Virginia Tech Rallies Late to Shock No. 13 UNC Baseball, End 17-Game Losing Skid

In a shocking turn of events at Boshamer Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Virginia Tech Hokies ended their 17-game losing streak by scoring three runs in the final two innings against the No. 13 Tar Heels.

Aided by a pair of crucial UNC fielding miscues, the Hokies were able to steal a 4-3 win –preventing what would have been an important weekend sweep.

After taking a 2-1 lead on Tyler Ramirez’s RBI single in the seventh inning, the Tar Heels appeared to be well on their way to another victory. Instead a dropped liner by shortstop Logan Warmoth with one out in the eighth allowed Virginia Tech to tie the game on a safety squeeze the very next at-bat.

Then with the bases loaded in the ninth, UNC second baseman Eli Sutherland misfired trying to turn an inning-ending double play—allowing the Hokies to score two more.

Needless to say, Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox wasn’t pleased.

Virginia Tech's Andrew Mogg makes the catch that ended the game. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Virginia Tech’s Andrew Mogg makes the catch that ended the game. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

“You gotta have that clock in your head to come off the bag,” Fox said, referencing the fact that Sutherland’s errant throw likely would not have gotten the second out even if it was on target. “Giving them one is fine, but giving them two obviously turned out to be the killer for us.”

UNC—which fell to 23-9 and 8-7 in ACC play—still had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth despite the late errors.

Ramirez hit a solo home run off reliever Cole Kragel with two outs to make it 4-3, before the Hokies made a dramatic error of their own. Third baseman Sam Fragale put his throw to first in the dirt after Warmoth hit a soft grounder—which then led to a walk by Brandon Riley and Kyle Datres getting hit by a pitch.

Sutherland came to the plate with the bases loaded and the winning run at second, but popped out to foul territory on a 3-2 count after taking three straight balls to begin the at-bat.

“They’re somewhat playing ‘not to lose’ because that’s kinda been the mindset that they’ve been in,” Fox said. “So we thought if it gets a little pressure on ‘em [we had a chance to win.]

“You gotta give [Kragel] credit, man,” Fox added. “He goes 3-0, then comes back and throws three strikes and at least makes us swing. That’s a pretty tough position to be in when your team’s lost that many.”

Ramirez, who led the Tar Heels offensively with his two RBI hits, was one of the few UNC players to have success against Virginia Tech lefty Packy Naughton—who used great command of his 92 mph fastball to limit the Tar Heels to just six hits during his seven innings on the mound.

UNC starter Jason Morgan, on the other hand, walked five batters and hit two more during a shaky stint that saw him pulled with one out in the fifth.

It was just an all-around sluggish performance from the Tar Heels, something Ramirez touched on afterwards.

Tyler Ramirez hit his seventh home run of 2016 in the bottom of the ninth, but UNC couldn't close the rest of the gap. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez hit his seventh home run of 2016 in the bottom of the ninth, but UNC couldn’t close the rest of the gap. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

“It’s extremely frustrating, especially against a team we know we can beat,” Ramirez said. “But we knew they were gonna come out today and compete. They had their best arm throwing and he pitched well, they played well as a team.

“We just couldn’t get it done today.”

Although UNC badly wanted to win Sunday to make up for being swept last weekend, Fox hopes his team will dig deep and find motivation within themselves—or at least from the large crowd expected in their next game–as the schedule tightens up.

Next weekend UNC travels to Charlottesville to take on defending national champion Virginia, but first the Tar Heels will play South Carolina on Tuesday in downtown Charlotte at the new ballpark used by the Charlotte Knights.

“If they’ve got a hangover from [Sunday], then maybe 11,000 people will help them get over it,” Fox said, alluding to the expected attendance for Tuesday. “It’ll be a fun atmosphere. That’s the type of environment you’d like to play in against a very good team.”

Up Next:

First pitch time is set for 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday.  The Gamecocks are 28-5 in 2016, which should present a much different challenge than the Hokies–who are now 11-22 (2-13 ACC) with their win over the Tar Heels on Sunday.

Game Notes:

  • Virginia Tech is 3-30 in its last 33 games against UNC.
  • UNC nearly had a run in the eighth inning when freshman Kyle Datres led off the frame with a double and moved to third on a bunt. However, Cody Roberts struck out and Zack Gahagan grounded out to end the threat.
  • Brian Miller joined Ramirez as the only other Tar Heel to record at least two hits–also going 2-for-4. The two accounted for four of UNC’s seven hits in the game.
  • AJ Bogucki, Spencer Trayner, and Brett Daniels combined to finish the game–with Daniels taking the loss, his first of the year (2-1).



Lucky 13: Bukauskas Matches Gallen’s 13 K’s, Wins Series for UNC

On a night windy enough to cancel the postgame fireworks show at Boshamer Stadium, JB Bukauskas made sure fans wouldn’t go home empty-handed.

The hard-throwing sophomore from Ashburn, Virginia struck out a career-high 13 hitters Saturday night in No. 13 UNC’s 4-1 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Bukauskas now has a 5-1 individual record and lifts the Tar Heels to 23-8 (8-6 ACC) in 2016. His performance comes on the heels of Zac Gallen’s complete game masterpiece on Friday–which also included 13 strikeouts.

Bukauskas carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and recorded nine straight outs by picking up strike three at one point. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Bukauskas carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and recorded nine straight outs by picking up strike three at one point. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Unlike Gallen though, Bukauskas only had 7 1/3 innings to reach the mark as his night was ended prematurely.

Virginia Tech shortstop Ryan Tufts broke up Bukauskas’ no-hitter in the sixth with a single, before ending the shutout with a solo homer in the eighth–the only offense registered against the righty all night.

Tufts’ 2-for-3 effort at the plate also represented half of the Hokies’ four hits in the game–but it wasn’t enough to keep his team from losing its 17th straight game and falling to 10-22 (1-13 ACC).

Often labeled as a guy who just rears back and lets his 97 mph fastball do the talking, Bukauskas’ improvement as a pitcher in his second year–he’s allowed more than two runs just twice this season–has largely been attributed to the development of a slider that touches 88 mph and is absolutely filthy.

Gallen–one of the team’s two captains–has also taken Bukauskas on as sort of an apprentice this season.

“He’s become one of my better friends on the team,” Bukauskas said of Gallen. “Just watching him, how he throws that cutter, then works in to his slider sometimes–I took a little note out of his book with that one, throwing it harder.

“We throw bullpens together so we’re always right there with each other–working on things together and learning from each other.”

He then paused before saying, “Well mostly, me [learning] from him, but yeah, I’d say there’s a little competition just because [we’re the Friday, Saturday guys.]”

At one point during the game, from the fourth through sixth innings, Bukauskas recorded nine consecutive outs by picking up strike three. He also retired 12 straight Hokies after walking the first batter of the game.

“That’s hard to do against anybody,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said when reminded of Bukauskas’ achievements. “I was keeping track of it a little just taking notes on what their hitters were doing, but yeah that’s hard to do. He was good tonight, lots of swings and misses.”

Fox paused for a second. “What else can I say?”

UNC freshman catcher Cody Roberts had an RBI single in the fourth inning to open scoring against Virginia Tech starter Jon Woodcock–before a sacrifice fly from shortstop Logan Warmoth doubled that lead in the fifth.

Eli Sutherland accounted for half of UNC's runs with this swing of the bat in the seventh inning. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Eli Sutherland accounted for half of UNC’s runs with this swing of the bat in the seventh inning. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Eli Sutherland finally ended the night for Woodcock in the seventh with a two-run single hit hard to right field, but the Hokies made it interesting once Bukauskas was done for the night.

With the bases loaded and just one out following Tufts’ eighth-inning homer, Tar Heel reliever Brett Daniels forced an inning-ending double play to escape the jam.

After Daniels allowed back-to-back singles to start the ninth, UNC turned to junior AJ Bogucki to pick up the save. Bogucki then recorded a fielder’s choice before ending the game with back-to-back strikeouts.

It was an important win for UNC because it clinches a series win in the tough ACC–however with the way the Hokies are floundering, and given that the Tar Heels were swept last weekend at Miami, Fox sees Sunday’s game as just as important.

“When you get swept in this league, you gotta try to get a sweep–if nothing else to offset it,” the coach said. “I know we had one on the road against Duke but it’d be nice to get another one because it’s only gonna get tougher from here–or so they tell me.”

Up Next:

The series finale is set to begin Sunday at 1 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • It’s worth mentioning again that no UNC pitcher before this weekend had picked up 13 strikeouts in one game since New York Mets’ All-Star Matt Harvey had 15 against Clemson in 2010. It’s now happened in the Tar Heels’ last two games.
  • Asked afterwards which pitcher between Gallen and Bukauskas had the better breaking ball, Roberts–the catcher for both–hesitated to answer before giving the slight nod to Gallen’s curve.
  • Bukauskas broke a career-high in strikeouts he set two weeks ago against Georgia Tech with 11.



The Milkman Delivers: Gallen K’s 13, Shuts Out Virginia Tech

Each Friday night during this college baseball season UNC fans are treated to what’s known around Boshamer Stadium as “Gallentine’s Day”–the chance to see junior starting pitcher Zac Gallen work his magic.

This particular Friday, Gallen–who has now officially embraced being called “The Milkman”–decided to take it up a notch.

The Gibbsboro, New Jersey native delivered perhaps the best performance of his career against Virginia Tech, throwing all nine innings in the No. 13 Tar Heels’ 6-0 victory over the Hokies at the Bosh.

In doing so, Gallen gave up just four hits and struck out a career-high 13 batters–the first UNC pitcher to do so since current New York Mets All-Star Matt Harvey, now referred to by some as “The Dark Knight,” fanned 15 Clemson Tigers back in 2010.

Gallen was nearly unhittable, frustrating Hokie hitters all night long. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Gallen was nearly unhittable, frustrating Hokie hitters all night long. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Coming off a huge upset loss on Wednesday to UNC-Asheville, the Tar Heels got the boost they needed to avoid losing to a Virginia Tech squad that has lost 16 games in a row and boasts a record of just 10-21 (1-12 ACC).

UNC jumps to 22-8 with the victory, and goes back above .500 in the ACC standings at 7-6 in league play.

Gallen–known for his ability to keep the ball in the strike zone–threw strikes on an astonishing 80 of his 118 pitches in the game. The righty also picked up his fourth win of the season (4-2) after running into some tough luck over the last two weekends against Georgia Tech and Miami, teams that UNC went a combined 1-5 against–including his only two losses of the year.

“That’s something [UNC sophomore pitcher] JB [Bukauskas] and I were talking about in the outfield the other day at practice,” Gallen said after the game. “He was just like, ‘Hey man everything feeds off of you.’

“So that’s just kinda my job on Friday night is to set the tone and leave the door open for those next two guys that are gonna throw [Saturday and Sunday].”

Helping Gallen’s cause offensively for the Tar Heels was freshman infielder Kyle Datres.

Benched against UNC-Asheville on Wednesday due to his struggling bat, Datres was put back into the lineup as the designated hitter–the first time he’d occupied that role in his college career.

He responded by going 2-for-3 with a home run–another career first–and two RBIs.

Sophomore Brian Miller drove in UNC’s first run of the game with an RBI single in the third, but Datres’ solo shot in the fourth is what pumped energy into the crowd.

“It felt really good,” Datres said. “I was in a little slump there, took a couple games off. Been working on my swing the last couple weeks, so to get that out of the way means a lot.”

Kyle Datres (right) celebrates his first career home run with catcher Cody Roberts (left). (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Kyle Datres (right) celebrates his first career home run with catcher Cody Roberts (left). (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Datres’ RBI single in the bottom of the sixth gave Gallen a 3-0 lead, which would prove to be plenty of cushion.

UNC didn’t let up on the gas though, as it doubled that advantage with a three-run eighth–highlighted by Zack Gahagan’s two-run single, which he drilled into right field.

Gallen came back out for the ninth to a large ovation, but put his complete game hopes in jeopardy by allowing a single to the lead-off man.

Had he not struck out the next three hitters, UNC head coach Mike Fox said he was ready to make a change given Gallen’s high pitch count.

“These guys are going six days of rest between starts,” Fox said. “I don’t know exactly how much he threw last Friday, but that was probably his last batter [tonight].”

The coach then smiled. “But I won’t tell him that.”

Instead the junior finished off his first complete game of the season, and second of his career. This type of performance has become the norm for Gallen, who has started to make his name well-known in Chapel Hill.

The next step?

Making that nickname,”The Milkman,” stick.

“It’s fine by me,” he said of the moniker. “A nickname, it’s an honor, especially when you play at a place like this.”

Up Next:

UNC will see the Hokies again on Saturday night, with first pitch set for 6 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • The Tar Heels are now 29-2 in their last 31 games against Virginia Tech.
  • Right fielder Adam Pate joined Datres as the only other UNC player to record at least two hits. Pate went 2-for-3 with a double.
  • Gallen’s ERA dropped to 1.93 after the win.



Gallen Pitches UNC to Victory, Keeps Season Alive

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.

Up Next:

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.

Game Notes:

  • The game was delayed by rain for approximately 40 minutes during the seventh inning.
  • In 2013, these two teams met in the ACC Championship, rather than the second play-in game. UNC won that matchup 4-1.
  • Zac Gallen had not picked up a win away from Boshamer Stadium until Tuesday.
  • Brendon Hayden, the Virginia Tech first baseman, went 0-5 in this game after hitting a home run in each of the two games his team played against UNC earlier in the year.


Tuesday Holds the Key for Tar Heels’ NCAA Hopes

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.”

All-ACC Second Team starting pitcher Zac Gallen will be on the mound for UNC against  the Hokies. (UNC Athletics)

All-ACC Second Team starting pitcher Zac Gallen will be on the mound for UNC against the Hokies. (UNC Athletics)

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.

The Tar Heels will have to come together in order to make a strong postseason run. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels will have to come together in order to make a strong postseason run. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Tar Heel Baseball Outlasts Virginia Tech in Wild 11-10 Win

Brian Miller’s sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth inning broke a 10-10 tie, and helped the #23 Tar Heel baseball team pick up a wild 11-10 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Carolina moves to 24-15 on the season, with an even 10-10 mark in the ACC, while the loss sends the Hokies back to 19-21 overall and 8-12 in the conference.

On a day that included three bases loaded hit-by-pitches, four multiple run rallies, 14 walks, and saw neither starting pitcher make it longer than two innings, UNC held on at the end thanks to Miller’s sac fly and a strong 4.1 inning relief performance from Trent Thornton (2-4).

Brian Miller's eighth inning sacrifice fly provided the difference. (UNC Athletics)

Brian Miller’s eighth inning sacrifice fly provided the difference. (UNC Athletics)

Like a young kid on a swing-set, this game was back and forth all day long.

In a rather bizarre turn of events, the Tar Heels scored four runs in the top of the first inning without even getting a hit against Virginia Tech starting pitcher Jon Woodcock. After getting the UNC lead-off man, Miller, to fly-out to begin the game, Woodcock walked the next five men he faced, and then hit the sixth–allowing Skye Bolt, Landon Lassiter, and Tyler Ramirez to come all the way around and score.

Woodcock was then done for the day after picking up just one out, with the junior credited with a fourth earned run in the frame when Carolina freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth hit a sacrifice fly off his replacement, Chris Monaco.

The Hokies were not rattled though, as they answered back immediately against super freshman JB Bukauskas with four runs of their own.

Four of their first five batters reached base against Bukauskas, with left-fielder Erik Payne’s two-run single cutting the lead in half, before first baseman Brendon Hayden’s second two-run homer in as many days erased the whole thing, making it a whole new ball-game tied at four apiece–after just one inning.

Brendon Hayden hit a two-run homer for Virginia Tech on Friday, and then again on Saturday. (Virginia Tech Athletics)

Brendon Hayden hit a two-run homer for Virginia Tech on Friday, and then again on Saturday. (Virginia Tech Athletics)

Crazily enough, the teams each tacked on a few more runs in the third in similar fashion, with the Hokies eventually snatching the lead and chasing Bukauskas from the game.

In Carolina’s turn at the plate Chris Monaco hit Tyler Ramirez with a pitch, allowed a single to Korey Dunbar, and walked Joe Dudek–all with the bases loaded–to put the UNC small-ball attack in business.

Second baseman Eli Sutherland hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Ramirez, and then Dunbar scored on a sacrifice bunt by Logan Warmoth, because of a fielding error on Virginia Tech catcher Andrew Mogg at home plate, putting the Tar Heels back in front– even though they had amassed their six runs with just one hit.

But the Brendon Hayden show was not done yet, as the 6’6″ senior out of Twin Lakes, Wisconsin followed a pair of no-out walks with a game-tying two-run double. Hayden would then score to put his team ahead on another RBI double, this one by designated hitter Sean Keselica.

Seven runs was enough for UNC head coach Mike Fox to end the shakiest start of Bukauskas’ young career after just two innings.

UNC second baseman Eli Sutherland had three RBI on the day, two coming from bases loaded hit-by-pitches. (UNC Athletics)

UNC second baseman Eli Sutherland had three RBI on the day, two coming from bases loaded hit-by-pitches. (UNC Athletics)


He replaced the freshman with his go-to relief man, senior Trevor Kelley, who allowed another run to cross the plate before getting out of the inning– on a controversial bases loaded hit-by-pitch call, which ended up getting Coach Fox ejected from the game, after Fox unsuccessfully argued that Tech’s Mac Caples was not hit, but actually tipped the ball foul.

So of course, the Tar Heels went ahead and put together a rally for their leader.

Loading the bases in the top of the fifth with no outs, Carolina got one run back on Skye Bolt’s ground-out, and then followed up with a two-run single to left-field by Landon Lassiter. The inning wasn’t done until the Tar Heels scored a fourth time after Eli Sutherland was plunked by reliever Luke Scherzer (1-3) for the third bases loaded hit-by-pitch of the game, swinging momentum back into the visiting dugout yet again.

The Hokies got one run back in their next time at the plate, when center-fielder Saige Jenco drove in a run to make it 10-9, but that play spurred the Tar Heels to pull Trevor Kelley in favor of Trent Thornton, who put an end to the fifth with UNC still ahead.

Keeping with the theme of the game though, Virginia Tech made sure to tie the game against Thornton in the bottom of the sixth on Sean Keselica’s second RBI of the day–making it an outrageous 10-10 tie entering the seventh inning stretch.

Finally though, the game would be decided, when Eli Sutherland doubled off Scherzer to lead off the Tar Heels’ eighth inning effort, and later scored on Miller’s sacrifice fly, while Thornton settled down after the sixth to pitch three straight scoreless innings to keep the Hokies offense at bay the rest of the game–earning a crucial win for his team–and avoiding the first series loss to Virginia Tech since Mike Fox took over as head coach in 1999.

Up Next:

The series rubber match is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m, with Carolina senior Benton Moss (5-0, 3.25 ERA) set to take the mound. Virginia Tech’s starting pitcher is yet to be announced. The game will be shown on ESPN3 and broadcast live on WCHL.

Game Notes:

  • Prior to today, JB Bukauskas’ worst start was against UCLA, currently ranked #3. In that, just his second career start, Bukauskas lasted 4.2 innings and gave up five earned runs.
  • Brendon Hayden extends his Virginia Tech team lead in home runs with today’s being his ninth of 2015.
  • Freshman infielder Zack Gahagan, who has started in 30 of the Tar Heels’ 39 games, was not in the lineup,with junior Alex Raburn getting the start at third base.
  • Virginia Tech’s pitchers hit five Tar Heel batters and walked 10.


Hokies Stun UNC Baseball: Just Second Loss to VT in Fox Era

On the strength of a five-run sixth inning, the Virginia Tech Hokies rallied to defeat the #23 UNC baseball team by a score of 8-3 on Friday night for a surprise upset victory in Blacksburg, Virginia at English Field.

Coming into the game, UNC head coach Mike Fox boasted a 27-1 record all-time against Virginia Tech, but on this night the Hokies’ huge inning gave them their elusive second victory against Fox. Their last win over Carolina came in 2007.

The Tar Heels fall below .500 in the ACC with the loss, dropping to 9-10 in the conference, while their overall record slips to 23-15. Virginia Tech jumps to 8-11 in the league and 19-20 in total after the big win.

Zac Gallen cruised through the first five innings, but found trouble in the sixth. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen cruised through the first five innings, but found trouble in the sixth. (UNC Athletics)

Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the sixth, the Hokies struggled to string together hits against UNC starting pitcher Zac Gallen (2-3) through the first half of the proceedings–but everything changed when shortstop Alex Perez stepped to the plate to lead things off.

Perez hit a solo shot to tie the game, giving new life to the Virginia Tech dugout.

Then the floodgates opened up.

Erik Payne singled in the next at-bat, before immediately coming home on a home run by first baseman Brendon Hayden. When Sean Keselica singled to mark the fourth consecutive hit for the Hokies, Gallen’s outing was done.

Coach Fox turned to his NCAA leader in relief appearances, senior Trevor Kelley, to try and get out of the inning without any more damage, but two wild pitches by Kelley, along with an RBI single by third baseman Ryan Tufts, led to two more Hokie runs–with the Tar Heels all of a sudden finding themselves in a four-run hole.

Leading the charge for UNC on offense was junior left-fielder Landon Lassiter, who went 3-5, with an RBI triple in the top of the seventh, which scored Skye Bolt and brought Carolina back within three.

Landon Lassiter accounted for three of the Tar Heels 10 hits on Friday. (UNC Athletics)

Landon Lassiter accounted for three of the Tar Heels 10 hits on Friday. (UNC Athletics)

However, that was as close as they would get the rest of the way.

A two-run double by the Hokies’ second baseman Sam Fragale off of UNC reliever Spencer Trayner in the bottom of the seventh increased the lead to five, where it would stay until the finish.

Two scoreless innings from Luke Scherzer and Aaron McGarity kept the Tar Heels from putting up a late game fight, allowing singles to Brian Miller and Skye Bolt, but nothing more–sealing the upset win for the home team.

Up Next:

Carolina gets a chance at redemption in Game Two of the series on Saturday, as they’ll send freshman phenom JB Bukauskas (3-1, 2.68 ERA) to the mound to face off with Virginia Tech left-hander Jon Woodcock (2-2, 3.66 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on WCHL’s airwaves.

Game Notes:

  • Tyler Ramirez doubled in the top of the third inning off of Tech starter Kit Scheetz (2-1), scoring Landon Lassiter to give the Tar Heels the first lead of the game.
  • Virginia Tech’s Alex Perez, who homered to begin the sixth inning rally, went 2-4 with two RBI, also driving in a run with a double in the bottom of the third.
  • Tar Heel pitchers struck out only two batters for the entire night (Gallen and Kelley each had one).
  • UNC continued to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 1-11 in that situation on Friday.

ACC Race Heats Up As UNC Baseball Visits Virginia Tech

As one of five teams tied at 9-9 in the ACC, the UNC baseball team hopes to distance itself from the crowd this weekend, heading to Virginia Tech to face the Hokies in an important three-game conference series.

Overall, the Tar Heels are 23-14 this season, while Virginia Tech is 18-20, with a 7-11 mark in league play.

The Tar Heels sit tied for second in the ACC Coastal Division with Georgia Tech, while Wake Forest, Clemson, and Notre Dame are all tied for third in the Atlantic division.

As tight as the standings are, that’s not the main focus for UNC head coach Mike Fox.

“We don’t focus on any of that. We don’t put the standings up [in the clubhouse], we don’t put the statistics up there, [the players] have all that stuff if they want it,” Fox says.

The Tar Heels know each game at the end of the season will be a battle. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels know each game at the end of the season will be a battle. (UNC Athletics)

“But they’re silly if they start looking at all of that, we’ve just gotta get better as a team game by game, and do what we can to play a little bit better.”

Sophomore first baseman Joe Dudek shares similar thoughts when he says that it’s all about keeping a focused mindset in a league as competitive as the ACC.

“We understand how competitive this league is, and having to go out there and be focused every pitch, from the first one to the last one, is important,” says Dudek.

“I think we have good focus. As long as we keep doing the little things right, I think we’ll win some games.”

Although UNC has won six of its last seven games, and three of its last four in the conference, Coach Fox still sees one glaring problem that needs to be fixed as the games gain more significance from here on out.

“The frustrating thing is we just don’t move the ball as much as we need to,” says Fox, “Strikeouts are strikeouts, they happen, but we seem to strikeout a lot with people in scoring position.”

For them to improve, Fox says his hitters can’t rely on just one player to do all the heavy lifting.

“We can’t rely on one or two guys in our lineup. We’ve gotta have some production from the bottom of the order. We’ve been really streaky offensively. Guys get hot and then they go in the other direction,” Coach says.

Despite a recent slump offensively, Zack Gahagan has remained sharp at third base. (UNC Athletics)

Despite a recent slump offensively, Zack Gahagan has remained sharp at third base. (UNC Athletics)

“Our freshmen are really facing that time of the year where I don’t know whether they’re tired, or if they’re pressing a little bit. Other teams watch and know your weaknesses, and you have to make adjustments. So we’ll have to get those guys going.”

Freshmen infielders Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan started off the year hot enough to where Coach Fox was hitting them in the number three and four spots in the batting order as recently as March 28th at home against #10 Miami. But recent struggles have pushed Warmoth (.254, 1 HR, 18 RBI) into the ninth, and final, spot in the order, while Gahagan (.239, 2 HR, 27 RBI) has been hitting fifth.

The man who’s had the hot bat for UNC recently, though, is Joe Dudek, with a .317 batting average, and a team-leading slugging percentage of .585–including going 4-9 with two RBI in his last three games. Dudek says he’s confident that this team has the right attributes to make a run late in the season.

“I think this team’s got a lot of fight,” Dudek says, “We’re a gritty team. I think this month is just gonna show. We’ve been putting it together–haven’t had exactly the results we were looking for in some games, couple tough losses here and there–but I think it’s all coming together well, and I think it’s gonna translate into a lot of wins down the stretch.”

Trevor Kelley has been hailed as the team's "savior" by Coach Mike Fox for his ability to pitch in nearly every game. (UNC Athletics)

Trevor Kelley has been hailed as the team’s “savior” by Coach Mike Fox for his ability to pitch in nearly every game. (UNC Athletics)

Unfortunately, Carolina’s bullpen took a hit on Tuesday when it was announced that junior reliever Reilly Hovis, the 2014 closer, will miss the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, putting even more pressure on senior Trevor Kelley (the NCAA leader in relief appearances with 26) to continue carrying the load, says Coach Fox.

“[Kelley’s] been invaluable for us because he’s pitched well, but also because our bullpen’s somewhat kinda been in flux, and hasn’t been as deep as we want it to be, and need it to be, so we’ve used him probably more than we would have liked to have.”

Zac Gallen (2-2, 2.92 ERA) will make the start for the Tar Heels on Friday against the Hokies’ Kit Scheetz (1-1, 6.31 ERA), with first pitch set for 5:30 p.m.

Series Notes:

  • UNC is 27-1 against Virginia Tech under Mike Fox.
  • Former Tar Heel starting pitcher Robert Woodard, the winningest pitcher in UNC baseball history (34-5), is in his second season as the pitching coach for the Hokies.
  • First baseman Brendon Hayden leads the Virginia Tech offense, with seven home runs and 33 RBI, along with a .301 batting average.

Carolina Baseball Completes VT Series Sweep

The North Carolina baseball team is rolling once again. With a 5-4 win Sunday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium, the Tar Heels completed a series sweep over the Virginia Tech Hokies and improved to 27-18 overall and 13-11 in league play.

With the loss, the visiting Hokies dropped to 18-25-1 on the year and 13-11 in the ACC.

Carolina was made to work in all three games of the weekend, but earned gutty come-from-behind victories in every one of them, including on Sunday, when Tyler Ramirez’s sacrifice fly sent Michael Russell across home plate in the bottom of the ninth to snatch the sweep.

The in-form Russell extended his career-long hitting streak to 17 games with three hits in the series finale as Carolina extended its head-to-head dominance against Virginia Tech. Head Coach Mike Fox’s team hasn’t lost to the Hokies since 2007.

The Carolina bullpen’s tenacity coupled with timely, opportunistic hitting provided the winning formula for a UNC team that has been searching for some momentum heading into postseason play.

The Tar Heels will next play host to East Carolina Tuesday at 6 p.m. before taking an exam break. Carolina will have revenge on its mind as the Pirates defeated the Tar Heels down in Greenville just last week.

Diamond Heels Rally By Hokies In Series Opener

The North Carolina baseball team rallied past Virginia Tech Friday night, earning a 3-2 victory to improve to 25-18 on the season and even the ACC record at 11-11.

With the defeat, the Hokies dropped to 18-23-1 on the year and 7-15 in conference play.

In the first inning, starting UNC pitcher Trent Thornton worked his way out of a jam.

Carolina’s Wood Myers was struck in the hand by a pitch in the second inning and hit the ground for a few minutes. He recovered to take his base, but he was replaced shortly after by Alex Raburn. After the game, Myers was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture in one of his fingers and should be out at least four weeks.

Michael Russell recorded Carolina’s first hit of the night in the bottom of the third inning, slipping one up the line by the third baseman. But no runs would come off his efforts.

A double play for the Tar Heel defense put an end to the Hokie offense in the top of the fourth, but the Carolina bats continued to struggle against Virginia Tech slinger Sean Keselica.

A double by Virginia Tech’s Logan Bible put Thornton under pressure once again in the fifth inning with two men on base and no outs. But the sophomore displayed tremendous tenacity, escaping the inning with no damage.

The top of the sixth inning produced some more trouble for Thornton. This time, an error and a stolen base put runners on both corners with one out. And matters got worse when Keselica was walked to load the bases.

Thornton could not go unscathed to this challenge, surrendering two runs that gave the visiting Hokies the 2-0 advantage.

Adam Pate’s leadoff hit in the bottom of the sixth spurred on an offensive explosion from the Tar Heels with walks and base hits aplenty. The Virginia Tech first baseman dropped the ball on a chance for a double play. The Tar Heels cashed in with two runs to tie the game at 2-2.

Trevor Kelley replaced Thornton on the mound in the seventh inning, delivering some stress-free innings of work with the game hanging in the balance.

Pate once again found his way first base to open proceedings in the bottom of the eighth. Russell followed with a double, his sixteenth of the season.

The Tar Heels grabbed the 3-2 lead thanks to another blown chance at a double play for the Hokies.

Kelley was relieved of his pitching duties by Reilly Hovis in the ninth inning. Hovis closed out the tight contest in style to the delight of the Tar Heel faithful in attendance.