Marcus Jones jump started the Wolfpack offense on Friday night against North Carolina, blasting a grand slam to center field in the second inning. Those runs gave starting pitcher Eric Surkamp all the support he needed, as the Pack rolled to a 11-1 win over the Tar Heels in front of a sell-out crowd at Doak Field.
"This game was so big – you can't describe how big this game was," Dallas Poulk, who went 4-for-4, said. "You come in here with a rival ranked in the top of the nation and we just told them how we felt about Carolina."
Surkamp (4-2) delivered a dynamic performance, going seven innings and giving up just one run on eight hits to pick up his fourth win of the season. The crafty lefty had the Tar Heel hitters frustrated all night, leaving several bewildered Heels standing at the plate after a called third strike. He also got help from his defense, which committed no errors and added a few highlight-reel plays.
"He actually didn't have his command that he's had all year here tonight – this is more like last year when he got behind hitters," Avent said. "But he's so much more poised now – no matter what happens he makes the big pitch when he has to."
Surkamp, who's been plagued by poor run support, got it in spades as the Pack roughed up Tar Heel starter Robert Woodard (7-2). The senior came into the game with a sparkling 2.08 ERA but took the loss, giving up eight runs on 12 hits. Going into the game, the senior had allowed just three runs to the Pack in his career and had never given up more than six runs in a single game.
"I think the best we've ever done against Robert Woodard is a no decision – and that almost seemed like a win," Avent said. "He's an awfully tough competitor and our guys just played very well tonight and got some good swings when they got a ball in the zone."
Jones got the Wolfpack offense rolling in the second inning. After back-to-back singles from Pat Ferguson and Ryan Pond, Woodard mishandled a sacrifice bunt attempt off the bat of Poulk. The second baseman bunted the ball hard to the pitcher, but as he turned to throw to third base, he bobbled the ball – leaving everyone safe and the bases loaded. Two pitches later, Woodard gave up just his second career grand slam as Marcus Jones blasted a pitch just over the centerfield wall past the outstretched arm of Seth Williams.
"I actually thought he caught it when he went up against the wall," Jones said. "But I got a little bit behind it and it went out for me."
Surkamp got in some trouble during the third inning but was bailed out by a fantastic defensive play from Poulk. After walking Dustin Ackley to load the bases, catcher Tim Federowicz hit a screaming line drive that looked destined for centerfield until Poulk came lunging across the infield. The freshman made a leaping dive to his left and snagged the ball to end the inning as the Doak crowded roared.
"That was huge – that was the turning point in game," Surkamp said. "That took all the energy out of their team – they probably would have scored two, maybe three on that play and not letting them have any after we scored four was big time."
As always seems to happen, Poulk followed his big defensive play with a big offensive play in the bottom of the inning. A Ferguson single and Pond double had runners on second and third with one out, and Poulk squeaked a ground ball right through the legs of Woodard to score both runners.
The Pack kept putting runs on the board over the next few innings. Ferguson singled home a run in the fourth before getting thrown out trying to go to second on the throw home. Jones ripped a double down the left-field line to score Poulk all the way from first in the fifth, knocking Woodard out of the game in the process.
The Tar Heels picked up their first run in the top of seventh, but the Wolfpack offense responded in the bottom of the inning. Ferguson, Pond and Poulk, who finished a combined 11-for-12 with nine runs scored, were at the center of the action again. With runners on the corners and no one out, Poulk executed a perfect drag bunt down the first base line – reaching on the play when no one covered first. Drew Martin put home a run on a sac fly two batters later, and Vince Gutierrez drove in another with a single to right to make it 11-1 in favor of the Pack.
"It's great to get off to a good start here in this series," coach Elliot Avent said. "It was a great crowd – what a great atmosphere. The fans were never better than they were tonight."