Tar Heels Fall Short On Senior Day: Virginia Sweeps

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.

Benton Moss struggled on his senior day. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss struggled on his senior day. (UNC Athletics)

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.

The teams shake hands after the game. (UNC Athletics)

The teams shake hands after the game. (UNC Athletics)

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.”

Up Next:

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.

Game Notes:

  • UNC went 5-38 at the plate this weekend with runners on base.
  • The Tar Heels finish the year with a 21-9 record in games played at Boshamer Stadium.
  • Carolina used eight different pitchers on Saturday.



Virginia Chases Bukauskas Early and Shuts UNC Down to Take Series

An early offensive spark, paired with another impressive pitching performance, delivered the Virginia Cavaliers a 6-2 victory over the UNC baseball team on Friday night at Boshamer Stadium.

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.

JB Bukauskas had the shortest start of his young career on Friday night. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas had the shortest start of his young career on Friday night. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Tyler Ramirez had two hits for the Tar Heels.(UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez had two hits for the Tar Heels.(UNC Athletics)

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.

Up Next:

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.

Game Notes:

  • Including Friday, three of Bukauskas’ last four starts have lasted three innings or fewer.
  • UNC has not beaten Virginia in a series since 2012.
  • Over the last two nights, the Tar Heels have gone 3-28 with runners on base.
  • Alex Raburn grounded into four double plays for Carolina.



Cavaliers Spoil Gallen’s Night, Rally to Win in Extras

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.

Pitching and defense ruled the night at Boshamer Stadium on Thursday. (UNC Athletics)

Pitching and defense ruled the night at Boshamer Stadium on Thursday. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Tyler Ramirez shows some excitement after his home run in the sixth. (UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez shows some excitement after his home run in the sixth. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Korey Dunbar (right) and reliever Zach Rice (left) meet on the mound after UVA tied the game up. (UNC Athletics)

Korey Dunbar (right) and reliever Zach Rice (left) meet on the mound after UVA tied the game up. (UNC Athletics)

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.”

Up Next:

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).

Game Notes:

  • This was the 290th meeting all-time between UNC and Virginia, tying NC State as the Tar Heels’ most common opponent through the years. Carolina still holds the series lead with a 179-107-4 record.
  • Tyler Ramirez is second on the team in home runs, hitting his eighth on Thursday to move within one of team leader Skye Bolt.
  • The teams combined to go 2-25 with runners on base. UNC went 0-12.
  • Gallen has now pitched in 42.1 innings at Boshamer Stadium this season, while surrendering just two earned runs.



UNC-UVA Series Holds Major Post-Season Implications

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.

Head coach Mike Fox congratulates his center-fielder, Skye Bolt, after Bolt's ninth home run of the season on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

Head coach Mike Fox congratulates his center-fielder, Skye Bolt, after Bolt’s ninth home run of the season on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

“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.

Trevor Kelley has been the team MVP this year out of the bullpen, and has plenty of postseason experience in his four years on campus. (UNC Athletics)

Trevor Kelley has been the team MVP this year out of the bullpen, and has plenty of postseason experience in his four years on campus. (UNC Athletics)

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.”

The Tar Heels' season could come down to one play with the position they're in. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels’ season could come down to one play with the position they’re in. (UNC Athletics)

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.


Diamond Heels Avoid Sweep, Take Down No. 1 Cavs

The North Carolina baseball team avoided a series sweep Sunday afternoon by downing top-ranked Virginia 4-2 at Davenport Field thanks to a two-run home run blast by Michael Russell.

With the win, the Tar Heels improved to 23-17 on the season and 10-11 in ACC action while the Cavaliers dropped to 33-7 overall and 16-5 in conference.

Carolina had a great opportunity to capture game one of the ACC series in Charlottesville as UNC ace Trent Thornton was edged by UVA hurler Nathan Kirby 3-2.

In game two, Tar Heel junior Benton Moss allowed just three hits in 7.2 innings, but the Carolina bats failed to back him up as Virginia secured the series with a 3-1 victory Saturday.

Easter Sunday went to the Tar Heels with sophomore reliever Reilly Hovis closing the door on the mound by dismissing the final 11 Cavalier hitters. It was Carolina’s first triumph over a No. 1 team since a sweep of Virginia in 2011.

Next up for the Tar Heels is Tuesday visit to East Carolina.


Virginia Keeps Coastal Title Hopes Alive

CHAPEL HILL – Late season action continued to plague the No. 2 UNC baseball team as No. 7 UVA delayed a division title for the Tar Heels with a 10-4 decision Thursday night. The win also keeps the division championship alive for the Cavaliers.

The teams that are similar on paper started off step for step. After a 2-2 tie after two innings of play, Carolina jumped out to its first lead in the bottom of the third when senior Chaz Frank scored on a single from junior Colin Moran, and freshman Landon Lassiter crossed home off a fielders’ choice by fellow freshman Skye Bolt.

Virginia followed with two runs of its own, and the floodgates opened. After that pair in the fourth, the Cavaliers scored two in the fifth, one in the sixth, two more in the eighth, and one in the ninth to extend the lead to the final decision of 10-4.

Head Coach Brian O’Connor and the Virginia coaching staff trusted their starter, freshman Brandon Waddell, through the early innings as he threw seven while walking three and striking out two. The Carolina rotation was a different story. Junior Kent Emanuel threw five innings and gave up ten hits, four earned runs, two walks, and struck out six. He was followed by sophomore Trevor Kelley, sophomore Mason McCullough, and junior Shane Taylor.

With the loss, Carolina fell to 46-7, 20-6 in the ACC; Virginia improved to 44-8, 21-7. Game two of the series begins Friday at 7:00 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium. A Carolina win secures the Coastal Division championship for the Tar Heels, and they can accomplish that in either of the last two meetings of the series. You can hear all the action on WCHL and by clicking here immediately following the WCHL Evening News with Aaron Keck.


Consecutive Coastal Crowns Up For Grabs

CHAPEL HILL – The outright Coastal Division title is on the line this weekend when the No. 2 UNC baseball team takes the diamond against No. 7 UVA beginning Thursday night.

For the first time all season, Carolina is not in the top spot of any of the four national baseball polls; the National College Baseball Writers’ Association dropped the Tar Heels to seventh this week after falling from the top spot last week.

However, the coaches still think highly of the top-scoring team in the land. Though the pitching staff has dropped to fifth in its team earned run average with a still-impressive 2.44, the offense has not slowed down. The Tar Heel bats are bringing in an average of 8.5 runs per game.

UNC head coach Mike Fox says when it all comes down to it, you can leave the numbers behind.

“Potential is potential, as they say,” Coach Fox says. “That’s how coaches think. We’ve still got to go get it done on the field, but what we’ve done to this point has been exciting to watch. Our players have just been ready to play every single game, and we do have a good club, but the ball’s bounced our way at times.”

Virginia’s a high-scoring team as well. The Cavaliers are fourth in the country in runs scored, averaging just more than eight runs per contest. The UVA pitching staff is also quite strong throwing an ERA .55 points higher than UNC at 2.99.

Coach Fox says those numbers are not to be takeen for granted.

“Virginia’s going to run three pitchers out there against us who are as good as we’ve faced all year,” Coach Fox says. “They’re known for their pitching, and their numbers are as equal or better than ours in that regard. It’s going to be a classic matchup between two teams that are very, very similar.”

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday’s contests feature the top two teams in the Coastal Division with Carolina holding a two-game lead. One win by the Tar Heels guarantees the outright division crown as Monday’s contest against Florida State will not count as a conference game. UNC Head Coach Mike Fox said the addition of FSU was made since both teams had an open slot and the Seminoles were going to be in town practicing for the ACC tournament next week which will be held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

First pitch Thursday is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. You can hear all the action live on WCHL and here immediately following the WCHL Evening News with Aaron Keck.