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.
Zack Gahagan took a pitch on the arm with the bases loaded in the 10th inning to lead the Tar Heel Baseball team to a walk-off 3-2 win over the NC State Wolfpack on Saturday night, clinching the series in the process.
“I’ve never been a part of a walk-off anything,” Gahagan says, “This is my first time, so it’s pretty exciting, especially against State. [They’re a] good team, but way to finish it.”
“It feels awesome, I mean, the rivalry has hit me hard.”
Yes it has. Literally.
The win is Carolina’s fifth in a row, lifting its record to 22-13 overall and 9-8 inside the ACC, while NC State falls to 19-14 with a 7-9 league record with the loss.
It seemed right from the get-go that UNC’s JB Bukauskas and State’s Brian Brown decided to pick up where Zac Gallen and Cory Wilder left off in their fantastic pitchers’ duel in Friday’s series opener.
After the first nine batters of the game for either team were set down in order by the two freshman starting pitchers, the Tar Heels found themselves with a prime opportunity to score in the bottom of the second.
Much like Wilder on Friday, Brown displayed a live arm for the Wolfpack, but also had troubles with his control early on–hitting Tyler Ramirez with a pitch, and then issuing walks to Joe Dudek and Korey Dunbar to load the bases with two outs in the frame.
The outcome, though, was no different than it was in Friday’s second inning, with Tar Heel shortstop Logan Warmoth striking out to end the inning–and the threat.
And stuck on cruise control, just like Gallen the night before, was Bukauskas. The flame-throwing freshman, who warms up to the Johnny Cash song “Cut You Down”, was doing just that to a baffled NC State lineup, facing the minimum of 10 batters until senior second baseman Logan Ratledge (the Wolfpack’s leading hitter) stepped into the batter’s box with one out in the bottom of the fourth.
On a 1-1 count, Ratledge got the sweet spot of his bat on a Bukauskas fastball, driving it barely over the wall in left field for the game’s first hit, first run, and first lead.
Carolina responded quickly, getting its first hit of the game in their half of the inning when Zack Gahagan’s groundball took a bad hop and couldn’t be handled by Wolfpack freshman third baseman Joe Dunand. After Gahagan advanced to second base on a wild pitch by Brown, Joe Dudek then smacked an RBI single up the middle to tie the game back at one apiece.
However, Bukauskas found some more trouble in the top of the fifth, as NC State designated hitter Shane Shepard sent a hanging breaking ball into the right-field trees to put his team back out in front. The second solo bomb of the game for the Wolfpack was also Shepard’s first of his young career.
“They swing a lot, that’s what I think it is. I think they swung at a whole bunch of first-pitch fastballs, and they were just able to get the bat out. They’re a good hitting team,” says Bukauskas.
“I try not to worry about it, I honestly didn’t feel like I could locate very much tonight.”
But again, the Tar Heels refused to stay behind.
Last night’s star, junior center-fielder Skye Bolt, hit a two-out single to score Korey Dunbar on a play that maybe shouldn’t have had a chance to happen, since Dunbar only reached base due to a throwing error by the third baseman, Joe Dunand.
Bukauskas shut down State in the top of the sixth, as he continued to get outs on the mound, but his counterpart Brown was done in the bottom half of the inning after surrendering a lead-off single to Tyler Ramirez.
For the night, Brown delivered five strong innings of four-hit ball, striking out three and giving up just one earned run (two total), but he did labor through 102 pitches during that time frame.
Similar fate found Bukauskas in the top of the seventh, as a walk to left-fielder Ryne Willard spelled the end of the road for the freshman after tossing just 74 pitches.
In all, he worked 6.1 innings, and gave up just four hits, two of which just happened to be homers. Coach Mike Fox decided to make the early switch to the NCAA leader in relief appearances, senior Trevor Kelley (3-1), who was able to get out of the frame unscathed.
“The game’s all about pitching, as we all know,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox, “Trevor Kelley, he’s been our savior this year, so far. He was lights out again tonight. And JB’s pitched into the sixth or seventh inning almost every start in our league. It’s amazing to me how young he is, the composure that he has.”
Aided by an incredible catch in left-field by Landon Lassiter, Kelley sat the Wolfpack down in order in the eighth, setting his team up with a perfect opportunity to steal the victory, however, three consecutive flyouts by the UNC offense ensured the game would come down to the ninth inning–if not extras.
With the State offense failing to score in the top half of the ninth, the pressure was put on NC State reliever Curt Britt, who promptly walked Joe Dudek to lead things off, and was then pulled in favor of freshman Tommy DeJuneas (1-2).
A walk to Eli Sutherland put two men on with no outs, but DeJuneas recovered for back-to-back strikeouts, before getting Brian Miller to fly out to center-field to provide the fans with some extra baseball.
Another 1-2-3 inning from Kelley put the Tar Heels in a favorable position again in the tenth, with the first three men up–Skye Bolt, Landon Lassiter, and Tyler Ramirez–loading the bases on three walks by DuJuneas, bringing Zack Gahagan to the plate with the game on the line.
And after Gahagan got hit by pitch, the Tar Heels were anti-climatic walk-off winners, not needing a single hit in the extra frame to take the win.
“They fought hard yesterday, they fought hard today. It’s one thing that some of the players know each other and want to get the win, but it’s a rivalry, so we gotta come in here and play like it,” says Gahagan.
“It’s our state. That’s what I gotta say,” adds the freshman.
The series will conclude with Sunday’s finale, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. On the mound for the Tar Heels will be senior Benton Moss (5-0, 3.21 ERA). Moss’s opposition will be NC State sophomore right-hander Johnny Piedmonte (1-1, 1.96 ERA). The game will be broadcast online on ESPN3, and carried on WCHL’s radio airwaves.
On a night promoted by Boshamer Stadium as “Fireworks Friday” because of the show put on after the game, Skye Bolt accidentally set them off a bit early.
Bolt’s solo home run in the bottom of the seventh led the Tar Heel baseball team to a 2-1 win over the arch-rival NC State Wolfpack on Friday night in front of a sold-out crowd at the Bosh, while Zac Gallen (2-2) went the full nine innings in a masterful display on the mound.
“It couldn’t be more opportune of a time to face these guys,” says Bolt, “It’s Carolina baseball, the battle for the state of North Carolina. We’ve been fortunate to come out on the upper hand the past few years.”
“This marks up the ranks, you go from high school to college, I mean you can talk about Boston vs. the Yankees, it’s what you play for. Shoot it’s Friday night, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Winners of four straight, Carolina boosts its record to 21-13, and 8-8 in the ACC, while NC State falls to 19-13 with a 7-8 mark in league play.
For the majority of the game, offense was missing in action, as a duel between the two starting pitchers dominated the early phase of the night, albeit with two completely different approaches.
NC State starting pitcher Cory Wilder walked three Tar Heels to load the bases in the bottom of the first inning, but with two outs already, the sophomore right-hander was able to strike out UNC first baseman Adrian Chacon to wiggle out of the early jam–continuing UNC’s season-long struggle with men in scoring position.
Presented with a similar opportunity in the bottom of the third (thanks to two more walks by Wilder), runners stood on first and second for the red-hot Tar Heel right-fielder, sophomore Tyler Ramirez, who slapped an RBI single to left, scoring Brian Miller and putting the home team out in front.
Ramirez’s hit was UNC’s first of the night, and only one through the first three innings (and one of just three for the entire game).
Luckily for them, Zac Gallen was in full control on the mound for Carolina. The sophomore showed great command of his fastball on Friday night, continually throwing first pitch strikes, which kept the Wolfpack lineup back on their heels.
“Early in the game, my cutter wasn’t on, so I knew if I could establish the strikes, I could then manipulate my fastball to where they would swing at some bad counts,” Gallen says.
“If I could just get ahead of guys and get [an] 0-1 [count], then I was gonna be in charge.”
While his offense couldn’t seem to find any sort of rhythm against Wilder (besides drawing walks), Gallen held onto the shutout until the top of the sixth inning.
The Wolfpack led-off the frame with back-to-back singles from Logan Ratledge and Preston Palmeiro, and eventually scored the tying run on a two-out throwing error by freshman third baseman Zack Gahagan, on what should have been an inning-ending groundout.
Not until then did the Tar Heels manage a second base-hit, as second baseman Eli Sutherland singled to right-field with two outs in the their half of the sixth, ending the night for Cory Wilder.
In total, Wilder worked 5.2 innings and allowed one run on just two hits while striking out seven. However, he walked six batters during his time on the mound, pushing his pitch count to 105, which forced reliever Joe O’Donnell (4-2) to come in and get the final out of the frame.
Still trucking on, though, was Gallen, who had thrown just 66 pitches through the first six innings, showing the difference that good pitch control can have on a game.
“That’s what every pitcher needs to do. Obviously, it changes the whole dynamic of the at-bat for the hitter,” says Carolina head coach Mike Fox, “It’s pretty common knowledge that 1-0 and 0-1 [are] the two biggest counts in baseball, it changes everything.”
“That’s why Gallen’s good, he’s got good command,” adds the coach.
Wolfpack shortstop Joel McKeithan finally drew the first walk of night from Gallen, to begin the seventh, but Gallen recovered to retire the next three men up.
After Bolt’s home run in the seventh gave UNC the lead back, there was no chance Gallen would let it slip away again.
He tossed a 1-2-3 eighth inning, before making his way back out to the mound to begin the ninth, much to the delight of the home crowd.
“It’s huge, I don’t have words for it, I just went out there, felt alright, and just tried to keep us in the game,” says Gallen, “Coach Forbes said ‘you feel good?’ [after the eighth], and I said ‘yeah, I’m coming right back out there’…I wasn’t letting him take me out.”
And he would not disappoint his fans, or his coaches, finishing off the complete game win with a perfect ninth inning, getting NC State pinch hitter Bubby Riley to pop out to end the ballgame.
Another sell-out crowd is expected at Boshamer Stadium for Saturday’s second game against the Wolfpack. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m., with UNC’s dynamic freshman, JB Bukauskas (3-1, 2.66 ERA) taking the mound opposite NC State’s freshman lefty Brian Brown (3-2, 2.88 ERA).
This weekend, inside the walls of Boshamer Stadium, the heart of the college baseball season is set to begin, as head coach Mike Fox and his Tar Heels welcome their arch-rivals, the NC State Wolfpack, into town for a three-game ACC series with the potential to “make-or-break” the season for both teams.
UNC is currently 20-13, with a 7-8 record in ACC play, while the Wolfpack are 19-12 and 7-7 inside the conference.
This crucial series is a match-up between two rivals who are both underachieving right now, but are also just two seasons removed from their last College World Series appearances. Although records can be thrown out the window any time these teams meet, no matter how similar they are, says UNC head coach Mike Fox.
“It just happens to be us and State [this weekend], and we’ve pretty much had similar seasons so far,” Fox says, “Some good mid-week wins, some bad mid-week losses, a series where [we] thought [we] had it, and [we] didn’t.”
“But it really won’t matter when they come in here, as we’ve seen in the past. None of that matters. It’s a great rivalry.”
In addition, Fox says that he’ll be interested to see if his weekend starting pitchers are able to take advantage of some good match-ups with the heavy hitting NC State line-up.
“They’ve got a lot of right handed hitters,” he says, adding that “I know Palmeiro’s in there [as a lefty], but maybe that helps us a little bit, with all three of our starters being right-handed.”
The man Fox mentioned is NC State sophomore first baseman Preston Palmeiro, the only full-time lefty in the Pack’s batting order, and also the son of former Major League power hitter Rafael Palmeiro. So far in 2015 he’s hit for an impressive .378 average, tacking on three home runs as well.
Famous bloodlines don’t stop there for the Wolfpack, as freshman infielder Joe Dunand, who’s hit four home runs, and started in all but three of NC State’s games this year, is also the nephew of the New York Yankees’ embattled slugger Alex Rodriguez.
But when it comes down to how these games will be won or lost on the field, rivalry match-ups, such as these, typically come down to the final innings, where a crucial play late in the game can make all the difference.
And if the Tar Heels find themselves holding on to a slim lead at the end, you can bet your house that you’ll see senior Trevor Kelley head to the mound. The Wilmington native holds a 1.94 ERA, leads the NCAA in relief appearances with 24, and is second on the team in innings pitched (41.2), behind only one starting pitcher (JB Bukauskas with 47.1).
To his credit, Kelley insists that he is in fact, a human, saying that “It’s fairly new to me. I just had a bone spur taken out earlier this year, and I’m still used to [thinking] ‘When’s the day coming where my arm’s gonna hurt?'”
Coach Fox says he credits Kelley’s unique side-winding release with helping his durability, but also adds that he’s not sure when, or if, Kelley’s arm will fall off pitching at this current rate.
“If his arm falls off, you can blame Coach Forbes,” Fox says with a chuckle.
“But Trevor’s in great physical condition, and of course he’s not throwing from that [overhand] arm slot up there, so the key with him is his lat. If his lat gets sore, he can’t get that extension out there and get his slider over the plate, and he gets hit.”
After pitching two more scoreless innings on Wednesday against Liberty, Kelley decided to spill the beans about the real secret to his success.
“Our training staff has these Cherry Bundy drinks, I don’t know it’s like 50 cherries in one drink, and I just crush those,” Kelley says.
“They work for me. It might be a superstition type thing. I’ll take one for the morning and I’ll drink one when I leave the stadium.”
As for the Tar Heels top hitter as of late, right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, it seems Coach Fox’s own superstitious side prevents him from being able to say anything about Ramirez, or his recent hot streak.
“I’m not superstitious at all, but I don’t want to talk about Tyler Ramirez,” said the coach after Wednesday’s victory over Liberty.
“I’m not talking about Tyler Ramirez… I’m not gonna talk about Ramirez, because if he’s starting to heat up, I ain’t… I’m sorta kidding, but that’s how Tyler’s been.”
Over the last three games, all Carolina victories, Ramirez has gone a combined 8-14 with seven RBI. He also holds the team lead (or a share of it) in RBI (29), triples (three), home runs (four), and total bases (54), while being one of only two players on the team to start all 33 games (along with shortstop Logan Warmoth).
Crowds at Boshamer Stadium are expected to be the biggest of the year, with Friday and Saturday’s games already sold out. First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Zac Gallen (1-2, 3.57 ERA) is the likely starting pitcher for UNC, and right-hander Cory Wilder (2-4, 3.19 ERA) will be on the mound for the Wolfpack.
The Tar Heels are 158-128-1 all-time against NC State, including a 27-22 record under Mike Fox.
Friday’s game will be televised on ESPNU, and all three games will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/crucial-rivalry-series-nc-state-awaits-diamond-heels
The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team couldn’t overcome a miserable first half Tuesday night, ultimately falling to rival N.C. State 58-46. The 46 points was the lowest point total for the Tar Heels in Smith Center history.
***Listen to the story***
With the loss, Carolina dropped to a 19-9 mark on the season and 9-6 in ACC play while the Wolfpack improved to 17-11 overall and 8-7 in the league. What’s more, the road win likely cemented N.C. State’s place in the NCAA Tournament.
UNC freshman forward Justin Jackson tallied 16 points to lead all scorers, but he was one of the few bright spots for the home team on this night.
The Wolfpack trio of Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber, Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey formed a potent triumvirate, amassing 43 of their team’s 58 points.
UNC head coach Roy Williams was at a loss for words after the game, disappointed that after motivating the crowd “to show up and invest” after Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech, his team let its fans down in the rivalry defeat.
“They were dominating from the first get-go. Before I even get to that, I want to say something and make something really clear. Our crowd was great tonight, and we let them down. They were sensational. They were off the charts. The coach let them down and the players…early in the game they dominated everything. They intimidated us inside,” Coach Williams says.
***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***
N.C. State outrebounded Carolina 41-38 and seemingly came up with every loose ball and jump ball rebound. Not surprisingly, Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried was delighted with his team’s effort.
“We answered their run, which I thought was really important and was really something I was very proud of for our team, so it’s a great win for us. Obviously, North Carolina is a terrific team. We’re very fortunate, so I’m very proud of our guys,” Coach Gottfried says.
The first half couldn’t have gone more poorly for the Tar Heels. UNC shot a mere 28 percent from the floor, but NC State was able to effectively limit the second-chance opportunities for Carolina. The Wolfpack gobbled up defensive rebounds with ruthless authority.
The final score of the first half for the Tar Heels came on Meeks’ tip-in with still 5:46 to go.
At intermission, NC State held a 29-18 advantage in large part to dominance on the boards. The visiting team held a 25-17 lead in the rebounding department. The 18 points put up by UNC was the lowest production in any half in the Smith Center in the Roy Williams era.
“We were getting the ball five, six feet away from the basket, so I don’t know. We just couldn’t convert a lot of those, I don’t know why. Usually our bigs do a great job of scoring inside. We just couldn’t get the ball to go in. Justin had a couple of easy throws around the basket, but you know they are physical and obviously very good shot blockers. That might have had something to do with it,” UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says.
In the second half, after falling behind 34-18 with 18:12 to play, the Tar Heels mounted a strong rally by getting out in transition and pushing the tempo. The Smith Center crowd erupted when UNC closed to within four at 36-32 with 12:10 remaining in the contest.
But from there, the Tar Heels again lost their way and to the Wolfpack’s credit, they maintained their pose down the stretch. Senior guard Ralston Turner’s three-pointer with 4:58 to play might have been the turning point, extending N.C. State’s lead back out to seven points.
Late turnovers and careless passes further doomed the Tar Heels in the waning minutes and led to the men in red celebrating a rare win in Chapel Hill. The last win for the Wolfpack in the Smith Center came in 2003.
The Tar Heels return to action 2 p.m. Saturday at Miami.
Tuesday night at 8 p.m., the No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 19-8 overall with a 9-5 mark in the ACC, will square off with its rival from Raleigh, the N.C. State Wolfpack, who come into the contest with a 16-11 record and 7-7 mark in the league.
***Listen to the story***
UNC head coach Roy Williams will be hoping for more ‘investment’ from the Carolina fans.
“I felt like they were asleep most of the day any way. That’s not intended to be criticism, but it’s criticism. We need some dadgum help. We go on the road and people are screaming like banshees or something. Today, every time I yelled at a player, they turned around and looked at me. I yelled at a player Wednesday night, they never knew I was over there yelling. They thought I was doing exercises,” Coach Williams says.
Needless to say, Coach Williams was none too pleased with the atmosphere in the Smith Center Saturday afternoon for UNC’s commanding 89-60 victory over Georgia Tech.
Is it a coincidence Coach Williams’ plea for more crowd support comes just before the rematch with the Wolfpack?
Coach Williams’ 28-2 career record against N.C. State says it all. In short, the Carolina Hall of Famer has a personal disdain for the men in red.
And luckily for Coach Williams, junior guard Marcus Paige doesn’t seem to care for the Wolfpack much either. He’s produced some of his best games in this in-state rivalry matchup, including last season’s unforgettable duel with T.J. Warren and his impressive 23-point outing earlier this year.
Paige says with all the disappointment in recent weeks, coming out on the right end of scoreboard against the Yellow Jackets over the weekend was critical for Carolina’ confidence going forward.
“It’s been tough with the loss of Coach Smith and also us losing a couple tough games – going up to Pitt and not performing the way we wanted to and losing a heartbreaker at Duke. That was tough. This was a great way to bounce back. We really needed this one for our confidence and kind of get a positive thing going here,” Paige says.
After a questionable performance at Duke, freshman forward Justin Jackson got back on track against Georgia Tech, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.
Jackson says he was happy to see his teammate, Paige, regain his shooting touch as well.
“To see him come out here and knock down a few shots, it’s definitely good for his confidence and for us. It lifts us up. Whenever he says stuff like that, that’s the pressure he puts on himself to be great. We got to take some of that as well. It was great to see him produce like he did,” Jackson says.
As for the Wolfpack, they’re loaded with scoring options. Junior guard Trevor Lacey is a handful and when you add in senior veteran Ralston Turner’s ability to knock down outside shots, N.C. State becomes a formidable force on the hardwood.
With things seemingly falling into place, head coach Mark Gottfried will be confident in his team’s chances at springing the upset in the Smith Center.
UNC sophomore Kennedy Meeks, though, believes in the Carolina Way and says there’s no cap on his squad’s potential coming down the stretch.
“Coach always says we got to keep fighting and play the Carolina Way. Last couple games, we’ve played tough, but teams hit some big-time shots with some big-time execution. I think if we play our heart out, the sky’s the limit for us. As a team, we just got to get better,” Meeks says.
Coach Williams, meanwhile, has a message for the fans who are heading to the Smith Center Tuesday night.
“If you want to act like I’m chastising the fans, just tell them to come in and invest. We need some help. Show up with your lungs rested…when do we play again? Tuesday night. We need some more support, my gosh,” Coach Williams says.
It remains to be seen what kind of atmosphere will be awaiting the Tar Heels, but Coach Williams no doubt knew exactly what he was doing in the build-up to a game that means a whole lot to a lot of people.http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/roy-williams-wants-more-help-from-fans-in-n-c-state-rivalry-rematch