The Tar Heels (45-14) stepped onto Goodmon Field at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Saturday knowing that they had already been eliminated from the ACC Tournament after No. 5 seed Miami held off No. 8 seed Wake Forest, 4-2, less than an hour earlier.
Despite the fact that the night cap held no value for this Memorial Day weekend, North Carolina battled the Cavaliers (48-9) in an intense postseason contest that provided plenty of drama for 5,258 fans in attendance.
UNC struck first when Seth Baldwin doubled in Ben Bunting to give his squad a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning. Virginia promptly answered on Chris Taylor's RBI single in the bottom half of the inning.
Taylor moved the Cavaliers in front with a sacrifice fly to center field to score Colin Harrington in the fifth inning. North Carolina then knotted the score in the sixth as Levi Michael grounded out to second base, allowing Tommy Coyle to cross home plate after a triple into the right-center field gap.
Virginia's David Coleman broke the tie in the seventh inning on a Keith Werman sacrifice bunt that finalized the scoring.
Whit Mayberry (5-0, 2.93 ERA) picked up the win for Virginia in relief, while Chris Munnelly (6-5, 3.99 ERA) was handed the loss.
INSIDE THE GAME
Fox highlighted a pair of base running miscues in Thursday's loss to Miami that prevented the Tar Heels from padding an early 5-0 lead. On Saturday night, North Carolina failed to capitalize on several more opportunities to put runs on the scoreboard.
Seth Baldwin doubled off the centerfield wall to score Ben Bunting and give UNC a 1-0 lead in the third inning, but turned around second base as Reed Gragnani was throwing the ball to the infield. Baldwin was thrown out at third base for the inning's second out instead of setting up the top of the lineup with a runner in scoring position with one out.
In the fourth inning, Levi Michael and Colin Moran hit back-to-back singles to give Jesse Wierzbicki runners on the corners with no outs, but the senior first baseman popped out in the infield and Chaz Frank hit into a 3-6-3 double play to end the threat.
Virginia encountered an identical situation in the bottom of the fifth inning and succeeded in scoring the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to center field.
And with the game tied in the seventh inning, Jacob Stallings and Bunting delivered back-to-back singles with one out and then advanced to second and third, respectively, on a passed ball. The Tar Heels were unable to capitalize once again, however, as Greg Holt struck out looking and Seth Baldwin struck out swinging.
"We had our chances," Stallings said. "We just didn't cash through on them."
In all, North Carolina left five men on base and four were in scoring position.
Pitching Pluses and Minues
Virginia entered Saturday's matchup with the league's second-best batting average (.306) and 404 total runs – good for top-20 nationally. But in four games over the past nine days, North Carolina's pitching staff allowed the Cavaliers just six runs on 22 hits.
Starting pitcher Kent Emanuel continued his steady play in allowing two earned runs on five hits in 5.0 innings, but reliever R.C. Orlan is probably glad this weekend is over. The lefty threw a grand total of 14 pitchers to four batters, but was saddled with the loss against Miami, forced to change gloves by the umpire on Thursday and then botched two fielding plays on Saturday that allowed Virginia to score its final run in the seventh.
The field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament will be announced at 12:30pm on ESPN on Monday, May 30. The Tar Heels are locked in for a regional host site next weekend and appear to be in solid shape for one of eight national seeds with the nation's top RPI ranking and a 16-10 mark against Top-50 RPI opponents.
Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor made his feelings known on North Carolina's capabilities moving forward.
"[This win] was a total team effort against a high quality club, who I believe should be a top-eight national seed in North Carolina," O'Connor said. "They're as good a club as we've played all year, and hopefully we both meet at some point later on in the season."