Seniors Lift Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - No. 12 North Carolina leaned on its seniors the day before graduation to overcome a ninth-inning deficit against Maryland and secure the series victory with a 5-4 win in 10 innings Saturday.

With the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the tenth inning, senior center fielder Ben Bunting stepped to the plate. He connected and the grounder took a large bounce off the infield grass. Maryland first baseman Tim Kiene and second baseman Ryan Holland collided, neither retrieving the ball, enabling Levi Michael to score the game-winning run.

"I just got a high hopper, and got lucky," Bunting said. "There were definitely some butterflies in my stomach, but I just tried to approach it like a normal at bat. You can't put too much pressure on yourself. You're going to over think it, and I was just trying to put a nice easy swing, simple swing on the ball, and put it in play."

Bunting was North Carolina's lead-off hitter for the first two months of the season, but following the N.C. State series, he has had to fight for that spot. The senior from Randleman, N.C. saw his batting average jump up to .300 earlier this season, but has seen it steadily fall since then. His spot in the batting order has fallen too. Against the Terrapins he was penciled into the seventh hole, but hit like a lead-off man on Saturday.

The senior center fielder went 3-for-5 at the plate, recording a RBI and scoring a run in the game two win over the Terrapins.

Bunting has spent some extra time in batting practice with UNC hitting coach Scott Jackson, working to follow through on the ball.

"You go through ebbs and flows," UNC head coach Mike Fox said. "You just have to stay through it. Nobody stays the same all year long except Dustin Ackley. Everyone else is going to go up and down, and Ben [Bunting] knows that. He's been through stretches before where he's had trouble moving the ball, making solid contact, but he's come back. It was nice to have him up there, and get the game-winning hit."

North Carolina also had a clutch performance from Greg Holt. The senior from Clemmons, N.C., came in to relieve starter Kent Emanuel in the seventh inning, and gave up the go-ahead run, but he would get redemption shortly thereafter. Holt re-emerged -- this time at the plate - in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs and Jeff Bouton at second base. The Tar Heels trailed 4-3 when Holt nailed the second pitch down the left field line for a RBI double, scoring Bouton.

"I just tried to put a good swing on it, to see a ball in my zone, and stay on one," Holt said. "Fortunately I was able to get a big double for us. I've worked hard to get here. It will be gratifying tomorrow when I throw my hat up in the air and graduate, and hopefully come down here and complete the sweep."

Holt struggled hitting and finding a position early in his career, but he has come full circle, finding his niche as the Tar Heels' top relief pitcher and a key designated hitter.

"We won that game by the skin of our teeth," Fox said. "Greg [Holt] is amazing to me. For a kid that didn't hit at all much last year, we've had him as a hitter, then a pitcher, and now he's back doing both. That's a huge double obviously with two outs to tie the game. Ben comes up there at the end, and moves the ball with two strikes, which is all we wanted to do, so [it's] a big win for us."

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