued. “They gotta breathe, and they gotta try to have good at-bats.”
Jason Morgan will head to the mound on Monday night for the Tar Heels in front of a national television audience, hoping to give UNC its first ACC series win in over a month.
That game, UNC’s home finale this season, is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Having won 20 matches in a row entering Saturday’s second round of the NCAA Women’s Tennis Team Tournament, UNC found itself in an unfamiliar situation against Northwestern–needing one of its final two singles competitors to keep the season alive.
Luckily for head coach Brian Kalbas, some big heart showed up in the form of the team’s smallest player.
Senior Ashley Dai, who stands just 5-feet-2-inches tall, defeated the Wildcats’ Brooke Rischbeith 7-6, 3-6, 6-0 to give the Tar Heels a 4-2 victory at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center in Chapel Hill.
Had Rischbeith been able to win the third set against Dai, and thus the individual match, Northwestern would have been in prime position to take the overall team match.
Alicia Barnett held a 4-3 lead over UNC’s Jessie Aney in the third set of their singles competition, which was stopped only because Dai clinched the win for the Tar Heels.
UNC (31-2) earned the doubles team point with stellar showings from the teams of Aney and Kate Vialle–who won their match 6-0–and Hayley Carter and Whitney Kay–who won their match 6-3.
Not until singles competition did Northwestern mount a push, splitting the first four of those contests with the Tar Heels.
Carter (7-5, 6-4) and freshman Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (6-2, 6-2) each did their part for UNC, though, picking up points against a Wildcat team that played well above the 14-11 record it finishes the year with.
But it was Dai that came up big for the Tar Heels when it mattered most, sending them onto the next round with their national title hopes still intact.
UNC will be back in action on Thursday, May 19 when it takes on an ACC rival, Virginia, at 10:00 a.m.
The Tar Heels defeated Virginia 4-3 in Charlottesville back on March 3, and again in the ACC Tournament on April 23–but by a score of 4-1 in the second matchup.
No seed, no problem for the UNC men’s lacrosse team on Saturday afternoon.
The Tar Heels, who were not given a national seed for the NCAA Tournament, traveled to Milwaukee and eliminated the No. 6 seed Marquette Golden Eagles 10-9 at Valley Field to advance to a familiar place–the national quarterfinals.
Despite being held scoreless over the final ten minutes, UNC (9-6) held off a late rally by Marquette to eke out its 24th appearance among the country’s final eight teams.
In just their fourth full season as a Division I program, the Golden Eagles finished the year at 9-5 and as champions of the Big East Conference.
UNC’s experience in tournament situations ultimately proved to be a bit too much for the upstarts.
Led by junior midfielder Michael Tagliaferri’s three goals and one assist, the Tar Heels showed a persistent offensive attack that continually kept Marquette on its toes–compiling 37 shots throughout the game.
Attackers Steve Pontrello and Chris Cloutier each scored a pair of goals for UNC, while midfielder Shane Simpson added one during the second quarter.
Cloutier’s second goal came in the fourth quarter with the Tar Heels on a man advantage, and gave UNC its biggest lead of the day–at 10-7.
But that moment ended up being the last time head coach Joe Breschi’s squad found the back of the net.
Marquette clawed back from the three-goal deficit over the final minutes, aided by a delay of game penalty on UNC with just under two minutes to play–a call that ultimately led to a goal by the Golden Eagles.
The Tar Heel defense tightened up however, and fought off Marquette’s final offensive push.
After a wayward shot found its way into the goal crease with about 20 seconds to play, UNC was able to gain possession and hold on until the clock hit triple zeroes.
The Tar Heels await the winner of No. 3 Notre Dame and Air Force for their quarterfinal matchup.
Although UNC has made it to the quarterfinals 24 times, and in four of the last seven years, the Tar Heels have not made it to the Final Four since 1993.
Looking to build off its title at the National Indoor Championships last fall, the No. 3 UNC men’s tennis team began its march through the NCAA Tournament with a 4-0 win over the College of Charleston Cougars.
The Tar Heels didn’t drop a single set in the match, as they improved to 26-4 this season–ending Charleston’s seven-match winning streak that included its first ever Colonial Athletic Association Championship.
The Cougars finish the season with a record of 19-7.
UNC’s top two players, Brayden Schnur and Ronnie Schneider, helped clinch the doubles point for the Tar Heels by teaming with Jack Murray and Anu Kodali.
Schnur and Murray defeated Charleston’s team of Vasily Kichigan and Josh Record 6-1, while Schneider and Kodali won their match against Zack Lewis and Charlie Ghriskey by a score of 6-3.
In the singles portion of the match–where six different matches are played simultaneously–UNC’s Robert Kelly was the first to clinch a victory after his dominating performance against Kichigan, in which he won 6-0, 6-1.
Schneider finished his match against Rodrigo Encinas–a 6-1, 6-1 blowout–soon after, while Murray didn’t need much longer to seal the deal.
The junior from Beverly Hills, Michigan knocked off Zack Lewis 6-3, 6-0 to send the Tar Heels through to Sunday’s second round.
Awaiting UNC on Sunday is the Tulane Green Wave (15-8), a group that defeated Dartmouth 4-0 early Saturday morning.
The No. 3 UNC women’s tennis team began its run through the NCAA Tournament Friday afternoon, knocking off the East Tennessee State Buccaneers 4-0.
Playing in Chapel Hill at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, the Tar Heels (30-2) extended their winning streak to 20 matches–as they haven’t lost since facing Michigan on the road back in early February.
Despite entering the day as champions of the Southern Conference, the Buccaneers (20-3) were simply no match against a talented UNC team that has been among the nation’s best all year.
The Tar Heels earned the doubles point by winning two out of the three doubles matches on the schedule, and were also ahead in the third match 5-4 when play was stopped due to UNC already having earned the team point.
Led by a pair of talented freshmen and one of the top players in the nation–5-foot-11-inch junior Hayley Carter–UNC then went on to dominate the singles portion of the match.
Carter defeated East Tennessee State’s Lyn Yee Choo in straight sets, winning the first set 6-3 and the second set 6-1.
As that was happening, Jessie Aney and Chloe Oullet-Pizer–the only freshmen on the UNC roster–won their matches in quick fashion as well.
Aney was the first to finish her match, as she beat Regina Nychytailova 6-1, 6-1. Carter finished her victory soon after, leaving Oullet-Pizer as the one who could clinch the win.
Once she finished off the second set of a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Ioanna Markesini, the Tar Heels and head coach Brian Kalbas were officially on to the next round
The Tar Heels will be back in action on Saturday at 3 p.m. for their second round match against Northwestern, which defeated Mississippi 4-0 earlier on Friday.