Making just his third career start on the mound, 6’3″ freshman left-hander Hunter Williams had his eyes set on continuing the recent string of outstanding starting pitching for the Tar Heels.
“Coach challenged us, for the starting pitchers to just try and dominate the first five to six innings, so we don’t have to use as much of the bullpen,” Williams says, “And I just tried to fulfill that challenge.”
And he left no doubts about that with his performance at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday night, leading the 22nd ranked UNC baseball squad to a 9-0 win over the Appalachian State Mountaineers, who fall to 7-17 with the loss.
Carolina picks up their second straight victory, and improves their overall record to 15-9 for the year.
Right out of the gate Williams (1-1) struck out the side in the first inning, showing off an impressive array of pitches. His hard 93 mile per hour fastball often was used to set the table for his curveball and slider, both of which showed great movement on Tuesday.
Six shutout innings, six strikeouts, and only two hits, was the stat-line for the big lefty in the signature outing of his young career, as he cruised to the win with ease.
Of course, it always helps a pitcher’s confidence when he’s throwing with the lead, which is exactly what Williams was blessed with in the Carolina half of the first.
Fellow freshman Zack Gahagan put a single through the right side of the infield off of App State starter Reed Howell, driving home right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, who reached on a bunt single and stole second base to make the play possible.
Gahagan then found home plate himself, after his freshman classmate, and roommate, shortstop Logan Warmoth, hit an RBI single of his own to put the Tar Heels ahead by two after the first inning.
Nine pitches was all it took for Williams to sit the Mountaineers down in order in the top of the second, before his teammates added on another pair of runs, courtesy of a two-out error by Appalachian’s right-fielder Brandon Burris. The drop on Landon Lassiter’s deep fly ball allowed Korey Dunbar and Elijah Sutherland to come around and build UNC’s lead up to four.
“I think anytime you go out and put runs out on the board first, first and foremost, is a tell-tale sign of when we’re playing good ball,” says UNC center-fielder Skye Bolt, “I think Lassiter and Ramirez at the top of the lineup are good table-setters, and you always want to play with those two guys on base in the first inning. Playing ahead is a lot more fun than playing from behind, I’ll tell you that.”
The surge ended Reed Howell’s day on the mound after throwing just two innings, forcing App State to dive into their bullpen depth to begin the third. Howell (0-2) was credited with the loss.
Offense kept on flowing for the Tar Heels in the fifth, as they tacked on three more tallies, throwing some more dirt onto the Mountaineer cause in the process.
After each team put a doughnut on the scoreboard in the sixth, another lefty, sophomore Zach Rice, came on in relief for Hunter Williams, putting an end to his remarkable night. Rice started out by getting himself in a bit of trouble, with one out and runners on second and third, but Hansen Butler relieved Rice and was able to escape–with the shutout intact–on a strikeout and a pop-out to the two men he faced.
Although the game was safely out of the Mountaineers’ reach, it seemed Skye Bolt still wasn’t comfortable yet, jacking a huge two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to extend the Tar Heels’ lead to nine.
Over the final two frames, Spencer Trayner threw a 1-2-3 inning for UNC in the top of the eighth (including two strikeouts), followed by more of the same (even two more strikeouts) from freshman Jason Morgan in the ninth to close up shop on what amounted to a three-hit shutout by a combined five Tar Heel pitchers.
“We’re trying to get our bullpen a little bit better, so that’s why we’re running (Hansen) Butler, (Zach) Rice, (Spencer) Trayner, and (Jason) Morgan out there,” Coach Mike Fox says, “Those are guys that need to continue to pitch and gain some confidence…we gotta keep getting better out of the bullpen, and we were a little better today.”
A top 25 showdown awaits Coach Fox and his team, as the 21st ranked Miami Hurricanes make the trip north to Chapel Hill to face-off with the Tar Heels for a three game ACC series, beginning on Friday night. Carolina is 5-4 in the conference so far, while the Hurricanes lead the Coastal Division with a mark of 6-3.
Despite an uncharacteristic 14-9 overall record for the Tar Heels, they can find comfort in knowing they defeated the Yellow Jackets in a series for the first time since 2009. That statistic alone has to comfort those who were afraid this team may have started to lose its way.
Carolina fans should also be excited by the return of senior Benton Moss from injury to a weekend starting rotation that has displayed hints of dominance so far this season. Moss threw six innings, allowed just one run, and struck out eight hitters on the way to a win in Saturday’s second game. He was previously sidelined for three weeks due to precautionary reasons relating to tightness in his pitching arm.
Bullpen woes have also been a major cause for concern amongst the Tar Heel faithful in 2015, so Coach Mike Fox had to have been delighted that only his top two relievers were needed throughout the entire weekend in Atlanta, junior Trent Thornton and senior Trevor Kelley, each of whom picked up a save for their efforts.
Offensively, UNC has received a huge boost from the bat of junior catcher Korey Dunbar. Home runs in two of his past three games, including the game winner in the series opener at Georgia Tech, have helped Dunbar take over the team lead in slugging percentage (.607), while he’s also quietly churned out enough hits recently to also raise his batting average to an impressive .357 mark.
On Tuesday, they’ll look to continue the winning trend against an App State team that’s dropped 11 of their last 13 games and that claims just one pitcher with an ERA below 3.90. The Mountaineers are led on offense by junior utility-man Dillon Dobson, who is hitting .337 with a team-leading six home runs and 17 RBI.
The game is scheduled to take place under the lights, with first pitch scheduled for 6 P.M. Starting pitchers are still to be announced.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/hungry-unc-baseball-team-awaits-visit-mountaineers/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
“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?
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.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-hope-atlanta-will-bring-new-life/
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/struggling-diamond-heels-play-hosts-davidson-tuesday/
It took longer than expected, but when all was said and done, the Pittsburgh Panthers earned a 3-2 home victory over the 11th ranked UNC baseball team at Charles Cost Field, in a low-scoring contest where neither team ever led by more than one run. Pitt clinches the series with the win and improves to 8-9 overall with a 3-3 record against conference opponents, while the Tar Heels slide to 12-7 overall and into a tie with the Panthers in the ACC standings at 3-3.
Pinch-hitter Eric Hess hit a walk-off single off of Spencer Trayner (1-2) in the bottom of the tenth, driving in third baseman Ron Sherman to break a 2-2 tie and hand Pittsburgh their first ACC series win of the season. Hobie Harris (1-1) picked up the win for finishing the game with 1.2 scoreless innings of relief.
For the second straight day, pitching ruled the afternoon, with neither offense able to mount much of an attack. In their previous three losses, UNC allowed 34 runs combined, so even with the loss this game gave a welcome sign for the Carolina staff.
Injuries have deprived the Tar Heels of two of their best pitchers, reliever Reilly Hovis and starter Benton Moss, for most of the early part of 2015. As a result, junior Trent Thornton returned to the closer role he held during the fantastic 2013 campaign and has picked up a team leading three saves in the process.
With the series on the line Sunday, Coach Mike Fox decided it was time for Thornton to help out in the starting rotation once again.
The fearless right-hander certainly rewarded his coach for making that decision, holding the Panthers to just one unearned run and one hit over five innings, however he was denied a chance at earning the win due to the lack of run support.
Pitt got the first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning, after Thornton’s third walk of the inning to shortstop Charles LeBlanc came with the bases loaded. An error by Carolina first baseman Zack Gahagan earlier in the inning kept the Panthers alive, and they were able to score despite not having a hit in the frame.
Quebec-born junior Marc Berube had the Tar Heel hitters scared to step up to the plate for more reasons than one. For seven innings he kept UNC’s bats mostly at bay, striking out seven and allowing just one run on five hits. On the other hand, he also hit four batters with pitches.
Refusing to be shut-out, Carolina left-fielder Landon Lassiter found the chink in Berube’s armor, driving in Elijah Sutherland with a two-out single in the top of the seventh inning that tied the score late.
A sacrifice fly by Panthers’ third baseman Ron Sherman off of Trevor Kelley in the bottom of the seventh gave the lead right back to Pittsburgh, after Kelley came on to get freshman Jason Morgan out of a jam.
Kelley provided a 1-2-3 eighth inning for the second consecutive day to give his team a chance to rally from one run down in the top of the ninth.
And again it was Lassiter coming through for the Tar Heels, with his one-out sacrifice fly in the ninth scoring freshman Brian Miller and tying the game at two apiece off of Pitt reliever Hobie Harris.
Extra innings were needed when Kelley set the Panthers down in order in the ninth, but ultimately Spencer Trayner and the rest of the Carolina team were unable to step up at the end.
A short return home awaits the Tar Heels, as they will host Davidson at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday, before they head to Atlanta at the end of the week for a three game series with Georgia Tech. First pitch is set for 3 P.M.
A late offensive surge, combined with another fantastic start from JB Bukauskas, delivered the 11th ranked UNC baseball squad a much needed 3-1 victory over the Pitt Panthers late Saturday afternoon at Pittsburgh’s Charles Cost Field. The Tar Heels rise back above .500 in conference play with the win, going to 12-6 overall and 3-2 in league play, while the Panthers drop to 7-9 overall and 2-3 in conference.
Since yesterday’s series opener between these two ACC foes was a time for the bats to shine, it seemed only right that the pitchers would get their opportunity in this one.
UNC head coach Mike Fox sent his freshman sensation, Bukauskas (3-1), to take the hill against a dangerous Panther line-up that exploded for 12 runs in Game 1 off of the Tar Heel pitching staff, including eight in the first four innings on starter Zac Gallen.
With yesterday’s sub-par performance still hovering on Carolina’s mind, the young Bukauskas calmed everything down by displaying the kind of composure that Coach Fox has raved about all season long.
Last weekend at home against Duke, Bukauskas had a career day, going six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts on his way to victory, maintaining complete control throughout.
For anyone expecting more of the same, they were rewarded graciously, as the six-foot kid out of Ashburn, Virginia gave his team six more terrific innings, holding the Panthers to one run and just four hits, while also striking out six batters as well.
Pittsburgh actually took the first lead of the game with a second inning run on right-fielder Frank Maldonado’s single, which plated Alex Kowalczyk, who had reached third base prior to that due to a wild pitch.
However, a passed ball in the top of the third allowed the Tar Heels’ second baseman Elijah Sutherland to come home and tie the affair. At one point it appeared the unearned run would be the only blemish on Pitt’s own wonderful pitching outing.
Bukauskas’ counterpart, junior Aaron Sandefur (1-2), had his best stuff as well, limiting the Tar Heels to just one hit through the first five innings, but he found trouble once he reached the sixth.
Korey Dunbar, Landon Lassiter, and Zack Gahagan each singled for Carolina to load the bases with one out, forcing the Panthers to turn to their bullpen to try and escape the jam. Damage was limited to just a single run, but Skye Bolt’s sacrifice fly to right-field sent Dunbar across the plate and handed UNC their first lead of the day.
Sandefur was able to give his team 5.1 innings of four-hit ball, but unfortunately for him three of those hits were strung together in the same frame, which often means trouble, and in this case it did: earning him the loss.
And for the second straight day, Bolt smashed a home run, this one coming of Panthers’ reliever Hobie Harris, and giving him his third of the season. The solo shot came in the top of the ninth inning, and drained any fight Pittsburgh had left.
The bullpen issues that have haunted the Tar Heels so far this season failed to make an appearance on Saturday.
Spencer Trayner pitched a scoreless seventh inning, and Coach Fox’s favorite workhorse, senior Trevor Kelley, worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning, before shutting Pitt down in the bottom of the ninth to earn the save.
The rubber match in the series is set to begin at noon on Sunday, with the earlier start time made to accommodate the Tar Heels’ travel schedule as classes resume on Monday. Starting pitchers are still to be announced.
An explosion of unexpected offense dominated the action on Friday at Pittsburgh’s Charles Cost Field, as the 11th ranked UNC baseball team couldn’t quite keep up with the Pitt Panthers, losing 12-9. The Tar Heels tumble to 11-6 overall with a 2-2 record inside the conference after the loss. The win marks the Panthers’ second over the past week to a school ranked in the top 15, and they rise to 7-8 overall with a 2-2 mark in ACC play.
Surely this game was going to be a pitcher’s duel. Pittsburgh’s 6’7″ sophomore TJ Zeuch, coming off of an ACC Pitcher of the Week honor, didn’t give up a run last week to third-ranked Virginia, while Carolina’s Zac Gallen, also a sophomore, struck out 12 Blue Devils in his last time out.
Any way you want to look at the match-up, both guys on the mound entered Friday’s game on fire. What they ran into, however, were two line-ups each holding giant water hoses.
With the bases loaded in the top of the second inning, UNC right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, the team RBI leader, drove in three more with a double to center-field off of Zeuch to kick off the scoring and give the Tar Heels a seemingly comfy cushion.
Wrong. The Panthers clawed back with a run in each of their next two trips to the plate, before getting a solo home run from second baseman Jordan Frabasilio, which tied the game and kick-started a massive six-run fourth inning for the home team. Frabasilio was crucial to Pittsburgh’s offense throughout the day, going 3-5, with the homer and an RBI.
Gallen was pulled from the game during the inning, finishing with a final line of 3.2 innings pitched, eight earned runs, three walks, and no strikeouts.
His counterpart Zeuch was not much better, lasting just four innings, but all three runs he allowed were unearned, and he did strike out seven Carolina batters.
Coach Mike Fox and his Tar Heels refused to lie down and roll over against the Panther bullpen though, immediately striking back with a two-run double by sophomore Adam Pate, who had just came into the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth.
Still trailing by three heading into their half of the sixth inning, more help for UNC fell straight from the sky.
Center-fielder Skye Bolt blasted a three-run homer off of Pittsburgh reliever Ryan Campbell to give Carolina the lead following an RBI single from freshman first baseman Zack Gahagan.
Unfortunately, the Panthers still had something left in the tank, tying the game back up on a sacrifice fly off of Trent Thornton in the sixth, before their shortstop, Jordan LeBlanc, ripped a three-run single off of Thornton (0-1) with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh to again give Pittsburgh a three-run lead heading into the eighth.
That single by LeBlanc proved to be the difference, as UNC was emotionally drained after working to climb out of the early five-run hole. Closer Matt Pidich came on and worked a scoreless ninth to earn the save and clinch the victory for the Panthers.
The series continues on Saturday with a game time set for 3 P.M. Freshman JB Bukauskas will take the mound for the Tar Heels, looking to earn his third win of the year.