Feeling the unfamiliar pressure of the NCAA Tournament bubble, the UNC baseball team rebounded from back-to-back losses to defeat the Clemson Tigers by a score of 6-3 on Friday at the ACC Tournament in Durham.
Both teams finish with records of 1-2 in ACC pool play and are eliminated from conference championship contention.
The Tar Heels are now 34-24 for the season, finishing league play at 15-18. Clemson also ends the year on the bubble–at 32-27 overall and 17-16 in the ACC.
Freshman flamethrower JB Bukauskas (5-3)–like his team–bounced back from a couple of rough starts on the mound in his previous two outings. For the game he gave up five hits in 5.2 innings of two-run ball, striking out seven hitters without walking anyone on his way to the win.
“The last couple times out I haven’t been very sharp, just felt like I didn’t have anything. And I felt a little bit like that in the bullpen today [before the game] until I got out on the mound. It just kinda started to click.” Bukauskas said.
“I felt like I had my fastball more than I did [in recent starts], and the slider just started snapping off better,” he added. “Once I had that, once I felt confident with it I just started throwing it more. And it ended up with a good result.”
In the bottom of the third inning Skye Bolt blasted a three-run homer against Clemson senior right-hander Jake Long (2-1) to break a scoreless tie. From there the Tar Heels never looked back–although they managed all six of their runs on just five hits, taking advantage of eight walks and four errors by the Tiger defense.
“It was a big swing of the bat,” Bolt said. “[We] go ahead 3-0 and JB’s throwing the way he was. It’s important for our guys, it’s important for the team. It’s a good feeling. You wanna be ahead. You wanna have your starting pitcher up there with confidence having a little bit of leeway.”
“And that’s what I was able to provide,” Bolt continued.
UNC found some more offense in the fourth with an RBI single from left fielder Adam Pate and a bases loaded walk drawn by Bolt, who finished one for three at the plate with four RBIs.
Left fielder Reed Rohlman had three hits and second baseman Tyler Krieger had a pair, along with an RBI, to lead the Clemson offense. Krieger drove in the Tigers’ first run with a hard-hit single off Bukauskas in the sixth before coming in to score the second one himself later in the inning after a wild pitch by senior reliever Trevor Kelley.
Neither team picked up a hit until UNC right fielder Tyler Ramirez legged out an infield single in the bottom of the third after Pate previously reached base on a throwing error from Clemson shortstop Eli White–setting up Bolt with two men on base.
Bolt then turned on a 3-2 pitch from Long, sending it deep into the right field bleachers for the homer that gave Bukauskas plenty of breathing room–and that served as the difference in the game.
Clemson put up two runs in the sixth, but they immediately gave one of them right back. White made his second error at shortstop when he lost a pop-up by Bolt in the sun, which allowed Tyler Ramirez to come home and score UNC’s sixth run of the afternoon.
From there, Kelley worked the next three innings to close up shop– despite Clemson creeping to within three on a single by third baseman Weston Wilson.
After the game Bolt said he was confident that the Tar Heels would get into the NCAA Tournament, but UNC head coach Mike Fox still has some reservations about whether his team will make the final cut.
“I think if we [had went] 0-3 [in pool play], there’s a reason to leave us out,” Fox said. “It was a big win for us. Is it enough? I don’t know. I certainly hope so because I’ve enjoyed coaching this team. They compete, and I want my seniors–and obviously these other guys–to experience it.”
The Tar Heels now find their fate in the hands of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The 64-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced at noon on Monday–and shown live on ESPNU.
- UNC announced via Twitter on Friday that junior left fielder Landon Lassiter has been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. He did not play against Clemson.
- Skye Bolt’s home run was his 10th of the season and 20th of his career at Carolina.
- After going 2-4 on Friday, Tyler Ramirez has reached base in 28 straight games for the Tar Heels.