UNC Refuses to Let Hurricanes Sweep Through Chapel Hill

If the UNC baseball team learned anything from its two heartbreaking losses to Miami on Friday and Saturday, it was that no lead can ever be called “safe” against top competition.

Unless that lead is stretched to eight runs, which is where the #22 Tar Heels had it at one point in the series finale Sunday, using a dominant offensive output to defeat the #21 Hurricanes by a score of 10-3 inside the friendly walls of Boshamer Stadium.

By avoiding the sweep, Carolina raises their record to 16-11 overall and reaches the .500 mark in the ACC, at 6-6. Miami remains in sole possession of first place in the ACC Coastal Division, but drops to 8-4 in league play (20-9 overall).

The scene in Sunday’s first inning seemed to be going the same as it went the day before–sunlight pouring down from the sky, UNC’s starting pitcher cruising, and the bases loaded for the Tar Heel batters with just a single out.

Senior Benton Moss continued the dominant run by Carolina’s starting pitching. (UNC Athletics)

This time, though, the boys in light blue would find a way to put some runs on the board.

“We were so close the last couple games,” Coach Fox says, “But we got off to a good start today, loaded the bases again in the first inning, and finally got more than one run, so that was huge for us. And having Benton on the mound, that was what we needed.”

A sacrifice fly from freshman Zack Gahagan and an RBI single from Tyler Ramirez, off Miami starter Enrique Sosa (3-3), put the Tar Heels ahead by two after a first inning where they banged out five hits.

After a perfect second inning on the mound from Benton Moss (4-0), the Carolina bats went right back to work in their half of the frame, tacking on two more runs in the same fashion. Juniors Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter each had an RBI to give their head coach the type of lead he said the team should have built yesterday, when they had the same opportunity.

A throwing error by UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth allowed Miami’s Willie Abreu to reach first as the lead-off man in the third, giving the visiting team their first base-runner of the game. The play appeared to be costly, with the Hurricanes able to scrape across a pair of unearned runs against Moss to cut the lead in half.

However, the Tar Heel bats were not ready to cool down just yet.

First baseman Joe Dudek hit a sharp liner right down the third-base line to drive in two runs with two outs in the bottom of the third–ending the day on the mound for Enrique Sosa, and kicking off what would eventually turn into a huge five-run inning. Miami reliever Derik Beauprez came in and walked three batters in a row, including one to Landon Lassiter with the bases loaded, which set up Zack Gahagan, who drilled a two-run single to right-field, giving him his second and third RBI of the day.

“Joey Dudek and the big inning, with two outs, 1-2 [count], gets a double and starts that five run inning, I think that sealed the deal right there,” Benton Moss says about the game-changing moment.

The Tar Heel defense has been much improved since Eli Sutherland took over at second base. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heel defense has been much improved since Eli Sutherland took over at second base. (UNC Athletics)

Gahagan would later increase his RBI total to four with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth, bringing UNC’s score into double digits.

“We were just locked in,” says Gahagan about the difference between today’s game and the previous two losses, with the freshman adding that “We really had a good amount of focus this weekend, but just couldn’t get some balls to fall early on in the series, but today obviously we locked in and got those runs in.”

Leaving the game after allowing a single to begin the Hurricane half of the seventh, Moss was done with another fantastic outing in this just his second start back from injury. All throughout, Moss never let the Hurricanes get comfortable at the plate. The senior from Enfield, North Carolina worked six strong innings, surrendering just one earned run on six hits, and also struck out four on 96 pitches.

Miami was able to scratch across another run against a combination of three Tar Heel relievers in the seventh–with a sacrifice fly by yesterday’s hero, Zack Collins, but ultimately the early Carolina surge would prove to be too much for the Hurricanes to come back from, as they couldn’t muster anything else the rest of the way.

One of only two seniors on UNC’s roster, Moss says he’s not discouraged by losing the series, pointing to the talent level on the team as a big reason why he feels this is a squad to be reckoned with in the coming weeks.

“We’ve got so much talent in the locker room, and I’m not afraid to say it,” says Moss, “I think we’ve had a chance to win every single series that we’ve played, and that’s no BS. I think that’s the truth. We’ve got all the guys in there, they just know they’re one swing of the bat away, or one error, or one pitch away, they’re right there.”

Up Next:

A week on the road awaits the Tar Heels, as they’ll travel to face Elon on Tuesday at 6:30 P.M., before heading to Clemson for their ACC weekend series.

Game Notes:

  • Benton Moss now has 290 strikeouts for his career, moving him into fourth on the UNC all-time list.
  • All five runs scored by UNC in the third inning came with two outs on the board.
  • Miami third baseman David Thompson extended his hitting streak to 18 games with his single in the seventh inning off reliever Trevor Kelley.
  • All-time, Miami leads the series with North Carolina with a 34-26-1 record against the Tar Heels after this weekend.



UNC Drops Extra Inning Heartbreaker to Miami

The ball is likely still stuck in orbit somewhere, floating, and maybe looking for a new home, after the hurt that had just been put on it.

Miami designated hitter Zack Collins hit an absolute moonshot in the 11th inning off UNC reliever Spencer Trayner to lift his #21 Hurricanes to a 4-3 victory, and the series win, over the #22 Tar Heels at Boshamer Stadium, in yet another gut-wrenching back-and-forth affair.

“It felt honestly like it was a close fight,” UNC starter JB Bukauskas says on the finish that saw each team trade runs in the ninth and tenth innings, “It just felt like it could go either way at any point. There’s no real emotion you could put on it, it was honestly just a hard fought game. And it was up and down, and up and down, but we were never giving up, not even in the last inning when we went down.”

Head Coach Mike Fox and his Carolina team fall to 15-11 overall, with a losing 5-6 record in the ACC, while Miami improves their Coastal Division leading conference mark to 8-3, with a 20-8 record in all games played.

On a chilly, but very sunny Saturday, the Tar Heels sent their super-freshman, Bukauskas, to the mound to face-off with the Hurricanes’ preseason All-American–redshirt junior Andy Suarez.

After a 1-2-3 top of the first inning for Bukauskas, the Carolina offense appeared as if they were ready to pounce on the right-hander early, loading the bases with just one out in their half of the first. Suarez wiggled out of the jam though, by striking out right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, and then getting Korey Dunbar to ground into a fielder’s choice.

Tyler Ramirez got down and dirty on Saturday, making a number of huge hustle plays. (UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez got down and dirty on Saturday, making a number of huge hustle plays. (UNC Athletics)

As Bukauskas continued to mow through the Miami line-up in the second inning, UNC found themselves in a position to possibly break the game wide open.

Hits kept coming for the Tar Heels in their turn at-bat in the second, leading to another chance to tack on a few runs with the bases loaded and only one out. Center-fielder Skye Bolt drew a walk to score the first run of the game, but Suarez managed to escape yet again when he got freshman Logan Warmoth to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“That’s probably where we lost the game. I mean, really,” says Coach Fox, “Cause we’ve got a chance right out of the gate to extend the lead, and we got [Suarez] in trouble and he wasn’t very good today. He didn’t have his good command like he normally does, and we didn’t make him pay. That kept them in the game, while JB’s lights out again for us, just like he’s been in every conference start.”

Struggling with command through his first three innings, Suarez was pulled from the game by Miami Head Coach Jim Morris before the fourth, replaced by senior reliever Daniel Briggi after throwing just 60 pitches and allowing one run on four hits–but he also walked four Tar Heels as well.

Briggi handled the Tar Heels with ease over the next three innings, allowing no runs and just two hits during his stint on the mound.

Still 1-0 in favor of UNC at the beginning of the fifth, Bukauskas continued to show that he was in complete control. The Hurricanes were sat down in order again, still looking for a run and with only one hit to show for their efforts.

Miami finally got their elusive second hit in the top of the seventh off the bat of star third baseman David Thompson, who singled and then advanced to second base on a balk by Bukauskas. Next came a walk to Zack Collins and a sacrifice bunt to give the Hurricanes runners on second and third with one out–their first real offensive threat of the game.

Designated hitter Garrett Kennedy tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. (UNC Athletics)

Designated hitter Garrett Kennedy tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. (Miami Herald)

A ground-out to first base by right-fielder Willie Abreu ended the inning, but not before a sacrifice fly from Garrett Kennedy tied the game and erased the zero in Miami’s score column.

It would also end the day for JB Bukauskas, as Coach Fox turned to senior Trevor Kelley to complete the eighth inning. The freshman threw 86 pitches for the day, going seven innings, while giving up just the one run and two hits, to pair with three strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Kelley struck out the first two Hurricanes he faced upon entering the game, and then got left-fielder Carl Chester to groundout to complete a three-up, three-down performance leading into the Tar Heel half of the eighth.

Kelley came back on for the ninth after the Tar Heels went scoreless in the eighth, and immediately allowed a lead-off single to center-fielder Ricky Eusebio to start the frame. Then things started to get wild, as Kelley gave up the lead on a first pitch RBI single by shortstop George Iskenderian.

With one final chance to pull even and the crowd on their feet, freshman first baseman Zack Gahagan singled home Brian Miller with two outs to keep the Tar Heels’ hopes alive.

Zack Gahagan tied the game up with his RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

Zack Gahagan tied the game up with his RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

In the tenth, trouble found Trent Thornton for the second consecutive game, when he allowed Miami’s Jacob Heyward to reach third base with just one out in the inning after a wild pitch (his second in as many days). Not taking any chances, Coach Fox turned to lefty Zach Rice out of the bullpen to try and escape the jam.

Unfortunately, Johnny Ruiz hit a deep fly ball to score Heyward on a sacrifice fly, putting the game back under Miami’s control.

Just like in seemingly every other inning during the game, the Tar Heels threatened in the bottom of the tenth, putting runners on first and third with one out against Hurricanes’ closer Bryan Garcia. Garcia then allowed Landon Lassiter his fourth hit of the ball-game, which drove home Michael Massardo to tie the contest.

Small-ball may have helped the teams trade runs at the end, but ultimately it was the big-ball, the solo shot from Zack Collins, that allowed Miami to finally put the icing on the cake.

Side-winding reliever Cooper Hammond came in for Garcia to try and keep the Tar Heels off of the board in the 11th, and after letting the first two men he faced reach first and second, Hammond settled down to strike out the next two batters, earning some questionable strike calls in the process–before getting Adam Pate to pop out and end the game.

Despite the great starting pitching effort from Bukauskas, Coach Fox says that by leaving 16 men on base, the Tar Heels didn’t fulfill every phase of the game, a necessity against top competition.

“All the phases of the game have to all work together if you’re gonna beat good teams in our league,” Coach Fox says, “Every phase of the game has to be at a high level and it just hasn’t been. We’ve just been missing that key piece, and today it was not being good with runners in scoring position.”

“We should have won today,” adds Fox.

Up Next:

The series finale will have a bit of an early start on Sunday, with first pitch set to take place at noon. The pitching match-up will see UNC senior Benton Moss (3-0, 2.08 ERA) take on Miami right-hander Enrique Sosa (3-2, 3.62 ERA).

Game Notes:

  • In the previous five games for UNC, entering Saturday, Tar Heel starting pitchers put together an ERA just under 2.04 while averaging six innings per start.
  • Defense has been improving as well for Carolina with just two errors over their past six games (including Saturday).
  • Miami’s Jacob Heyward is the brother of St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Jason Heyward.



Ninth Inning Collapse Dooms UNC Against Miami

Under the lights at Boshamer Stadium on Friday, UNC had the game wrapped up, until Miami second baseman Johnny Ruiz hit a late RBI single off of Carolina closer Trent Thornton to complete a wild ninth inning rally, leading the #21 Hurricanes to a 4-3 win over the #22 Tar Heels in the first game of their top 25 ACC showdown.

The Hurricanes hold on to their lead atop the ACC Coastal Division standings, improving their record to 7-3 in conference play and 18-8 overall. For the Tar Heels, they drop to 5-5 in the ACC and 15-10 overall.

Ruiz’s single came after right-fielder Willie Abreu drove in two runs to tie a game that Carolina led 3-1 entering the final inning.

“We got a 3-1 pitch to Ruiz right there [in the ninth] with a base open,” UNC Head Coach Mike Fox says about the game’s defining play, “And we don’t make the right pitch, and they executed.”

Although this game’s start was delayed by about 45 minutes due to rain, Miami center-fielder Ricky Eusebio wasted no time waking the crowd up. Just the second batter of the game, the junior from Homestead, Florida ripped a 1-2 pitch from Carolina starter Zac Gallen over the left-field wall for a solo shot to strike first blood for the Hurricanes.

Pitching took over the game after the big blast, however, as Gallen settled into his comfort zone, and Miami lefty Thomas Woodrey came out dealing his best stuff right from the jump.

Zac Gallen was lights out after giving up a home run in the first inning. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen was lights out after giving up a home run in the first inning. (UNC Athletics)

After Hurricanes’ third baseman David Thompson doubled to lead-off the second inning, Gallen walked catcher Garrett Kennedy, and then promptly turned into a lean, mean, pitching machine–retiring the next 16 batters he faced, including seven strikeouts during the streak. It lasted from the second with no outs until the seventh inning with one out, when Thompson singled for his second hit of the night.

For the game, Gallen would finish with seven strong innings of work, giving up just one run, four hits, and striking out eight Hurricanes on  104 pitches in total.

Woodrey allowed a single to UNC freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth in the bottom of the second, but was otherwise perfect through the first four frames, giving up no other hits and maintaining the zero in the UNC run column.

Not until the fifth inning did the Tar Heels seriously threaten the sophomore. Right-fielder Tyler Ramirez drove a ball down the line in right for his third triple of the season, with only one out on the board to set the table, but unfortunately a pair of ground-outs by Korey Dunbar and Eli Sutherland put a quick halt to the scoring opportunity, preserving the shutout for Woodrey.

Dueling with Gallen all night long, Miami lefty Thomas Woodrey was equally spectacular. (Miami Herald)

Dueling with Gallen all night long, Miami lefty Thomas Woodrey was equally spectacular. (Miami Herald)

Fireworks ensued in the Carolina half of the seventh, though, with Woodrey still on the mound. Ramirez got a chance at redemption with one out in the frame, driving home Zack Gahagan from third with a deep groundout to the middle of the field to tie the affair, setting up the catcher, Dunbar, the hottest hitter in the Tar Heel lineup.

The 1-1 offering from Woodrey was drilled to right center-field for the two-run homer that looked like it might have put UNC ahead for good, on what was Dunbar’s third home run in his last five games.

For Zac Gallen, this play held up his beliefs about his team’s offense, as he explained why he never worried, despite being in the midst of quite a duel.

“I have a lot of faith in our hitters,” Gallen says, “We have some good approaches, guys come up with big hits, I mean Korey [Dunbar], the dude has been clutch lately. So I just tried to keep us in it, I knew we were gonna scratch a couple across just cause we’ve been pretty resilient.”

Dunbar’s homer would also spell the end of the road for the left-hander, after 6.2 workmanlike innings where he pitched mostly to contact. All in all, Woodrey finished with three runs given up on just three hits, but only struck out two in the process.

On to replace Gallen in the top of the eighth was senior Trevor Kelley, the NCAA leader in relief appearances in 2015, with this being his 17th in just 25 games so far. Despite giving up one hit in the inning, the man with the microscopic 1.69 ERA retired the Miami hitters without any real danger, setting up junior closer Trent Thornton with a prime opportunity to clinch his fifth save of the season.

Thornton, a Charlotte, North Carolina native, ended up finding himself in a huge jam trying to shut the door in the ninth.

With runners on second and third and only one out in the inning, Willie Abreu, the Miami right-fielder hit a two-run single to tie the game up, and quiet the Tar Heel crowd, before Johnny Ruiz’s RBI single, which would ultimately end up as the game-winner when UNC failed to score on Miami closer Bryan Garcia.

“It’s frustrating,” Dunbar says about losing the lead late, “but that’s the great thing about baseball is that we’ve got another game tomorrow, and another game to follow that, so it’s disappointing, but we’ve gotta turn it around and play a game tomorrow.”

Up Next:

Saturday will be the second game of the series between the teams and is scheduled to begin at 3 P.M. UNC freshman JB Bukauskas will be on the mound opposite Miami’s preseason All-American left-hander Andy Suarez. The game will be broadcast live on WCHL and shown on ESPN3.

Game Notes:

  • The two coaches, Mike Fox (UNC) and Jim Morris (Miami) entered the game having combined for an astounding 2,736 wins over the course of their careers. (Fox-1,283 in 32 seasons, Morris-1,453 in 34 seasons)
  • Miami junior third baseman David Thompson is the recipient of back-to-back ACC Player of the Week honors. He went 2-4 with a double on Friday.
  • Korey Dunbar’s home run in the seventh extended his hitting streak to six games. He has an extra base hit in all six of those.



UNC and Miami Set to Square Off in Top 25 Baseball Action

Winners of three of their past four games, including a crucial series win in Atlanta, the 15-9, 22nd ranked, UNC baseball team faces its toughest conference opponent yet this weekend, as the #21 Miami Hurricanes bring an 18-7 overall record, including a 6-3 conference mark, to Chapel Hill for a three-game ACC series between two squads fighting for Coastal Division supremacy.

Last season, the Tar Heels dropped two out of three games to the Hurricanes when they made the trip down to Coral Gables, but UNC head coach Mike Fox says he thinks this year’s team will match up well with Miami’s top two starting pitchers, Andrew Suarez and Thomas Woodrey, both of whom are left-handed.

Andrew Suarez will be tough to handle on the mound, no matter how good UNC has been against lefties this year. (UNC Athletics)

Andrew Suarez will be tough to handle on the mound, no matter how good UNC has been against lefties this year. (UNC Athletics)

“They’re good, they always pitch well,” Coach Fox says, “Suarez is back and he’s given us fits. They’re gonna throw probably two lefties against us, probably Friday and Saturday, which we’ve swung the bat pretty good against left-handed pitching so far, but they’ll be at another level.”

Suarez has been limited to just three starts this season due to injuries, but holds a 2-0 record with a 2.81 ERA. He was a second round draft pick (No. 57 overall) of the Washington Nationals last summer, but opted instead to return to Miami for his final year of school. Carolina will see the 2015 pre-season All-American on Saturday.

Woodrey, a sophomore, has also been quite solid.  In five starts this year, he’s put together a 3-1 mark, to go along with a 2.93 ERA in 30.2 innings of work. This will be the man with the ball to begin the series on Friday.

UNC center-fielder Skye Bolt, who leads the team with four home runs this season, says the Hurricanes will present a tough challenge off the mound just like always, but he also adds that he sees some similarities between the two teams offensively.

“You’re definitely gonna have pitching, Miami’s always had the ability to pitch on the mound,” says Bolt, “I think they’re a little bit younger with the sticks, but that’s us as well, so the talent’s there, but I think we’re gonna have to continue to adjust on the mound and make adjustments here early in the games this weekend.”

Bolt's towering home run drive on Tuesday against Appalachian State. (UNC Athletics)

Bolt’s towering home run drive on Tuesday against Appalachian State. (UNC Athletics)

One of those young Miami hitters to look out for is freshman outfielder Carl Chester, who bats in the lead-off spot and has hit four homers, showing a solid power game to pair with his .291 batting average and .381 on-base percentage. Chester has also stolen eight bases in just eleven attempts, proving to be quite the well-rounded player on a team full of them.

Overall, Coach Fox says he’s impressed what he’s seen this year from the Hurricanes, noting that they’re probably the best team the Tar Heels have seen since the UCLA series back in February.

“They’ll probably be the best team we’ve played outside of UCLA,” says Coach Fox, “They can run a little bit and got some guys in the middle of the order that can hit the ball out.  They’re a complete team, so we’ll have to play at a high level.”

UCLA, members of the PAC-12 conference, are currently ranked seventh in the D1Baseball.com top 25 poll.

With key players, such as starting pitcher Benton Moss, back from injury, things look to finally be moving in the right direction for the Tar Heels, something Skye Bolt has taken notice of.

Benton Moss's return to the starting rotation will be crucial to the Tar Heels' success. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss’s return to the starting rotation will be crucial to the Tar Heels’ success. (UNC Athletics)

“I think some guys are starting to play like they’re capable, and we’re starting to get into the meat of the season,” the center-fielder says, “And we’re getting some guys back healthy that have been out the past few weeks, and yeah, I think it’s all culminating at the right point.”

In Moss’s return to the starting rotation last weekend at Georgia Tech, the senior earned the victory with six solid innings of work, striking out eight batters in the process. He is currently producing a ridiculous rate of 14.43 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (34 K’s in 21.2 innings), good enough to place him fourth in the nation in that category.

First pitch for Friday’s opener is set for 6:30 P.M., with the game being shown live on ESPN3. Zac Gallen is the starting pitcher for UNC, and he’ll face off with Miami’s Thomas Woodrey.



Hunter Williams’ Gem Leads Tar Heels to Victory Over App State

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.

Zack Gahagan drove in the Tar Heels first run, and later scored himself in the first inning. (UNC Athletics)

Zack Gahagan drove in the Tar Heels first run, and later scored himself in the first inning. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Stout defense from Logan Warmoth at shortstop helped Hunter Williams out greatly. (UNC Athletics)

Stout defense from Logan Warmoth at shortstop helped Hunter Williams out greatly. (UNC Athletics)

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.”

Up Next:

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.

Game Notes:

  • Tuesday marked the 24th game of the season for UNC, and the first in which junior infielder Alex Raburn did not earn a start. However, he did sub into the game later on at third base for freshman Ryder Ryan.
  • Hunter Williams failed to make it more than three innings in each of his previous two starts, making tonight by far his best career performance. His season ERA falls to 1.32 in 13.2 innings of work.
  • The Tar Heels improve to 5-1 in games in which they commit no errors.
  • Bolt’s homer was his fourth of the season, moving him into the team lead all by himself.



Hungry UNC Baseball Team Awaits Visit From Mountaineers

A rare series win in Atlanta over Georgia Tech has the 22nd-ranked UNC baseball team feeling better about themselves heading into their Tuesday home game with the 7-16 Appalachian State Mountaineers.

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.

Increased offensive production from Korey Dunbar has been crucial for Carolina. (UNC Athletics)

Increased offensive production from Korey Dunbar has been crucial for Carolina. (UNC Athletics)

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.


UNC Baseball Wins Series, Splits Doubleheader With Yellow Jackets

In some exciting ACC action on Saturday, the 22nd ranked UNC baseball team split a doubleheader with their Coastal Division foes, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

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.

Game One

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.

JB Bukauskas continues to be lights out for UNC, despite getting a no decision in Game 1. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas continues to be lights out for UNC, despite getting a no decision in Game 1. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Thomas Smith was the hero in the first game, hitting a walk-off single. (fromtherumbleseat.com)

Thomas Smith was the hero in the first game, hitting a walk-off single. (fromtherumbleseat.com)

Game Two

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.

Trent Thornton retired all nine batters he faced on the way to his fourth save of the year. (UNC Athletics)

Trent Thornton retired all nine batters he faced on the way to his fourth save of the year. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Up Next:

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:

  • Alex Raburn’s home run for UNC in Game 1 was his second in a three game span, after having previously hit none for the year. Korey Dunbar achieved the same feat today with his homer in Game 2.
  • Game 2 marked Benton Moss’s first start since going out with arm tightness after the Rhode Island series in late February.
  • UNC scored 10 runs in total on the day, despite cranking out just 11 hits.
  • The Tar Heels also hit just 2-21 with runners in scoring position for the entire day.




Dunbar’s Ninth Inning Homer Leads UNC Past Georgia Tech

The UNC baseball team came into Friday’s series opener at Georgia Tech needing to make a statement.

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.

Skye Bolt was back in center-field on Friday night after being benched on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt was back in center-field on Friday night after being benched on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Catcher Korey Dunbar’s double kicked off a three-run third inning and his homer in the ninth clinched the game. (UNC Athletics)

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.

It was Dunbar's first homer of the season. (UNC Athletics)

It was Dunbar’s first homer of the season. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Up Next:

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).

Game Notes:

  • Landon Lassiter went 2-5 with a double in his return to the lineup, while Georgia native Skye Bolt went 1-2 with a double, a stolen base, an RBI, and two walks (one of them a hit-by-pitch)
  • Georgia Tech’s right-fielder Kel Johnson, who came in with an NCAA freshman high six home runs, went 2-4 with the late two-run homer, but also added two strikeouts.
  • UNC’s pitching held the Yellow Jackets to a 2-14 (.143) performance with runners on base.
  • Trevor Kelley’s ERA drops below the 1.00 mark, as he now has pitched 28 innings and allowed just three earned runs.



Tar Heels Hope Atlanta Will Bring New Life

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).

Logan Warmoth has been a bright spot on defense ever since taking over at shortstop. (UNC Athletics)

Logan Warmoth has been the bright spot on defense ever since taking over at shortstop. (UNC Athletics)

“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?

Georgia Tech freshman Kel Johnson will present a significant challenge. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech freshman Kel Johnson will present a significant challenge. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

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.


Dramatic Tar Heel Rally Falls Inches Short

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.

Ty Middlebrooks' leaping grab prevented a Tar Heel comeback for the ages. (UNC Athletics)

Ty Middlebrooks’ leaping grab prevented a Tar Heel comeback for the ages. (UNC Athletics)

“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.”

Coach Fox went with AJ Bogucki starting on the mound. (UNC Athletics)

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.

It was all Davidson at the beginning. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Teammates rejoice with Alex Raburn after his three-run homer in the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

Teammates rejoice with Alex Raburn after his three-run homer in the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

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.”

Up Next:

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.

Game Notes: 

  • Davidson starting pitcher Ryan Lowe also hit second in the batting order, going 1-3 on the day, unusual in college baseball because the designated hitter rule is used to prevent pitchers from having to hit.
  • Freshman Brian Miller, a walk-on out of Raleigh, provided a bright spot for UNC, playing solid in left-field and going 4-5 at the plate with a walk and two RBI. He’s batting .450 on the year.
  • Fellow Tar Heel freshmen Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan combined for 6 RBI. (Warmoth -2, Gahagan- 4)
  • Of the eight pitchers used by UNC in the game, four are freshmen (Morgan, Raquet, Butler, Williams) and three are sophomores (Bogucki, Trayner, Rice).  Chris McCue was the lone upperclassman to make an appearance on the mound.