The Tar Heels (44-13) built an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning and then tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning on a fielding error and a Greg Holt RBI single to take a 5-0 advantage. Miami (35-20) promptly answered in the top of the sixth with two outs and two on. Right fielder Dale Carey singled in a run, and Cade Kreuter walked to load the bases for Zeke DeVoss, who cleared the bases with a double to cut Miami's deficit to 5-4.
The Hurricanes struck again in the seventh inning, loading the bases and scoring a pair of runs on a Stephen Perez single into left field. Miami added an insurance run in the ninth on a Corey Janson RBI single into left field.
North Carolina failed to move a runner into scoring position after the fifth inning.
A.J. Salcines (1-0, 1.0 IP, BB) picked up the victory for Miami, while R.C. Orlan (1-1, 0.1 IP, H) was saddled with the loss for UNC.
INSIDE THE GAME
Bullpen Struggles to Close
Beginning with a 7-2 victory over Appalachian State on May 17th, North Carolina's pitching staff had allowed just five runs and 22 hits in 41 innings of work through the fifth inning on Thursday.
But in a performance that conjured up memories of UNC's ninth-inning collapse at Georgia Tech two weeks ago, the Tar Heels gave up seven runs on 10 hits over the final four frames against Miami.
Tate Parrish was the first pitcher out of the bullpen in the top of the sixth, replacing Greg Holt with two outs and runners on the corners while clinging to a 5-1 lead. Parrish walked Kreuter on five pitchers and the freshman hurler's day was done as Andrew Smith entered the game. The rookie righty gave up the bases clearing double to DeVoss, but hammered down the final two outs of the inning as UNC exited the sixth with a 5-4 lead.
"We got some hits, but they were all in different innings," Miami head coach Jim Morris said. "We got some guys on, but we couldn't get a big hit with two outs. We ran some, Zeke stole some bases, and we had guys in scoring position, but we couldn't get that hit to get them in. Finally, during the course of the sixth inning, we put some stuff back-to-back-to-back and were able to put pressure on them with some big hits."
Orlan, Shane Taylor and Bryant Gaines joined Parrish and Smith out of the bullpen in allowing four runs, two earned runs and eight hits over the final 3.1 innings as Miami completed its comeback. The Hurricanes loaded the bases in each of their final four innings.
Exploding Out of the Box
With pitcher Greg Holt starting his first game of the season and only the third of his career, North Carolina's bats made sure the Clemmons, N.C. senior had a significant margin of error in the bottom of the first inning.
Levi Michael started the process by drawing a one-out walk courtesy of freshman southpaw Bryan Radziewski. ACC Freshman of the Year Colin Moran continued his clutch hitting tear with a double roped into the gap in left-center field to score Michael. Jesse Wierzbicki joined Moran on the base path after being hit by a pitch, and then Tommy Coyle singled to short left field to load the bases for Jacob Stallings.
Stallings struck out, but Ben Bunting delivered a RBI single and Holt helped his own cause with a five pitch walk to score another run. Radziewski struck out Seth Baldwin to end the threat, but not before head coach Mike Fox tried to plate a fourth run by sending Coyle home from third on an attempted steal. A foul tip saved the Hurricanes from a larger deficit, but the damage was already done as UNC had secured a 3-0 lead for its starting pitcher heading into the second inning.
But even though North Carolina added two more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Fox admitted that his squad missed crucial opportunities to put a larger number on the scoreboard.
"It was unfortunate that we couldn't pad our lead a little bit after being up 5-0," Fox said. "We made some really bad base running mistakes that probably cost us a run or two and how that changes the game, you don't really know, but that's just fundamental baseball. We should be much better than that certainly this time of year."
Different Day, Same Story for Seniors
It's well known that Fox has built his program on pitching, defense and timely hitting, but another aspect of UNC's success that often times goes overlooked by the media is the reliance on senior leadership. From Jonathan Hovis to Chad Flack to Garrett Gore, Fox counts on – and expects – his seniors to serve as coaches on the field and in the clubhouse.
The 2011 campaign has been no different with Holt, Bunting and Patrick Johnson acting as the Tar Heel anchors. With his performance on Thursday, Bunting (1-for-3, BB, RBI) has now delivered a hit or RBI in 14 of his last 15 games and currently ranks third on the team with 64 hits.
But Holt (5.2 IP, 3 ER, 6 SO, 4 BB; 1-for-2, 2 BB, 2 RBI) deserves the headline against the Hurricanes. The senior not only held Miami scoreless through five innings, but also outscored the Hurricanes to that point with two runs batted in.
The Absurdity of the ACC Tournament
When combining Virginia's win over Wake Forest on Wednesday with Miami's victory on Thursday, North Carolina now needs plenty of help to advance to the championship series on Sunday. The Tar Heels must win against Wake Forest on Friday and Virginia on Saturday, while also needing the Cavaliers to defeat Miami on Friday and Wake Forest to upset the Hurricanes on Saturday.
A two-team tiebreaker between UNC and Miami favors the Hurricanes due to the head-to-head victory, while a three-team tiebreaker with Virginia favors the Cavaliers due to its regular season conference winning percentage.
As it currently stands, a Miami victory on Friday morning ensures that UNC will play two games in Durham without having a chance to play for the ACC Championship on Sunday.