UCLA Offense Too Much for UNC in Series Clincher

Third baseman Chris Keck drove in four runs to lead the #4 UCLA Bruins to a 12-4 victory in the rubber match of their three game set with the #6 Diamond Heels Sunday afternoon in Orlando, leading an offense that pounded out 16 hits. The win in this early season test improves the Bruins to 6-1 and drops UNC to a record of 4-2.

Top-flight pitching was expected to be the strength of both teams heading into the season. Runs were supposed to come at a premium. But you wouldn’t know it from seeing the results of this series. The first two games were sloppy, taking close to four hours to complete, featuring 17 combined errors, and plenty of runs, 28 to be exact.

Today would be no different, with three more errors, 16 more runs, and a game that crept the four hour mark.

Scoring began in the top of the third with the Bruins stringing together four consecutive hits off Tar Heel freshman starter JB Bukauskas. A line drive by left-fielder Ty Moore, batting .548 on the season, struck Bukauskas on the heel and got through the middle, scoring shortstop Kevin Kramer and giving UCLA the first lead of the game.

JB Bukauskas went 4.2 innings, striking out five, and allowing five earned runs. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas went 4.2 innings, striking out five, and allowing five earned runs. (UNC Athletics)

Pitching coach Scott Forbes came out to the mound to check on his starter, but Bukauskas was okay to stay in. Still with no outs in the inning, he came back to face Keck, who promptly smashed a double down the left field line, driving in two runs and extending the lead to three. Luckily for Carolina, the freshman regained his composure and retired the next three batters up, including two swinging strikeouts, to escape the jam.

He would increase that streak to seven, going three up, three down, in the fourth, and getting Bruin first baseman Luke Persico to pop out to begin the fifth, before running into trouble again. Ty Moore doubled down the right field line, catcher Darrell Miller Jr. reached first after being hit by a pitch, and right-fielder Kort Peterson hit a two-bagger that brought Moore home, ending the day for Bukauskas (1-1).

Sophomore Zac Gallen replaced UNC’s young flame-thrower and completed the inning, however, he inherited two base-runners that would each score on designated hitter Sean Bouchard’s single, increasing the Tar Heels’ deficit to 6-0.

UCLA junior Cody Poteet was fantastic, throwing five innings on his way to the win. (Baseball America

UCLA junior Cody Poteet was fantastic, throwing five innings on his way to the win. (Baseball America)

Carolina put a runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings, but failed to break through on Bruins’ junior right-hander Cody Poteet (2-0) until their turn in the bottom of the fifth. Korey Dunbar scored after a two-out throwing error by UCLA second baseman Trent Chatterton kept the inning alive, and allowed Skye Bolt to reach first. Poteet then issued three consecutive walks to Tyler Ramirez, Adrian Chacon, and Alex Raburn that pulled UNC within four.

The junior was credited with the win after five strong innings. He struck out three, and both runs he allowed were unearned, shrinking his ERA to 1.64 on the season.

Bruin bats added another run in the top of the sixth; Keck knocking in his third RBI of the day with a single off of Tar Heel freshman lefty Hunter Williams.

But the Tar Heels had a response ready for the UCLA bullpen, getting a run back in the bottom of the frame on an RBI base hit from Skye Bolt, and another in the seventh, delivered by pinch-hitter Brian Miller, the freshman out of Millbrook High School in Raleigh (his second straight game with an RBI off the bench).

They just couldn’t keep up over the long haul with a Bruin squad that clearly has an offense dangerous enough to match their vaunted pitching staff. They plated five more runs over the eighth and ninth, proving to be too much for UNC.

UCLA’s bullpen also tightened things up, closing it out with back-to-back scoreless innings, keeping the Tar Heels from mounting a comeback.

Winning the series certainly qualifies the Bruins as contenders to reach the College World Series in Omaha, while Carolina earns some valuable experience that can be drawn upon going forward, as they try to do the same thing.

The Tar Heels’ next game is scheduled for Tuesday, February 24th, against St. Johns at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill. Starters have not yet been announced.

Game Notes:

  • UNC 1B/C Adrian Chacon, who went 1-4 with a walk on Sunday, has reached base in every game this season
  • Ty Moore’s RBI in the third was the first earned run allowed in college by JB Bukauskas (5 IP, 0 ER last week)
  • Tyler Ramirez, Carolina’s home run leader, went 1-1 and walked four times today
  • The Tar Heels went a combined 2-25 with runners in scoring position in their two losses, 9-22 in the win



#6 UNC Strikes Back in Game 2 to Even Series With #4 UCLA

A burst of late offense led the #6 UNC baseball team (4-1) to a 9-6 victory in another back-and-forth affair with the #4 UCLA Bruins (5-1) in the second game of their top-ten showdown on Saturday. The game marks the Bruins’ first loss of the season.

Fans in Orlando were treated to a pitchers’ duel at the start, between UNC’s Trent Thornton and UCLA’s lefty Grant Watson, as both offenses desperately searched for answers early on.

Trent Thornton began the game with five scoreless innings. (UNC Athletics)

Trent Thornton began the game with five scoreless innings. (UNC Athletics)

Thornton opened the game with five scoreless innings, settling down after giving up two hits in the first, retiring nine hitters in a row at one point, until getting himself in a tough situation in the sixth. He finished with six strikeouts and allowed three earned runs (all in the sixth), while throwing 5.1 innings for Carolina.

Watson matched that initial effort pitch for pitch, keeping the Tar Heels out of the hit column for three innings, until sophomore shortstop Wood Myers finally broke through with a double to lead off the fourth.

A follow-up walk to Tyler Ramirez gave the UNC dugout a sign of life, before Bruins’ center-fielder Christoph Bono sprawled out for an amazing diving catch that kept Tar Heel first baseman Adrian Chacon from potentially driving Myers home. Next at the plate, though, was second baseman Alex Raburn, who lined a two-out RBI single to left center-field, scoring Myers and giving Carolina a 1-0 lead through four.

Shortstop Wood Myers led the Tar Heel offense Saturday (UNC Athletics)

Shortstop Wood Myers led the Tar Heel offense Saturday, going 3-5 (UNC Athletics)

With the Tar Heels seemingly on the way to being victims of yet another Watson 1-2-3 inning, in the bottom of the fifth, Landon Lassiter and Myers each singled with two outs, setting the table for Skye Bolt, who brought home Lassiter with a hit that bounced over the head of UCLA shortstop Kevin Kramer. Carolina went ahead 3-0 on the next at-bat after a fielding error by Bruin first baseman Luke Persico allowed Wood Myers to come home, and Tyler Ramirez to reach base.

This rally would spell the end of the road for the senior lefty, as Watson would be done after five innings and 90 pitches, giving up five hits, walking two, and striking out just one Tar Heel batter.

The 2013 NCAA Champions would rise to the challenge though, and then some, pouncing on Thornton in the top of the sixth for two runs. Christoph Bono scored on a wild pitch and Persico doubled home Kramer to end the day for the junior right-hander.

Coach Mike Fox would bring in his All-American reliever, Reilly Hovis, to try and escape the one-out jam, but the early struggles for Hovis would continue, initially.

After Seton Hall tagged the righty for four runs in the ninth inning, with the game out of reach, last Sunday in Chapel Hill, UCLA designated hitter Ty Moore immediately drove in Persico to tie the game at three. Second baseman Sean Bouchard then got in on the act with an RBI single through the left side, putting the Bruins in front by one.

UNC’s offense continued to shine late in the game, snatching the lead back by scoring two runs off of UCLA reliever Griffin Canning right away, in the bottom of the sixth. Alex Raburn scored on a double by freshman pinch-hitter Brian Miller, and Logan Warmoth came home courtesy of a sacrifice fly from Landon Lassiter.

Freshman Logan Warmoth continues to impress at third. (UNC Athletics)

Freshman Logan Warmoth continues to impress at third. (UNC Athletics)

Hovis remained on the mound to start the seventh, showing the Tar Heel faithful what they’ve come to expect, sitting the Bruins down in order in the top of the frame.  He would also be credited with the win (1-0) for his efforts.

In the Carolina half of the seventh, UNC was able to manufacture scoring yet again, this time off the bats of freshman roommates Warmoth (RBI single, his second base hit of the game) and first baseman Zack Gahagan (single up the middle for two RBI in his first at-bat off the bench).

UCLA tacked on two runs in the top of the eighth, but a wild pitch in the bottom of the inning by reliever Scott Burke let Tyler Ramirez cross the plate and extend the UNC lead to 9-6.

With one final opportunity to tie the game in the ninth against Tar Heel reliever Chris McCue, the Bruins were able to get a couple runners on base, thanks to two errors in the field by UNC.

Clinging to the lead, Coach Fox called to the bullpen for lefty Zach Rice to deliver the final out, and the save. And he did, when Bruin third baseman Chris Keck flew out two pitches later to end the game.

The rubber match will take place Sunday morning, with first pitch coming at 11 A.M. UNC will send freshman sensation JB Bukauskas to the mound to face off with UCLA junior right-hander Cody Poteet.

Game Notes: 

  • UCLA batted around in the top of the sixth
  • UNC batted 9-22 with runners in scoring position today, after a dismal 0-8 performance Friday
  • Both teams have combined for 17 errors in two games (each team had three today)
  • The Tar Heels had 12 hits, distributed among nine different players, led by Wood Myers (3-5) and Logan Warmoth (2-4, RBI)



Errors Cost Tar Heels Game 1 of Showdown With UCLA

The UCLA Bruins, ranked fourth in the most recent D1Baseball.com Top 25 Poll, triumphed over the #6 Tar Heels 8-5 Friday, in their highly anticipated series opener being held in Orlando, Florida at UCF’s Jay Bergman Field. The win brings the Bruins’ record to 5-0, and the Tar Heels earn their first loss of the season, dropping to 3-1.

Action would go back and forth in the early going, and for the third consecutive game the Tar Heels dug themselves a 1-0 hole in the top of the first, after starter Benton Moss allowed singles to the first three batters he faced. The third, by UCLA first baseman Luke Persico, driving in lead-off man Brett Stephens. However, Moss was able to escape the early jam by striking out the next three hitters.

Again, though, UNC would recover quickly. Sophomore Tyler Ramirez continued to show the improvement in his power swing, kicking off the bottom of the second with a home run to right field on the first pitch he saw from Bruin right-hander James Kaprielian. In this, just the fourth game of the year for the Tar Heels, Ramirez’s second homer matches his long ball count from all of last season.

Tyler Ramirez homered again Friday, matching his total from last year (2). (UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez homered again Friday, matching his total from last year (2). (UNC Athletics)

In the top of the third, following two wild pitches from Moss, Persico, who led the Bruin offense all day, going 3-6 with two RBI, singled in Stevens for a second time, giving UCLA a 2-1 lead . Carolina would answer immediately, on a two-out solo shot by Skye Bolt in the bottom of the frame.

Stuck in yet another hole, with two men on base, and two outs in the top of the fourth, Coach Mike Fox would end Benton Moss’s day a bit early after the senior threw 82 pitches in just 3.2 innings, giving up two earned runs. Moss was not credited with a decision and added seven more strikeouts to his impressive tally for the year, which is now at 16 in just 8.2 innings of work.

Coach Fox would then turn to the lefty Zach Rice, looking for a favorable match-up with a UCLA lineup that features six left-handed hitters. Rice slammed the door in the fourth inning, but allowed the Bruins to rattle off three straight two-out hits in the fifth, capped off by an RBI double from right-fielder Kort Peterson.

On a bizarre play in the bottom of the fifth with Skye Bolt at the plate and second baseman Alex Raburn on first, Bolt went for a check swing but ended up sending the ball down the left field line for what was ruled a double. However, the Bruins fielders mishandled the ball twice, allowing Bolt to reach third and Raburn to score, tying the score at 3-3.

The Bruins would get the last laugh on this day. (UCLA Athletics)

The Bruins would get the last laugh on this day. (UCLA Athletics)

Trouble arrived in the top of the sixth for the Tar Heels when a wild pitch from Spencer Trayner, UNC’s third of the game, handed the lead right back to the Bruins. Freshman Nick Raquet allowed two unearned runs in relief of Trayner (1-1), who picked up the loss. Catcher Adrian Chacon gave up the first on a passed ball, with the second coming on a throwing error by freshman Preston Hudak, who came into the game at second base prior to the inning.

Tar Heel third baseman Logan Warmoth, the freshman playing in his hometown, would score on an Alex Raburn sacrifice fly that shrank the UCLA lead to 6-4 in the bottom of the seventh, after hitting a single through the left side that ended the day for the Bruins’ starter, Kaprielian, who earned the win with a workmanlike performance (6 IP, 7 K, 3 ER, 0 BB).

The Bruins chalked up a run in the eighth and ninth innings, proving to have the upper hand on a UNC bullpen that used six relievers Friday, and has earned high praise so far this year.

UCLA closer, senior David Berg, who holds the NCAA single season saves record (24), struggled in the bottom of the ninth, allowing the Heels to get one run back, but ultimately ended up sealing the deal.

The second game will begin tomorrow at 1 P.M.  Trent Thornton will be on the mound for the Heels against UCLA lefty Grant Watson.

Game Notes:

  •  The teams combined for 11 errors on the day (six for UNC, five for UCLA)
  • UCLA left 16 men on base, in a game that took nearly four hours to complete
  • UNC’s Tyler Ramirez also homered in his first at-bat last Friday
  • Eight Tar Heels recorded a hit, but only Skye Bolt (2-4 HR, RBI ) and Wood Myers (2-4) got two
  • Carolina went 0-8 with runners in scoring position







Sunshine State Plays Host for Clash Between #6 UNC and #4 UCLA

Friday, the sixth-ranked, 3-0, UNC baseball team will take its talents to warm Orlando, Florida for a top ten showdown with the fourth-ranked UCLA Bruins (4-0), the national champions in 2013, just two seasons ago. The teams will begin a three game series that was moved from Chapel Hill to UCF’s Jay Bergman Stadium due to inclement weather.

Dominant pitching led the Tar Heels to a season-opening sweep of Seton Hall last weekend, and reliever Spencer Trayner says the entire staff has the same mentality right now.

“We’re so confident, we’re so confident, it’s a blast out there,” Trayner says, “Every guy that we’re gonna bring in is gonna be real good. If our starter doesn’t get us to the sixth or seventh, we have the depth to take care of that.”

Trayner earned the win for his 2.2 inning outing in relief of Trent Thornton last Friday, and will be one of many bullpen arms trusted to get the Tar Heels out of tough situations throughout the season.

It’s been the progress of the team’s sophomores though, that’s caught Coach Mike Fox’s attention the most.

adrian chacon

Adrian Chacon will be crucial to the Heels’ success this season. (UNC Athletics)

“I think you see the improvement in some of our sophomores, and I’ve said before I think that’s the key to improvement of your team from one year to the next, especially when your team needs to improve, is do your freshman get better as sophomores?” Fox says,”And I think you can look at Adrian (Chacon) and Joe Dudek in particular.”

Dudek homered in the first game against Seton Hall and drove in four runs overall for the series, leading UNC in slugging percentage so far at .778. Chacon is batting a clean .600 on the season and has reached base in seven of his 11 plate appearances, knocking in two runs in the process.

Senior starter Benton Moss says he sees a bright future for this particular team, adding an interesting statistic that is sure to make Tar Heel fans smile.

“I’m 110 percent confident with this lineup right now. I was joking with somebody the other day, and was like, man, I gave up like one home run all spring last year, and in my last two pre-season starts I gave up three,” Moss says with a laugh.

Coming off a strong five-inning, nine-strikeout performance in Game 1 of last Saturday’s doubleheader, it’s Moss that will take the bump to open the series on Friday against Bruin right-hander James Kapreielian (1-0, 1.50 ERA) at 2 PM. He’ll take on a high-powered UCLA offense that has homered eight times already this year, led by three from senior infielder Chris Keck.

Carolina holds the all-time series lead between the two distinguished programs, 5-2.


‘Cardiac Carolina’ Comes Up Just Short In Special Season

OMAHA, NE – “The end of the year, it always stinks.” 

Those were UNC Head coach Mike Fox’s sentiments following Friday’s disappointing 4-1 loss to UCLA that knocked the Tar Heels out of the College World Series.

Let’s be honest. There is never a good time to lose. But there can only be one team who doesn’t end their season on a loss. It is both the intrigue and cruelty of postseason tournament play. A team that dominates all season (much like Carolina), can see their season end abruptly at any time. And baseball only exacerbates this effect, as sometimes all it takes is a hot ace on the mound to befuddle the best of lineups.

And unfortunately, the Diamond Heels’ designs on getting their hands on the program’s first NCAA College World Series title fell through late Friday evening, but not before an attempt at a signature ninth inning rally that this UNC squad seemingly patented in their 2013 campaign. Heck, the Heels practically turned the miraculous into the mundane with their late-game heroics, especially late in the season.

“What we did in the ninth inning is just indicative of our kids and how we played all year,” Mike Fox reflected postgame.

Boy, that statement could not ring any truer.

Can you recall the ACC tournament? In what felt like a full mini-season all to itself, UNC survived back-to-back extra inning ballgames against Clemson and NC State just to advance to the championship game where they ultimately defeated the Hokies of Virginia Tech. The sheer will and determination of the UNC squad was put on full display in those late night, no, early morning nail biting contests needed just to secure their own conference crown.

And then it was on to the NCAA tournament. As the number one overall seed, the Tar Heels undoubtedly felt a mountain of pressure along with having a gigantic target on their backs for other upstart teams. And it showed. Unheralded Florida Atlantic forced UNC to an elimination game.

The heart of a champion came out once again for the Tar Heels as they rallied back on multiple occasions to survive the home run barrages of the FAU squad to advance and win a game that Fox remarked was one of the greatest ones he had ever been a part of.

Super Regionals came next. North Carolina’s neighbors to the South were on deck. And wow, what a series it was. Not surprisingly, the Tar Heels found themselves knee deep in another elimination game. And they came up with the goods once again, scraping out a 5-4 decision over the ever-tough South Carolina Gamecocks to yet again book their tickets to Omaha.

The adversity the Tar Heels team continually faced this postseason was matched and exceeded by their “never say die” attitudes that cannot be taught. This team had more fight in them than Mike Tyson. The team thrived with their backs against the wall. Houdini-esque escapes were all but routine. And maybe it finally caught up to them on Friday night. Who knows?

But let’s remember the 2013 Diamond Heels for their admirable fighting spirit and all their unbelievable accomplishments including a school record 59 wins, a school record for most runs scored in a season, the ACC regular season and tournament titles, and another trip to Omaha.

Coach Fox, himself, dubbed this year’s squad “a coach’s dream.” He went on to add that it had been one of his most fun seasons. And this is coming from a man who has been at the helm of Tar Heel baseball since 1999. Just think of all the remarkable teams we have witnessed since then.

So let’s take a cue from Mr. Fox and savor what we have witnessed. What a wild ride it has been. Tar Heel nation was treated to so many unforgettable thrills along the way. And yes, there was no championship ring at the end of the day. But sometimes, in life and in baseball, it is the journey it took to even get there in the first place that ends up being the sweetest part of all.