For the first time since 2001 the UNC baseball team will not play in the NCAA Tournament. It marks just the second time in head coach Mike Fox’s 17-year tenure that the Tar Heels will not be playing into June.
“I never thought we were immune to this,” Coach Fox said. “It’s not a given. You can say that, but all of a sudden when you’re not in, that’s the reality. No program is immune to this. There’s a lot of really, really good teams out there.”
The team finished the season with a record of 34-24 overall and 15-18 in the ACC.
UNC struggled to close out the season after being thought of as a potential top seed and regional host just a few short weeks ago. It also didn’t help that the team went 3-8 in its last 11 games, which is a large factor into the selection committee’s decisions.
“I think it’s that [the close to the season], and I think our conference record,” Coach Fox said. “I think anytime you finish below .500 like we did in the conference, I think those two things probably–in the committee’s mind, I’m not speaking for them–were hard to overlook.”
The indefinite suspension of junior left fielder Landon Lassiter—the team’s top hitter with a .300 batting average on the year—announced on Friday could also have played a role in the decision.
Fox has declined to comment on Lassiter’s status since the announcement, other than to say that Lassiter would not rejoin the team for the NCAA Tournament no matter how far they advanced.
UNC ended the year ranked 24th in the nation’s RPI rankings, which measure teams based on win percentage and strength of schedule. That was the highest of any team in the country that was not selected for the 64 team tournament.
The ACC had seven schools selected to play for a national title, including the Clemson Tigers–who the Tar Heels defeated last Friday by a score of 6-3.
“We talked to our players about this, that it’s not a right that we have being in this conference, or being anywhere, that [we’re] in,” Coach Fox said. “So now that it’s a reality we’ll see how it affects us going forwards. Hopefully, in a positive way which it should. We have the right approach and the right kids and the right coaches.”
For comparison, the Tigers finished the season at 32-27 and ranked 55th in the RPI rankings–but they closed out the year 8-3 in their last 11 games.
ESPN had Clemson listed as its “Last Team In” to the tournament, and the Tar Heels as its “First Team Out”–meaning the decision for the final spot in the field came down to those two teams.
Now the eyes will turn from a potential postseason run over to June’s MLB Draft, where Tar Heels such as Benton Moss, Skye Bolt, and Korey Dunbar have a great chance to be selected–but that doesn’t make the sting of missing the tournament for the first time in 14 years hurt any less.
“You hope when you don’t have good feelings about things that you’ll do things to put yourselves in a position this time next year to not feel this way,” Coach Fox said.
“That’s what we’ve gotta find out about ourselves, starting with me from the top down, meeting with all of our players. Who wants to help and really be part of the solution?,” Fox added.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-baseball-misses-ncaa-tournament-for-first-time-since-2001/
Feeling the unfamiliar pressure of the NCAA Tournament bubble, the UNC baseball team rebounded from back-to-back losses to defeat the Clemson Tigers by a score of 6-3 on Friday at the ACC Tournament in Durham.
Both teams finish with records of 1-2 in ACC pool play and are eliminated from conference championship contention.
The Tar Heels are now 34-24 for the season, finishing league play at 15-18. Clemson also ends the year on the bubble–at 32-27 overall and 17-16 in the ACC.
Freshman flamethrower JB Bukauskas (5-3)–like his team–bounced back from a couple of rough starts on the mound in his previous two outings. For the game he gave up five hits in 5.2 innings of two-run ball, striking out seven hitters without walking anyone on his way to the win.
“The last couple times out I haven’t been very sharp, just felt like I didn’t have anything. And I felt a little bit like that in the bullpen today [before the game] until I got out on the mound. It just kinda started to click.” Bukauskas said.
“I felt like I had my fastball more than I did [in recent starts], and the slider just started snapping off better,” he added. “Once I had that, once I felt confident with it I just started throwing it more. And it ended up with a good result.”
In the bottom of the third inning Skye Bolt blasted a three-run homer against Clemson senior right-hander Jake Long (2-1) to break a scoreless tie. From there the Tar Heels never looked back–although they managed all six of their runs on just five hits, taking advantage of eight walks and four errors by the Tiger defense.
“It was a big swing of the bat,” Bolt said. “[We] go ahead 3-0 and JB’s throwing the way he was. It’s important for our guys, it’s important for the team. It’s a good feeling. You wanna be ahead. You wanna have your starting pitcher up there with confidence having a little bit of leeway.”
“And that’s what I was able to provide,” Bolt continued.
UNC found some more offense in the fourth with an RBI single from left fielder Adam Pate and a bases loaded walk drawn by Bolt, who finished one for three at the plate with four RBIs.
Left fielder Reed Rohlman had three hits and second baseman Tyler Krieger had a pair, along with an RBI, to lead the Clemson offense. Krieger drove in the Tigers’ first run with a hard-hit single off Bukauskas in the sixth before coming in to score the second one himself later in the inning after a wild pitch by senior reliever Trevor Kelley.
Neither team picked up a hit until UNC right fielder Tyler Ramirez legged out an infield single in the bottom of the third after Pate previously reached base on a throwing error from Clemson shortstop Eli White–setting up Bolt with two men on base.
Bolt then turned on a 3-2 pitch from Long, sending it deep into the right field bleachers for the homer that gave Bukauskas plenty of breathing room–and that served as the difference in the game.
Clemson put up two runs in the sixth, but they immediately gave one of them right back. White made his second error at shortstop when he lost a pop-up by Bolt in the sun, which allowed Tyler Ramirez to come home and score UNC’s sixth run of the afternoon.
From there, Kelley worked the next three innings to close up shop– despite Clemson creeping to within three on a single by third baseman Weston Wilson.
After the game Bolt said he was confident that the Tar Heels would get into the NCAA Tournament, but UNC head coach Mike Fox still has some reservations about whether his team will make the final cut.
“I think if we [had went] 0-3 [in pool play], there’s a reason to leave us out,” Fox said. “It was a big win for us. Is it enough? I don’t know. I certainly hope so because I’ve enjoyed coaching this team. They compete, and I want my seniors–and obviously these other guys–to experience it.”
The Tar Heels now find their fate in the hands of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The 64-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced at noon on Monday–and shown live on ESPNU.
Led by a solid effort on the mound from junior Mike Compton, the No. 13 Florida State Seminoles cruised to an 8-4 victory over the UNC baseball team on Thursday night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
With their second straight loss in pool play, the Tar Heels (33-24, 14-18) are eliminated from contention for the conference crown.
The Seminoles (40-19, 19-13) are now in position to advance to Sunday’s ACC Championship Game thanks to 5.2 stellar innings from Compton (4-3), who gave up just two runs on five hits. Florida State defeated Clemson on Wednesday and is now 2-0 in the tournament.
Carolina’s offense–which has consistently been the team’s Achilles’ Heel this season–picked up just one hit through the first five innings.
Throughout that time period Compton shut them down with fantastic control of all his pitches.
“[Compton’s] good. He’s really good,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said. “I mean, Florida State’s always had pitchers that pound the strike zone. If you look at the box score that’s the difference in the game I think. We walk one time, they walk eight.”
Tar Heel Right fielder Tyler Ramirez finally sparked some life into the largely pro-UNC crowd when he hit a triple to kick start a two-run sixth frame capped by RBIs from Alex Raburn and Korey Dunbar.
They added two more tallies on Brian Miller’s two-run single in the bottom of the ninth, but by then it was too little, too late–as Florida State preceded that by putting up three runs in the eighth against the UNC bullpen.
Junior Trent Thornton (3-7) made the start for UNC and looked impressive, going 5.1 innings on his way to a career-high 10 strikeouts. He surrendered five runs though, four of which came in the first three innings–as the strong Seminole lineup made thunderous contact on the pitches they did connect with.
“It took a little bit for me to get in a groove, but it came down to making pitches in big situations that I wasn’t able to do tonight,” Thornton said. “And that was the difference in the game.”
Florida State outfielders Josh Delph and Ben DeLuzio each had three hits and combined to drive in four of the Seminoles’ eight runs to lead the Seminole offensive charge.
Although the Tar Heels have been knocked out of championship contention, they still have one more game to play as pool play finishes up in Durham.
“Tomorrow means a whole lot to us, the way I think we have to look at it,” Coach Fox said after the game. “I have no idea about what the [NCAA Selection Committee] is thinking or any of that, but I think it’s very important for us to win our last game before the NCAA tournament. If nothing else, just to have a win.”
The Clemson Tigers (32-26, 17-15) will be their opponent, with first pitch set for 3 p.m.
The Tigers took two of three games from UNC in their series earlier this season, which was played at Clemson.
Rallying from an early 4-0 deficit, the No. 3 Louisville Cardinals defeated the UNC baseball team on Wednesday night by a score of 7-4 in the Tar Heels’ first pool play game of the ACC Tournament at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Tyler Ramirez led off the game with a solo home run, as the Tar Heel offense came out swinging against the Cardinals’ freshman right-hander Sean Leland–adding three more runs in the third inning before Leland could even record an out.
But Louisville came storming back against UNC senior Benton Moss, in what was likely Moss’s final ACC Tournament appearance.
First baseman Brendon McKay kicked off the comeback with a two-run homer off Moss in the fourth. Then after trimming the deficit with another run in the fifth, the Cardinals exploded for four runs in the sixth to take control of the game for good.
“I felt like I had good stuff,” Moss said after the game, “Obviously coming off a little short rest [after pitching Saturday against Virginia]. But still, I felt like a competed and made most of my pitches. I have to give it to McKay, he pretty much had my number all night unfortunately, but it’s all good. I felt like I was hitting most of my spots.”
Moss was replaced on the mound during the sixth inning rally after McKay doubled and later came in to score. He worked 5.1 innings while giving up five runs on five hits–including three to McKay, who came a triple short of hitting for the cycle.
With his team trailing by four runs, reliever Lincoln Henzman–the second freshman pitcher of the night for the Cardinals–took over for Leland with no outs in the third and held strong against the UNC lineup for the next six innings. In total, Henzman allowed no runs on just three hits while striking out six batters.
Missed opportunities will certainly haunt the Tar Heels after this one.
With no outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, they came out with nothing to show for it. Catcher Korey Dunbar struck out, and then Leland forced both Logan Warmoth and Joe Dudek to pop out–making Ramirez’s long ball the only damage Louisville suffered in the frame.
Again in the next inning the Tar Heels had a chance to tack on a couple more tallies when they put runners on first and second base with only one out.
As has been the case all year long though, the hitters failed to capitalize–as Alex Raburn and Landon Lassiter each flew out to end the threat.
“We needed to score more runs. Obviously you can’t ever have enough runs, especially against a good lineup,” UNC Head Coach Mike Fox said.
“We missed an incredible opportunity in the first two innings,” Fox said, “That somewhat has been the tale of our season, where we have a chance to go up two or three runs there early. And we did have a big inning, but we could have had more than one, and I think you have to in order to beat a team like Louisville.”
During the ninth inning, the Tar Heels final chance to make a comeback of their own, Louisville closer Zack Burdi retired the side in order–getting Skye Bolt to pop out to end the game.
After the game, Coach Fox couldn’t help but to tip his hat to a great Louisville team hailed by many to be a favorite to win not only the ACC Championship, but the National Championship as well.
“I don’t know that anybody expected anybody in our league, whether its a first year team or a team that’s been in the league for 100 years, to go 25-5 in our league,” said Coach Fox, “That’s a tremendous accomplishment. Some of the best teams we’ve ever had in the ACC haven’t been able to do that.”
“It’s quite impressive,” he added.
Next on the schedule for the Diamond Heels is a matchup with No. 13 Florida State (39-18, 18-13 ACC). The teams have not played yet this season. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Facing a potential “do or die” scenario on Tuesday, Zac Gallen led the struggling UNC baseball team to their most important victory of the season–a 5-3 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies in Durham that puts the Tar Heels into the pool play portion of the ACC Tournament.
Had Carolina (33-22, 14-16 ACC) lost, there was speculation that they may not be selected for the NCAA tournament.
Those worries can likely be put to bed now, thanks to Gallen’s clutch performance–which also preserves the thin UNC pitching staff for the rest of the week.
Gallen (4-3) worked 6.2 innings for the game, surrendering just two runs on eight hits. He struck out seven hitters in the process.
Versatile infielder Alex Raburn had three hits for the Tar Heels to lead the offensive charge. Landon Lassiter had a pair of doubles and Skye Bolt picked up two RBIs to help the cause.
Virginia Tech’s season is likely over, as they finish the year at 27-27 overall and 13-17 in the ACC.
The Tar Heels’ All-ACC second team starting pitcher came out on top this time in his pitching rematch with Hokie left-hander Kit Scheetz.
“The main thing for me is just to try to keep my composure”, Gallen said after the game.
“If I make my pitches most of the time they’re going to get themselves out. I just try to stay out of the middle of the plate and make them hit my pitches, not try to give up any free hits. So luckily today I made some good pitches. I got some help from the defense, they really bailed me out,” he added.
Gallen allowed a lead-off single to Virginia Tech center fielder Saige Jenco in the first inning, but then struck out the side–in a moment that foreshadowed what was to come.
Trouble looked like it had found Gallen in the second when he surrendered a base hit and a pair of walks to load the bases for Virginia Tech. Jenco then picked up his second single of the day, striking first blood for the Hokies.
But the sophomore from Gibbsboro, New Jersey remained calm and got shortstop Alex Perez to fly out and end the inning without any further damage being done.
The Hokies had another chance to break the game open in the top of the fourth–putting runners on first and third with just one out–but once again Gallen kept his composure and escaped the jam.
Not until the seventh did he leave the game after giving up the Hokies’ second run. Jenco struck again with a two-out double, which was directly followed by an RBI single from Perez.
Reliable senior Trevor Kelley then took over for Gallen to pick up the final out of the frame.
After letting the Hokies creep to within one run in the top of the eighth, Kelley found himself in a difficult position with runners on first and third and only one out.
“It was a big situation. I had to get like two back to back strikeouts. And for me I’m just I’m more of a ground ball guy. And to get two strikeouts in a big situation, that’s very rewarding for me,” Kelley said.
The senior from Wilmington then returned to the mound and worked a scoreless ninth inning to seal the deal–striking out two more Hokies on his way to the save.
Meanwhile, Scheetz (3-4), who defeated Gallen by going seven strong innings on April 17, lasted just four on Tuesday.
Although he kept the Tar Heel offense at bay during the first three frames, he was done in by his defense in the bottom half of the fourth–as the momentum shifted completely.
Carolina got a huge break when Jenco dropped a routine fly ball in center field hit by Landon Lassiter to lead off the inning. Lassiter advanced all the way to third on the error, coming home to tie the game soon after on a sacrifice fly from Skye Bolt.
Two more runs would score for UNC–on a pair of RBI singles from freshman roommates Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan–to give Gallen a comfortable cushion to work with on the mound the rest of the way.
An RBI groundout from Skye Bolt in the next inning proved to be the difference in a win that did not come easy.
A perfectly executed suicide squeeze play by Eli Sutherland in the Carolina half of the eighth sent Korey Dunbar across the plate for the fifth, and final, Tar Heel run of the game.
“[We’ve] got to play under pressure,” said UNC Head Coach Mike Fox, “Our team has competed pretty much all year, we just haven’t been great”
“But we got the win that we needed to….we’ll focus on that. We need to continue to get better as a team, certainly,” he added.
The Tar Heels are now a part of a four team group that includes No. 3 Louisville, No. 13 Florida State, and Clemson.
UNC will play Louisville on Wednesday at 7 p.m., Florida State on Thursday at 7 p.m., and Clemson on Friday at 3 p.m.
The team with the best record in the group after Friday will play in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.
As the ACC baseball tournament begins at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday eighth-seeded UNC will take on the ninth-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the second of two play-in games–and a loss could potentially end the Tar Heels’ season.
Just a few short weeks ago it was thought that the Tar Heels could potentially host an NCAA Tournament regional at Boshamer Stadium.
Now they’ve been swept in back-to-back ACC series for the first time since 2001 on their way to a 13-16 record in league play. Pair that with an unspectacular 32-22 overall mark and you get a head coach with six College World Series appearances just hoping to play past Tuesday.
“I think Tuesday’s do or die for us,” said Mike Fox, “I don’t think you can finish 13-16 in your conference–and lose the play-in game–and go to the NCAA Tournament.”
“That’s me just speaking, not looking at all the numbers and all the teams. I think you gotta earn you way in.”
You have to go back again to 2001 to find the last time a UNC baseball team missed the NCAA tournament, a year where it finished 31-26.
Virginia Tech also the finished the year at 13-16 in league play, but with an overall mark barely above .500–at 27-26.
The conference tournament format—which has the teams finishing seventh through tenth compete in “winner take all” play-in games in order to advance to the pool play portion of the event—does not sit particularly well with Coach Fox.
“I do not like one-and-done, I’ve voiced my disapproval of that from day one,” said the coach, “There’s Virginia [in] seventh, and they’ve been playing well, and now they’re in a one game elimination. And that’s tough because they’re a good team. I think they’re deserving, especially with the way they finished [sweeping UNC this past weekend].”
“It’s hard. Baseball’s just not that type of game where it should be just one game elimination. That’s just my opinion.”
To move on, the Tar Heels will need a victory against a Virginia Tech team that has already proven it can beat this UNC squad, doing so on April 17 in Blacksburg against Carolina’s All-ACC Second Team starting pitcher Zac Gallen—a loss that has not been forgotten in Chapel Hill.
“Yeah, Virginia Tech gave us certainly all we could handle up there,” said Coach Fox, “We’re starting Zac Gallen [on Tuesday] and he pitched the first game up there and got knocked around pretty good. Gave up a couple long-balls.”
“They’re gonna present all kinds of problems for us.”
The most notable threat wearing a Virginia Tech jersey on Tuesday will be first baseman Brendon Hayden. Hayden was named to the All-ACC First Team after ending the regular season with 11 home runs–including a pair against UNC–51 RBIs, and a .314 batting average.
Although there is a possibility UNC could play three or four more games this week, Coach Fox can’t look past Tuesday–especially when it comes to thinking about how he’ll use his pitchers.
“When you put yourself in this position to play on Tuesday, you’re set up for whatever the league decides to do with you, in terms of the next three days, and we really can’t think about that. All hands are on deck with our pitching staff,” he said.
If Carolina does win its play-in game, it would be placed into a group alongside Louisville, Florida State, and Clemson. Louisville and its first-round MLB draft prospect, starting pitcher Kyle Funkhouser, would be the opponent on Wednesday.
The Tar Heels are competing in the play-in round for the second year in a row, having defeated NC State 4-3 last year in Greensboro.
UNC also defeated Virginia Tech 4-1 in the 2013 ACC Championship Game, which was the last time the tournament was held in Durham.
First pitch for the game Tuesday is scheduled for 3 p.m.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tuesday-holds-the-key-for-tar-heels-ncaa-hopes/
The Virginia Cavaliers scored five runs in the sixth inning against five different Tar Heel pitchers on Saturday, en route to an 8-2 victory over the UNC baseball team at Boshamer Stadium–giving the senior day festivities for Benton Moss and Trevor Kelley an unpleasant ending.
Carolina has now been swept in each of its last two ACC series, the first time that’s happened since 2001. The Tar Heels finish the regular season 13-16 in the conference and 32-22 overall.
Meanwhile, the successful weekend road trip helps the Cavaliers finish at 15-15 in ACC play and 33-19 against all competition.
“I don’t know how [Virginia’s] lost 15 games in the league, as well as they played. They obviously played well and we didn’t” said UNC head coach Mike Fox, “[We] didn’t make pitches and we haven’t swung the bat well in ACC play. Getting six or seven hits has kind of been our norm. We obviously needed better than that today.”
Benton Moss struggled in his final game at Boshamer Stadium–lasting just 3 innings while giving up two runs–and his fellow senior, Trevor Kelley, took over and pitched well initially, but ultimately ran into trouble against the talented Virginia lineup.
Kelley brought some life into the stadium after the Cavaliers loaded the bases in the fourth inning with no outs. The senior from Wilmington escaped the jam with a pair of strikeouts and an inning-ending groundout by shortstop Daniel Pinero.
Right fielder Tyler Ramirez then blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game at two apiece, but the crowd was quickly silenced by Virginia’s explosion in the sixth.
“We definitely wanted to come out and play well for those two [Moss and Kelley] because we love those guys, they’re awesome dudes,” Ramirez said afterwards, “So it’s definitely disappointing not being able to put up some runs for them and give them a [win] on senior day.”
Kelley hit the first batter he faced in the frame and later allowed a one-out single to Adam Haseley. Pitching Coach Scott Forbes then came out to the mound to remove Kelley, who received a loud ovation from the crowd as he stepped off the mound in Chapel Hill for the last time.
Then the wheels fell off.
Immediately Virginia pounced on junior Trent Thornton for runs in the next three at-bats–back-to-back RBI singles from Pinero and Matt Thaiss followed by a sacrifice fly from Kenny Towns put the Tar Heels in a 5-2 hole.
Zach Rice took the ball from Thornton, but was sent right back to the dugout after walking the only man he faced.
Then freshman Hansen Butler met a similar fate as Thornton–allowing the two batters he saw, Robbie Coman and Joe McCarthy, to slap run-scoring singles before he was benched in favor of Spencer Trayner, who finally ended the inning.
And as they have all weekend long, the Tar Heel hitters looked absolutely confused at the plate against Virginia’s dominant pitching staff.
They managed just six hits in this game, while finishing the series having scored just five runs–three of which came from Tyler Ramirez’s two home runs.
Afterwards, both seniors–Moss and Kelley–were very emotional about losing their final home game in a Carolina uniform—something Coach Fox says will heal with time.
“I feel bad for them,” said Fox, “But it doesn’t take away from what they’ve done here. I think over time they’ll see that. I’m sure today’s a sore spot, but over time I think you look back over your whole career–which I’m sure they’ll do.”
ACC Tournament action begins on Tuesday at 3 p.m. for the Tar Heels. They’ll be competing in one of the two play-in games against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Pitchers for that game have yet to be determined.
Their fifth consecutive conference loss drops the Tar Heels to 13-15 in the ACC and 32-21 overall, but there was a silver lining. They clinched a spot in next week’s ACC tournament with Wake Forest’s loss at Duke on Friday.
Virginia also clinches its spot in the tournament, and improves to 14-15 in league play–while increasing its overall mark to 32-19.
Much like his teammate Connor Jones on Thursday, left-handed starting pitcher Brandon Waddell baffled the Tar Heel lineup all night. Waddell (3-4) worked seven shutout innings on his way to the win, giving up seven hits while striking out six batters in his best start of the season.
“They know how to attack our hitters,” said UNC head coach Mike Fox, “I mean, Waddell when he needed a strikeout threw [his] cutter to our righties down and in. And they make big pitches when they needed to. That’s the sign of an experienced pitcher who knows when he needs to make a big pitch with guys in scoring position–and they were able to do that.”
“They’re very well coached,” Fox added.
The Cavaliers also jumped all over Carolina freshman starter JB Bukauskas (4-3) right away–constantly making hard contact with Bukauskas’ 95 mph fastball on their way to five runs in the first two innings.
Kenny Towns, the Virginia third baseman, hit an RBI double with two men on base to open scoring in the first inning. He then came in to score shortly after. A wild pitch to the next batter, Pavin Smith, let Matt Thaiss cross the plate while Towns advanced to third. Smith then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to bring Towns in for the third run of the frame.
Pitching Coach Scott Forbes visited the mound to speak with his young pitcher during the opening frame, but decided to let him try and work out his issues.
Virginia was just fine with that decision, as they tacked on two more runs in the second–both coming with one out.
That would be the end of the road for Bukauskas, after giving up five runs on just 34 pitches. It was the shortest start of the season for the freshman (1.1 innings), who also happens to be a Virginia native.
“JB’s gotta learn to pitch,” said Coach Fox, “He’s gotten by in high school with just–kinda what you see out there–‘just kinda rear back and throw it’. And that doesn’t happen at this level…he’s learning that.”
Trevor Kelley extended his NCAA lead in relief appearances when he came out of the bullpen for Bukauskas and pitched the next 2.2 innings–holding the Cavaliers scoreless in that time.
Kelley was replaced by freshman Hansen Butler to begin the top of the fifth. Butler finished the inning, but not before Virginia extended its lead on an RBI single by designated hitter Jack Gerstenmaier.
The Tar Heels best chance to take a chunk out of the lead in the first half of the game came in the second inning. A string of fortunate outcomes helped them load the bases against Cavalier lefty Brandon Waddell despite not picking up a hit.
Center fielder Skye Bolt reached on an error, and a pair of walks to Korey Dunbar and Joe Dudek gave freshman Zack Gahagan a prime opportunity to drive in some runs. Waddell escaped the jam, though, getting Gahagan to strike out on four pitches.
From there UNC scattered five hits over the next four innings against Waddell until its next big chance in the bottom of the seventh.
Gahagan led off the frame with a single, which was followed by Tyler Ramirez’s second base hit of the game–putting runners on first and second with no outs.
However, Alex Raburn grounded into a double play, and then Landon Lassiter flew out to keep Virginia’s shutout alive.
Not until Waddell was removed from the game in favor of reliever Josh Sborz did the Tar Heels put some runs across the plate.
Freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth smacked a two-run double off of Sborz, which drove in Dunbar and Eli Sutherland–preventing UNC from being kept off the scoreboard for the first time all season.
But it was not enough to climb out of the early hole, as Sborz tossed a scoreless ninth to preserve the victory.
After all of Friday’s ACC action, the Tar Heels know they have a spot in the conference tournament. But they’ll have to win a play-in game on Tuesday to advance into the pool play round that runs the rest of the week.
Warmoth said that might not be a bad thing for this team.
“We wish we didn’t have to play in the play-in game, but right now I’m trying to tell people I’d rather play in that game right now, [try to] win Tuesday to get some momentum going into the real tournament, and then not stopping, not looking back,” he said.
The series, and the regular season, will conclude with tomorrow’s finale. First pitch is set to be thrown at noon, with senior Benton Moss (7-0, 3.17 ERA) taking the mound for the Tar Heels. Virginia’s starter is yet to be determined.
Zac Gallen was two outs away from his third complete game of the season for the Tar Heels when it all fell apart.
“Any time you get in a good groove you don’t really want to come out,” says Gallen, “But it’s Coach’s decision, so you gotta do what he says. I mean, I would have loved to finish the game out but what [am I] gonna do?”
Trailing 1-0 entering the ninth inning, the Virginia Cavaliers rallied to force extra innings against Gallen’s replacements out of the bullpen before picking up a thrilling 10 inning 2-1 victory on Thursday night, beating the UNC baseball team at Boshamer Stadium.
The blown opportunity drops the Tar Heels below .500 in the conference, at 13-14, while their overall record slips to 32-20.
Virginia jumps to 13-15 in league play, and 31-19 against all competition after the come from behind win.
Thursday’s major storyline focused on Gallen and Virginia sophomore right-hander Connor Jones, who went toe-to-toe in a fantastic pitchers’ duel all night long.
After allowing a pair of Cavalier hits in the top of the first inning, Gallen settled down and cruised through the opposing lineup with ease–until giving up a crucial one-out double in the ninth.
Gallen’s counterpart, Jones, also finished eight innings while putting up an impressive stat line. The right-hander gave up a home run, but struck out nine Tar Heels while only walking one.
The Tar Heel bats–which have started to heat up recently–definitely cooled back down on Thursday.
Only two UNC runners reached second base over the first five frames, despite the team slapping five base hits during that time.
That changed momentarily in the bottom of the sixth, however, when right fielder Tyler Ramirez caught all of a 2-0 pitch from Jones–sending it flying over the fence in left center field for the game’s first run.
From there, the attention went right back to Gallen’s bid for a shutout on the mound.
Virginia led off the seventh inning with a single by catcher Robbie Coman, but Coman got himself caught trying to steal second base, as Gallen finished off the inning with a pair of flyouts.
Daniel Pinero, the Cavaliers’ shortstop, then reached base in the eighth on a two-out walk–only to head right back to the dugout when his teammate Matt Thaiss flew out to left.
Even though his pitch count had reached 104, Gallen came back out for the ninth to try and finish off yet another Boshamer masterpiece. The sophomore came into Thursday night having thrown complete games in each of his previous two home starts.
Unfortunately for him, Virginia left fielder Pavin Smith launched a one-out double over the head of Skye Bolt in center field, which was enough for Coach Fox to make the move to Trevor Kelley out of the bullpen.
And just like that, the game took a surprise turn.
“You gotta give them a lot of credit,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox, “We made some mistakes, and they took advantage of it at the plate. We bring Trevor in and we know we’re gonna get a groundball–probably–[and the] matchup we wanted.”
“The ball should have stayed in the infield and it didn’t.”
Robbie Coman got the best of Kelley–the Tar Heels’ go-to reliever–by smashing a single up the middle, which scored Smith and tied the game for the visiting team.
UNC kept more damage from being done by turning to two more relievers, Zach Rice and Trent Thornton, who made sure things stayed tied heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Carolina’s offense was then set down in order in their turn at the plate, giving the Cavaliers a shot to steal the victory.
Virginia led off the 10th inning against Thornton with another big-time double, this one by center fielder Adam Haseley.
A pair of walks then loaded the bases for Pavin Smith, who again came through in the clutch. His groundball led to a fielders’ choice, allowing Haseley to come home and score the eventual winning run.
The Tar Heels’ did threaten to score against Virginia closer Alec Bettinger in their half of the 10th, but ultimately came up just 90 feet short.
Alex Raburn walked to lead-off the inning, and later advanced to third base on a sacrifice by Logan Warmoth, and a pitch from Bettinger that got by the catcher.
However, Landon Lassiter couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity at the plate, popping out to end the game.
With Thursday’s loss, and a win by Wake Forest, the Tar Heels still find themselves needing a win to get in to the ACC tournament–much to the dismay of their coach.
“I can’t even believe we’re talking about that as our goal, but it is right now,” says Fox.
“It’s just a tough loss. We’ve got to get up off the mat and try it again tomorrow. We’ve been in this situation before. This league prepares you for a lot of things, and it prepares you for this. You have a tough loss and you gotta play the next day.”
The second game of the series is scheduled to begin Friday at 6:30 p.m. Tar Heel freshman JB Bukauskas (4-2, 3.70 ERA) is set to take the mound opposite Virginia lefty Brandon Waddell (2-4, 4.88 ERA).
It’s now or never for the UNC baseball team this weekend, as it hosts the Virginia Cavaliers at Boshamer Stadium in the final ACC weekend series of the year–with each team looking to put themselves in a favorable position heading into next week’s conference tournament.
The Tar Heels come into the matchup placed seventh in the league, with a 13-13 mark in ACC games and an overall record of 32-19, while Virginia sits in 10th, at 12-15 in conference play and 30-19 against all competition.
“I just told [the players on Tuesday] that after 50 games [our season’s] boiled down to four games, and now it’s three,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox.
“They get it, they can do the math. You’re either wanting to relish that, and understand it and play well, or you don’t. And if we don’t, and we’re not ready for it, and we don’t play well, we don’t deserve to move on.”
This upcoming series will have a huge say in both the Tar Heels’ and the Cavaliers’ postseason chances.
A series win for UNC could vault them into the top six in the conference, earning them a bye straight in to ACC pool play, while another disappointing performance could place them into a “winner-take-all” play-in game for a second straight year—something center-fielder Skye Bolt would like to avoid at all costs.
“We don’t wanna play that game, we did it last year. Nobody wants to play that game on top of fighting for a spot in the tournament,” says Bolt, “You don’t want to be in the situation that we’re currently in where [we’re] having to find a spot, period.”
“We’re better than our record shows. That’s the game of baseball, but it’s a double-edged sword and we’re wearing it right now, so we just gotta keep playing the ball that we’re capable of–and we have been.”
Last season the Tar Heels finished seventh in the league, and were forced to play NC State in a play-in game in order to reach the round-robin pool play used to determine the conference championship game. They defeated the Wolfpack in Greensboro by a score of 4-3 before eventually bowing out of the tournament in the next round, with a 1-2 record in pool play.
Only the top 10 out of the conference’s 14 teams qualify for the tournament–held in Durham this year–which means both UNC and Virginia could potentially find themselves on the outside looking in if they were to be swept in the series this weekend.
Both teams have performed slightly below some of the lofty expectations placed upon them to start the year, with each squad taking a tumble outside the nation’s top 25.
However, Coach Fox says these teams always seem to play better against one another, which along with the tight standings, should certainly raise the intensity level this weekend.
“We always play well against Virginia and they play well against us,” says Fox, “[There’s] been some great series that we’ve played against them. They’ve swept us and we’ve swept them up there [in Charlottesville].”
“They’re fighting for their life, we’re fighting for our life”
The Cavaliers’ struggles have been one of the top stories across the land after many preseason polls had them ranked second in the nation, but they still have the talent to compete with anyone–even after a crushing injury to their All-American starting pitcher, Nathan Kirby.
That level of talent is something that will require the Tar Heels to be at their very best in all areas of the game.
“They lost [Nathan] Kirby, which kinda hurts them, but they’ve still got good arms. They’re gonna play good fundamental baseball, they’re well coached, and we just gotta go up there and play ball like we’re capable,” says Skye Bolt, “Pitch, play defense, and hopefully continue this offensive swing that we’ve had.”
Bolt has been the leader of Carolina’s recent hot streak with the bats, hitting four home runs over the last five games–putting himself all alone in the team lead in that category after slugging nine long-balls on the year.
With the stakes as high as they are for this series, it can be tough to predict what will happen out on the diamond.
For a man as experienced in pressure situations as Mike Fox, though, it’s a very simple task.
“I think the team that comes in and plays the most relaxed will have the better opportunity to win,” says the coach, “the team that feels the pressure a little bit of ‘if we lose’–playing the ‘if’ game–‘if we lose we’re not gonna…’ If you play that game, you’ll have a hard time winning.”
The first pitch of the series is set to be thrown on Thursday at 7 p.m., with the games scheduled to run from Thursday through Saturday–instead of Friday through Sunday–in order to give the teams an extra day of rest before the beginning of the ACC tournament next Tuesday.
All games will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-uva-series-holds-major-post-season-implications/