The results across the ACC baseball landscape this weekend–including UNC’s 16-4 destruction of NC State on Friday–put the Tar Heels into a simple predicament.
A win Saturday at Doak Field would guarantee UNC’s entry into next week’s conference tournament in Durham.
Well, then the Tar Heels (34-21, 13-17 ACC) would need Georgia Tech to win at least once during its double-header against Boston College.
Unfortunately for head coach Mike Fox and his squad, the No. 13 Wolfpack (34-18, 15-13 ACC) were out for vengeance–clinching the series with a 10-1 blowout they can call their own.
Boston College also defeated the Yellow Jackets in both games of the all-important doubleheader in Atlanta.
So for the first time since 2010, the Tar Heels failed to qualify for the ACC Tournament.
Back in Raleigh, though, The Wolfpack received great pitching from each of the four players it used on the mound.
An outstanding start from lefty Ryan Williamson–five strikeouts across 3.1 innings–set the tone, as UNC never once got in a rhythm at the plate–even after Williamson was suddenly removed during the fourth inning .
Junior outfielder Adam Pate went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI for the Tar Heels, which accounted for half of the team’s six hits.
Those struggles continued over to the pitching for UNC, as right-hander Jason Morgan started and gave up three runs–including a two-run homer to Preston Palmeiro–in just three innings.
It was the eighth time in his last 10 starts Morgan failed to make it through five innings.
Finding the strike zone was a problem for the entire Tar Heel staff–all seven that they used throughout the game.
NC State took full advantage of the control issues, by drawing eight walks and scoring a majority of their runs because of them.
A wild pitch by Morgan in the bottom of the second inning allowed the first run to score, while reliever AJ Bogucki’s pitch hit Wolfpack second baseman Stephen Pitarra with the bases loaded in the fourth.
Similar issues continued into the sixth inning, as Hansen Butler walked Brett Kinneman on four pitches with the bags full to put NC State ahead 6-1.
Cole Aker, a Tar Heel freshman, managed to put the ball right over the plate in the seventh–only for NC State’s Evan Mendoza to put it over the wall in left-center field for a two-run blast.
The Wolfpack seemed perfectly content prolonging the beatdown, just as the Tar Heels were the night before–adding another run in the eighth inning on an RBI single from senior Ryne Willard.
By the end, UNC was left knowing that it no longer controlled its own destiny.
Although it’s been noted that the Tar Heels have a shot to sneak into the NCAA Tournament without making the ACC Tournament, advancing to Durham and winning a couple games would certainly improve their odds.
Now all they can do is wait and watch.
UNC’s regular season is complete, and because the Tar Heels didn’t make the ACC Tourney they’ll have to wait until next Monday to find out if their season will continue into the NCAA Regionals.
With their season hanging in the balance, the UNC baseball team played lights out Friday night at Doak Field in Raleigh.
A stadium power outage in the middle of the sixth inning delayed the game for 17 minutes–with the Tar Heels ahead 8-2–before their 16-4 blowout of the No. 13 NC State Wolfpack was finally completed.
The first four hitters in UNC’s lineup–Brian Miller, Logan Warmoth, Tyler Ramirez and Zack Gahagan–each had at least two RBIs, providing all the power the Tar Heels (34-20, 13-16 ACC) would need.
Warmoth in particular, though, was the standout performer–going 2-for-4 with a two-run homer in the fourth inning and a two-run double in the eighth.
In two games this series, the sophomore shortstop has gone 6-for-9 with seven RBIs.
JB Bukauskas (7-2) continued his stellar season on the mound for the Tar Heels, delivering six innings while adding nine strikeouts–giving him 111 on the year, good enough to lead the ACC.
After UNC opened up a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, Bukauskas had the benefit of pitching from ahead the entire time he was in the game.
The Wolfpack (33-18, 14-13 ACC) finally broke through against Bukauskas in the middle innings with a pair of two-run blasts–one by left fielder Brett Kinneman in the fourth and another by Preston Palmeiro in the sixth following the power outage.
By that point, however, NC State’s chances of coming back against a clearly motivated Tar Heel team were as dim as its stadium during that 17-minute delay.
UNC exploded for five runs in the top of the seventh, before adding two in the eighth and one more in the ninth–just to be safe.
It was a blowout of epic proportions, comparable to last November’s football game between the two Triangle rivals.
Head coach Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels jumped out to a 35-7 first quarter lead in Carter-Finley Stadium that day, then cruised to its 11th straight victory.
On each occasion, the Tar Heels had a number of reasons to leave Raleigh feeling quite good about themselves.
Not only did it clinch a big rivalry win Friday, a pair of losses by Notre Dame this weekend also moves UNC into position to finally clinch a berth in the ACC Tournament.
Should the Tar Heels win the series finale with NC State on Saturday–or if Boston College loses once during its double-header against Georgia Tech–they will be locked into the field of 10 that will play next week in Durham.
Some national writers, like Aaron Fitt of D1baseball.com, are saying that UNC may have already done enough to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens.
UNC will be 13-16 after today; RPI currently No. 16. If UNC loses tomorrow, could still get in at 13-17 with that RPI. But 14-16 much safer.
— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) May 21, 2016
A win Saturday would clinch bragging rights for the Tar Heels, however, and sometimes that means more.
The series rubber match between the Tar Heels and Wolfpack is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The UNC baseball team traveled to Raleigh on Thursday knowing it likely has to win at least two of its three games against No. 13 NC State to qualify for the ACC Tournament.
Round one, however, went to the team in red.
NC State put together back-to-back three-run innings in the sixth and seventh–then held off a furious Tar Heel rally in the ninth–to pull out a 6-4 victory at Doak Field.
The loss sends UNC to a record of 33-20 (12-16 ACC), while putting a damper on a career night for sophomore shortstop Logan Warmoth.
Warmoth went 4-for-5 with 3 RBIs, including a run-scoring single in the ninth inning–making him responsible for half of the Tar Heels’ eight hits in the game.
Zac Gallen–in what could have been his final collegiate start as UNC’s ace–got tagged for a season-high five earned runs over 6.1 innings.
He was outstanding for five innings, but the Wolfpack lineup simply took full advantage of a couple opportunities later in the game.
Trailing 2-0 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, NC State sophomore Stephen Pitarra doubled off of Gallen with one out–just the third hit of the night for the home team.
After Gallen sat Evan Mendoza down in the next at-bat, Preston Palmeiro, Joe Dunand and Brock Deatherage strung together three straight RBI hits–all with two outs.
Momentum followed NC State into the seventh, where it forced Gallen out of the game by getting men over to second and third base with just one out.
UNC reliever Brett Daniels entered the game, but immediately allowed Pitarra to kick-start the next big inning for the Wolfpack.
The local product from nearby Cary, NC singled home NC State’s fourth run–sending a 2-0 pitch from Daniels into center field.
Mendoza then hit a sacrifice fly, before Dunand later picked up his second RBI of the night with a two-out double to left.
Eight of the Wolfpack’s 10 hits came during that crucial two-inning span.
Not until the top of the ninth–their final chance–did the Tar Heels have any kind of answer.
Pinch-hitter Wyatt Cross walked to begin the frame, followed by a single from Cody Roberts.
The next man up, Brian Miller, brought Cross home with a single. Warmoth added his third RBI two batters later.
With the tying run on first base, and just one out, both Brandon Riley and Zack Gahagan grounded into fielder’s choices to end the game.
It’s safe to say that at this point–with just two regular season games remaining–the Tar Heels’ backs are clearly pressed against the wall.
How they respond could make all the difference.
Friday’s game is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. JB Bukauskas will be on the mound for the Tar Heels, facing off with NC State’s Brian Brown.
It all comes down to this for the UNC baseball team.
Three games in Raleigh against its fiercest rival—the No. 13 NC State Wolfpack—with its season on the line.
Currently sitting ninth in the tight ACC standings—tied with Duke and just one game ahead in the win column over Boston College and Notre Dame—the Tar Heels find themselves in a bit of a tricky position, able to finish anywhere between fifth and 13th.
The top 10 teams make the conference tournament, so if UNC (33-19, 12-15 ACC) was to end up on the outside looking in–its NCAA Tournament chances would likely go up in smoke as well.
Should the Tar Heels advance to postseason play, anything is possible given the unpredictable nature of baseball.
Their head coach, Mike Fox, reiterated that message in an email to his team this past Sunday.
“Everything’s still in play for us,” Fox said. “An ACC Tournament title, an NCAA bid, winning a regional—it’s all still in play for us.
“[The email] was just to remind them–it is what it is ,” the coach added. “We have to win.”
But here’s the thing.
Fox was adamant after Monday’s win over Notre Dame that his players don’t need any extra motivation this weekend—saying it’s always fun playing against the “ornery” Wolfpack and their head coach Elliott Avent, who will be making his return to the field after missing three games due to a copperhead bite.
UNC sophomore infielder Zack Gahagan admitted it can be hard to keep the blinders on at times–in terms of checking out the standings—but said he and his teammates will be up to the challenge.
“It’s the rivalry, so I mean we’re ready to go,” Gahagan said. “We try not to think too much about the standings and stuff like that, but obviously it’s there.
“But it’s NC State, and we’re gonna bring what we got,” he continued. “It’s gonna be hostile, but I think it’ll be a good series.”
To take care of business against the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels will have to stay calm at the plate in order to help their talented pitching staff.
Last Saturday, JB Bukauskas was brilliant on the mound, only for UNC’s offense to back him with just one run on three hits.
UNC freshman third baseman Kyle Datres, who went 3-for-4 with a home run on Monday, also acknowledged that the Tar Heels haven’t exactly given their ace—junior Zac Gallen—the best run support in his series opening starts.
That can’t happen against an NC State squad hitting .303 as a team if the Tar Heels expect to come out on top.
“We know our pitchers,” Datres said. “They’re gonna go out there and give it all they got. Us, as hitters, we just gotta keep doing our thing and our jobs winning at-bats.
“We’ve gotta put hits together. Not one an inning. Try to put a couple hits together. That’s what we did [Monday], and we’ll keep it going I’m pretty sure.”
Anyone who’s seen the video of the dugout dancing routine from Monday can see that the team is feeling loose and gaining confidence at the right time. Fox often says that winning and confidence are closely related, but as for the pressure many of his players have spoken about recently—he’s not buying it as an excuse.
“I believe in confidence,” Fox said. “I’ll be surprised if Kyle Datres doesn’t go over to NC State and have some good at-bats. That’s just the way that it works.
“I haven’t ever sensed our dugout really being uptight to where I felt like it was affecting our performance,” he continued. “I just don’t think, at times, that we’ve been very good.”
While the Tar Heels may not agree with their coach’s blunt assessment, they certainly realize that it’s in their past.
As far as they’re concerned, their slate is clean and the postseason starts now.
Leave it to Datres, the excitable freshman, to best put it in perspective.
“I mean, it’s State,” he said, matter of factly. “It doesn’t matter. The standings go out the door when we play State.
“We just wanna win.”
All three games in the series will be broadcast on WCHL’s airwaves.
The series is set to begin Thursday at 6:00 p.m. Friday’s game will start at 6:30, while Saturday’s regular season finale is scheduled for 1:00.
From the minute he was brought back to coach his alma mater in 1999, UNC head baseball coach Mike Fox has been battling for Triangle superiority with longtime NC State skipper Elliott Avent.
Although they get along well off the field, that didn’t stop Fox from trying to use Avent’s recent snake-bite injury against him ahead of their crucial rivalry series looming this weekend.
While outside his home last Wednesday evening, Avent and his 10-week-old puppy, Sammi, were bit by a venomous copperhead.
They each ended up fine, but the 60-year-old Avent spent a few hours in the hospital and was forced to miss the Wolfpack’s series against Louisville–which saw NC State swept in ACC play for the first time this season.
It was also the first time in Avent’s career that he was forced to miss games because of a physical ailment.
Before the news found its way to the media, though, Fox heard of his colleague’s bizarre injury through the coaching grapevine and decided to send his buddy a text.
“My wife got bit by one, probably about three years ago,” Fox said. “So as soon as I told Elliott that, he’s bombarding me. ‘What happened? Where was he? Where was she?’”
Noticing how freaked out Avent was, Fox did what any good friend would do. He took the opportunity to mess with him.
“It turned into me just making it seem like it’s a little worse than it was,” Fox said. “Elliott’s a little gullible. He was like, ‘How long does it take to recover?’
“I was like, ‘Months.’”
It’s really nothing more than a coincidence that Avent will be making his return to the field this weekend at home against Fox’s Tar Heels.
But with UNC needing as many wins as it can get in order to gain entry to the postseason, Fox joked that he should have told Avent that his wife hadn’t yet recovered from her bite.
Of course, then Avent—who went back and killed the snake with an umbrella after first trying with a stick—did his best to make sure Fox kept laughing.
“I really was concerned about him,” Fox said about Avent. “He said ‘I’m gonna send you a picture.’ So I thought he was gonna send me a picture because I said ‘Where did you get bit?’
“So I thought he was gonna send me a picture of his ankle—then all of a sudden a picture of the snake pops up on my phone,” Fox said, shaking his head with a big grin on his face. “Only Elliott.”http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/mike-fox-shares-his-side-of-the-elliott-avent-snakebite-incident
Much of the criticism surrounding the No. 7 UNC men’s basketball team recently has centered on who would be able to help ACC player of the year candidate Brice Johnson when times get tough.
Wednesday night in Raleigh, sophomore Justin Jackson showed he might be that guy down the stretch in the Tar Heels’ 80-68 win over the rival NC State Wolfpack.
Jackson scored 12 of his 17 points in the first half, but that’s when UNC needed him most.
NC State (14-14, 4-11 ACC) exploded out to a 23-10 lead as junior guard Cat Barber came out firing strong, scoring 14 of his 32 points during the run–on a stretch of seven consecutive made baskets.
Despite finding themselves in the biggest hole they’d been in all season, head coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels (23-5, 12-3 ACC) eventually took the lead on a three-pointer by Jackson with 4:28 before halftime and never looked back.
“I mean we were out of the game almost,” Williams said. “I always say you never lose a game in the first half but it sort of looked like they were running us out of the building.
“But Justin made some big baskets for us there in that stretch.”
Expected to be a breakout star in his second season after his impressive finish last year, Jackson has struggled to find his groove shooting the ball. Williams has sworn to media and fans alike that Jackson really is a good shooter—despite what his career 28 percent mark from three-point range might have people believe.
In the first 10 ACC games the Tomball, Texas native made just 2 of his 22 attempts from deep.
But over the last five games, four of which have been Tar Heel wins, he’s made 9-of-16, including 2-of-4 on Wednesday—scoring at least 13 points in each outing.
“Kids live and die by how the ball goes in the basket,” Williams said, repeating one of his favorite phrases. “Whether I like it or not, that’s the way a lot of it is.
“I think he’s playing more confidently right now and I know he’s shooting it more confidently” he continued in reference to Jackson. “But I just tried to focus on the fact that he was doing a good job for us defensively.”
For most of the game Jackson found himself matched up on NC State freshman wing Maverick Rowan—a streaky shooter who can give opponents nightmares when he gets hot.
On Wednesday, Rowan finished 2-of-12 from the field with just eight points and two rebounds.
It’s this kind of all-around effort from Jackson that provides the perfect supplement to Johnson, who has evolved so far that his 22 points and 11 rebounds against the Wolfpack are viewed as just another night at the office.
“We came in here and we thought they’d play a little scared,” Johnson said. “But they came out and they hit us. They came out and were really aggressive and attacked the offensive glass—starting with the first two plays of the game. [Abdul Malik-Abu] and [Beejay Anya] got three offensive rebounds (on the game’s first two plays) and we can’t have that.
“We just had to buckle down and play harder,” he added.
Entering the final three games of the regular season, UNC will need Jackson to play at this high level alongside Johnson if it wants to take home any type of postseason hardware.
A road game at No. 3 Virginia awaits the Tar Heels on Saturday with the return game against Duke the week after.
If anything, Williams is just as happy to escape Raleigh unscathed going into that stretch as he is to have Jackson clicking on all cylinders.
“I knew they were kicking our tails, the crowd was going crazy, and they were making shots,” the coach said, “But I was pleased with the way we just kept playing.
“It showed a veteran club out there, and we didn’t go crazy or do anything.”
The Tar Heels will travel to Charlottesville to face off with the Cavaliers in front of ESPN’s College GameDay audience. That game is set to tip-off at 6:30 p.m.
In just his second game back from a bruised knee—and his first time back in the starting lineup—junior forward Kennedy Meeks scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half on Saturday, as the No. 5 UNC men’s basketball team defeated the NC State Wolfpack 67-55 at the Dean Dome.
Now at 16-2 this season—including 5-0 in the ACC—the Tar Heels are forcing opponents to pick their poison each game as they continue to extend the best conference start since Roy Williams arrived as head coach in 2003.
Despite seeing its three leading scorers–Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, and Justin Jackson–held to a combined 15 points for the game, UNC didn’t panic.
The team simply turned to Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, who scored eight of his 10 points during a stagnant first half, to get the job done.
“For us, our depth has always been a positive,” Williams said after the game. “I think Isaiah and Nate [Britt] really kept us in the game in the first half. And then Kennedy was really much, much better in the second half.”
Although the Wolfpack boast the top scorer in the ACC with point guard Cat Barber, UNC took advantage of NC State’s biggest weakness—depth.
Eleven different players took the floor for the Tar Heels compared to just seven for their opponents.
By the end of the game, NC State head coach Mark Gottfried was having his team play zone defense to try and not only stop the Tar Heels’ inside attack, but also to conserve energy. Unfortunately for Gottfried, Meeks and his teammates saw blood in the water and pounced—opening up a game that was tied at halftime.
“When they got into that zone, you could kind of see that they were getting tired—and also because they were in foul trouble,” Meeks said. “So we just tried to keep attacking them and getting those and-one baskets or whatever it may be.”
Meeks not only made noise with his scoring on Saturday, but he also provided a number of hustle plays, including a few dives on the floor and three blocked shots.
As the Wolfpack players began wearing down, Meeks’ energy was the difference down the stretch. In fact it was that, more than anything else that impressed Williams.
“I think it was just total effort,” Williams said of Meeks’ performance. “You saw it yourself. I asked him ‘Did you really dive those three times or did somebody trip you?’ He said he really did dive.
“But I think that was important,” the coach added. “And his blocked shots [were too]. In the first half he was sort of tiptoeing up there.”
After a week-long break leading up to this game, UNC will now play out the rest of the season without that kind of prolonged layoff.
For that reason, depth becomes more important, especially considering the heavy competition awaiting the Tar Heels at the back end of their schedule.
The fact that Meeks is back at full strength, though, should put fear into the team’s upcoming foes. They’re capable of winning in so many different ways that these players all legitimately believe this may just be the start of something special.
“Somebody had to step up with Brice and Marcus and Justin [not having] their best games,” Meeks said. “It just happened to be me today.
“It feels good to be a part of this team,” he continued. “We’re capable of going really far this year.
A second straight home game against an in-state rival awaits the Tar Heels on Wednesday–as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons make a visit to the Dean Dome.
Carolina held Cat Barber to a season-low nine points on 4 of 11 shooting from the floor, a season-high tying five turnovers and no free throw attempts. Barber had been averaging 8.7 free throw attempts this season.
Marcus Paige scored three points for the second consecutive game and did not make a three-point field goal for the first time in 42 games.
Pinch yourselves Tar Heel fans.
You might just realize that this dream-like season is for real. Not only that, it’s not over yet.
After clinching the ACC Coastal Division last week against Virginia Tech, the No. 14 UNC football team took care of its other season-long goal in Raleigh on Saturday–defeating the rival NC State Wolfpack 45-34 behind another explosive offensive performance to earn a “State Championship”–the reward for beating all three in-state conference opponents this year.
The school-record 11th consecutive victory has head coach Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels at 11-1, and also completes the program’s first 8-0 finish in the ACC—putting the team in a position to possibly reach the College Football Playoff with a win over No. 1 Clemson in next week’s conference title game.
“It’s incredible,” Fedora said afterwards. “This group of seniors that’s leading this team, and the rest of these guys–they’re doing some things that have never been done here at UNC.
“What a tremendous legacy these seniors are leaving,” he added. “They’re having a lot of fun with each other, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Sophomore tailback Elijah Hood gashed the Wolfpack defense for a career-high 220 yards on 21 carries. He also added a pair of touchdowns to help send NC State’s record tumbling to 7-5 overall and 3-5 in the ACC.
“Things were definitely going my way, judging by those stats,” he said with a laugh when informed of his final numbers. “I think we had an excellent gameplan, in all honesty. We came out and played real physical.
“Everyone blocked really well for me out there, from the O-line to the receivers at the second level,” Hood continued. “They gave me a lot of room to make some things happen.”
Hood picked up 52 yards on the opening drive alone, as the Tar Heels got some sweet, symbolic revenge after last season’s 35-7 loss to the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill–going ahead 35-7 in this game before the first quarter ended.
UNC finished the game with a whopping 374 yards on the ground, as speedy second-string running back TJ Logan gave Hood a break in the first quarter by scoring once from 42 yards out, and then again from 40 yards out–and finishing the game with 100 on just six touches.
Through the air, senior quarterback Marquise Williams completed 19-of-30 passes for 174 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown to Mack Hollins during the early explosion. He threw an interception in the second quarter–but it was his first since October 24th at home against Virginia.
“Our thing was, [NC State] thought we were the same team as last year,” Williams said. “We lost to Virginia Tech last year and we came and took care of business [this year]. We lost to Miami bad [last year], came and took care of business. We lost to State bad, came and took care of business.
“We’re the 2015 team, and that’s what I love about this team,” he added. “This team has that grit, and just wants to finish.”
Despite jumping out to the huge lead early in the game, UNC was unable to keep the Wolfpack from clawing their way back into contention.
A pair of lost fumbles in the second half (one by Williams, one by Hood)–led to 13 NC State points, as the Tar Heel offense began to sputter. After piling on 35 in the first 14:09, UNC failed to score in either the second or third quarters.
Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett completed just 17 of his 37 throws, but picked up 204 yards and two passing touchdowns. A physical, dual-threat player, he also had 128 rushing yards and two scores on the ground to keep his team from being blown out.
By the start of the fourth quarter, after a 3-yard scoring run from Brissett, NC State had shrunk the UNC lead to 35-23.
The fans in Carter-Finley Stadium were beginning to regain hope.
It was a moment reminiscent of the Tar Heels’ sloppy finish against Virginia Tech a week ago, where they allowed two touchdowns in the final three minutes of regulation before winning in overtime.
But an 11-play, 73-yard drive by UNC was capped at the beginning of the final period with Hood’s 1-yard touchdown run–giving the team some much needed breathing room down the stretch.
A fumble by Hood on the next Tar Heel possession looked like it would set up the Wolfpack with another score, but Gene Chizik’s UNC defense forced a field goal, which kept the lead at 16.
After the Tar Heels drove down and got a field goal of their own, NC State finally broke through for another touchdown on a 20-yard pass by Brissett to David Grinnage–but with only 1:50 remaining, it was too little, too late.
UNC recovered the ensuing onside kick, and went into the victory formation to kneel out the game clock–putting the final stamp on its most successful regular season in program history.
Fedora has explained that he began each team meeting this year by stating two goals.
Coastal Division Champs. State Champs.
With both of those goals accomplished, though, he can finally turn his focus elsewhere.
“Well, now it’s time to reset our goals,” the coach said after the game. “Our goal now will be to be ACC Champions.”
Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte now awaits Fedora and the Tar Heels, where they will get a shot at the nation’s top-ranked team–the 12-0 Clemson Tigers. That game will take place next Saturday, December 5th at 8 p.m.
With the ACC Coastal Division wrapped up–and a spot in the conference title game against Clemson assured—the No. 14 UNC football team has already put together its best season since 1997.
It’s not over yet, though, as the Tar Heels close out the year in Raleigh against their most-hated football rivals, NC State–seeking revenge for the 35-7 loss they suffered at the hands of the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill last season.
Ten straight victories have head coach Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels sitting at 10-1 this year—with a perfect 7-0 mark against conference foes. Last week’s division-clinching win over Virginia Tech helped UNC reach the first of the goals Fedora has preached in team meetings all year.
For most teams it could be easy to be complacent in this situation. But the Wolfpack are the opponent this weekend—and well, that just means the Tar Heels have yet another opportunity to take care of another year-long goal.
“It’s been one of our goals to be state champs,” Fedora said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “Whether we played [NC State] early or late, it was still going to be the same way.
“This goal is equally important to us [as winning the Coastal],” he added. “I don’t worry about this team, a letdown, or ‘Are they gonna be motivated enough?’ That really hasn’t entered into my mind.”
To become state champs, the Tar Heels have already beaten Duke and Wake Forest, but will now have to defeat a 7-4 NC State team that is one of the few in the ACC with as much athleticism as UNC.
Not to mention the bragging rights the Wolfpack hold in this rivalry, winning six of the last eight meetings between the two schools—including the demoralizing victory a year ago.
“Cannot forget it,” senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad said in reference to that game. “Football’s an emotional game, and so obviously that’s been in the back of our minds—it’s a salty game—so that taste has been in the back of our mouths since the game ended last year.
“We have to remember what it felt like, the way we lost that game.”
After the win in 2014, Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren took some subtle jabs at UNC, saying that his is a “blue-collar, hands-in-the-dirt” school.
The Tar Heel players and coaches chose not to address those words directly in the lead-up to the game this week, but senior quarterback Marquise Williams did speak about how the loss affected the team’s close to the season, including the 40-21 bowl loss to Rutgers.
“It was bad, you know, that feeling,” Williams said. “A rival team, that came here and stomped [us] on [our] own ground. It was tough for us–and we had to overcome it, and move on from it.”
“It seemed like we didn’t overcome [the loss to State] because then we went out and got stomped some more.”
The star of last year’s NC State team—dual-threat quarterback Jacoby Brissett—is back this year, and will provide Williams with a near mirror of himself whenever he’s watching from the sidelines. Not only that, the weapons around Brissett, like speedy tailbacks Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hines, will present the UNC defense with a stiff challenge all day long.
“These guys are not slaps,” Williams said about his opponents this weekend. “This is a good football team, and they’re a good football team that’s been competing, playing very well. They played Clemson very well, they played Florida State very well, and they’ve been doing great things.”
The Wolfpack lost a 56-41shootout when they played Clemson, the No. 1 team in the country, and fell 34-17 in Tallahassee against Florida State.
Now they’ll get one final chance at a marquee upset when they meet a Tar Heel team not only hell bent on revenge, but locked in on goals it’s never reached before—a message Fedora made clear about his squad.
“We’re not done,” Fedora said. “I won’t sit back and look back until it’s all over with. I told [the players] earlier in the week ‘We’ve come too far to only come this far.’
“We still have our blinders on, our heads down, and continue to be focused on the job at hand.”
The game will be broadcast live on WCHL’s radio airwaves, on 97.9 FM and 1360 AM. It will also be televised on ABC. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
NC State improves to 20-14 overall and 8-9 in the ACC, with the win snapping its three game losing streak, while Carolina drops to 22-14 in all games and 9-9 in league play.
Starting pitching dominated the first two games of the series, but on Sunday neither starter could make it out of the third inning.
The long relievers made the difference in this one, as Trent Thornton pitched six innings out of the bullpen, and struck out ten hitters, but also surrendered five earned runs–while Ryan Williamson and Joe O’Donnell combined to go six innings for the Wolfpack, and gave up just one run combined during their time on the mound.
Benton Moss started out strong for UNC, keeping the Wolfpack off the board for the first two innings, but he began losing his control in the third. After the senior walked the bases loaded with only one out in the inning, UNC head coach Mike Fox had seen enough.
“When any pitcher goes out, and just kinda loses the strike zone, it’s very unusual,” says Fox. “It’s unusual for Benton, he just couldn’t get it back there. We didn’t have a really long inning before, I can’t really explain it. He just went out that one inning, it was very uncharacteristic of him.”
Running in from the bullpen to try and keep the game scoreless was Thornton (1-4), who has spent ample time in the starting rotation during his career.
“It was nice to come out and throw six innings, and kinda get into a rhythm there,” Thornton says. “I should have made a couple pitches a little bit better than they were, which kinda led to the outcome of the game.”
Although Thornton was able to strikeout Logan Ratledge to pick up the second out, Preston Palmeiro drew ball four on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt to strike first blood for the Wolfpack.
Carolina, on the other hand, started out by receiving a one-out double in the first inning from center-fielder Skye Bolt, and another in the second from first baseman Joe Dudek, but they were not able to capitalize on either, as NC State starting pitcher Johnny Piedmonte was able to escape each time.
However, the next inning, Piedmonte, a 6’8″ mountain of a man, allowed a two-out double to Landon Lassiter, and then walked Tyler Ramirez to set up freshman Zack Gahagan.
Gahagan then drilled a 1-0 pitch from Piedmonte back up the middle, sending Lassiter home to tie the game up, spelling the end for Piedmonte, as NC State head coach Elliott Avent decided afterwards to turn the ball over to sophomore reliever Ryan Williamson (3-1).
Joe Dudek was the first man to face Williamson, and he promptly hit an RBI single to put the Tar Heels in front before State could get out of the inning.
Currently part of a platoon at first base with fellow sophomore Adrian Chacon, Dudek went 3-4 for the day, forcing Coach Fox to say afterwards that Dudek’s recent hitting has been more than enough to warrant a bigger role in the near future.
“You saw him in there today, and he’s been very impressive the last couple days,” says Coach Fox. “It’s good to see he’s stayed ready. That’s great.”
“He’s ready for his opportunity. You can call me an idiot if I don’t have him in the lineup Tuesday.”
A double in the top of the fourth from Wolfpack freshman third baseman Joe Dunand drove in left-fielder Ryne Willard, and made things all square at two apiece, swinging the momentum back over to the NC State dugout.
That momentum stayed with the Wolfpack in the top of the fifth, as they pounced on Thornton for two more runs to take its biggest lead of the weekend.
After allowing the RBI to Dudek in the third, Williamson settled down on the mound for the Wolfpack–pitching three straight scoreless innings, while Thornton also settled down after handing the lead over in the fifth –striking out six of the next seven batters he faced.
The Tar Heels finally started to claw back in the seventh, on Landon Lassiter’s second double of the day, a hit that drove in Brian Miller and cut the State lead in half.
Thornton then struck out two more guys wearing red, in a perfect eighth inning, to increase his total in that category to double digits for the afternoon– but his offense still needed to scratch across another run to keep the junior from earning the loss.
However, an RBI double with one out in the top of the ninth by Wolfpack shortstop Joel McKeithan ended that dream, as Thornton was pulled in favor of senior Trevor Kelley, who allowed NC State to tack on another run (credited to Thornton), before lefty Zach Rice came in to finish the inning.
In the Tar Heels’ final chance at the plate, they brought the tying run to the plate against NC State reliever Joe O’Donnell, who struck out Alex Raburn and Brian Miller for the first two outs– before allowing a single to Skye Bolt and walking Landon Lassiter.
Refusing to let O’Donnell blow the game all by himself, the Wolfpack turned to Will Gilbert, the junior out of Green Hope High School in Cary, North Carolina, to get the final out.
And he would do just that, getting Tyler Ramirez to fly out to left-field–picking up his second save of the year, and salvaging a win for the visiting team.
“Obviously today’s a tough loss,” says Joe Dudek. “We had the opportunity to do something special, get the sweep at home. You never like to drop the last one, but all these games were close, so to win the series Friday and Saturday in one-run ball games like that, we did get some timely hitting.”
“Overall I think we had good at-bats this weekend.”
Two more games remain on the Tar Heels’ seven-game home-stand, as they’ll face High Point University on Tuesday night at Boshamer Stadium. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 6 p.m.