CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After getting swept at Notre Dame over the weekend, North Carolina responded with a solid 7-2 victory over UNCW in their final non-conference game of the regular season on Tuesday.
Centerfielder Skye Bolt continued his power tear from the left side of the plate with a solo blast to left field in the fifth inning to break a 2-2 tie and ultimately serve as the game-winning run. The home run was Bolt’s fourth in his last five games.
“Anytime you regain the lead after they tie it up is good,” Bolt said. “It’s good to put your team back on top and get a swing of momentum.”
Before their three-game set in South Bend, UNC had built a 13-10 ACC record and was in prime position to avoid the ACC Tournament’s play-in games.
Heading into Tuesday’s contest, however, the Tar Heels were tied with Clemson at 13-13 for the sixth and final automatic round robin slot. The Tigers own the tiebreaker due to their series win over UNC. Even though UNCW wasn’t a conference opponent, it was critical for the Tar Heels to turn things around before a crucial weekend series with Virginia.
“It’s huge,” Bolt said.” You talk about momentum. We needed that. Those aren’t mid-week arms we saw out there. It was good for us to string good at-bats together…
“We don’t want to play in [the play-in] game; nobody wants to play in that game.”
UNC head coach Mike Fox is usually pretty even keel after wins. On Tuesday, Fox was encouraged by how his team responded against a tough opponent considering all that had transpired over the weekend.
“If we can play at that level, we are going to be in every game,” Fox said. “We pitch well enough and we pick the ball up. That’s the key right now: do you believe and are you a team of character where you can respond from that weekend? We’ve got pressure on us, but so does everybody else. You either respond to the pressure and go out and play well or else your season is going to be over. It’s that simple.”
The Tar Heels have often struggled to stay balanced this year. When they pitch well, they can’t hit. When they hit, they have trouble getting consistent performances from their pitching staff.
Against the Seahawks, the Tar Heels got plenty of both. UNC scored seven runs on 10 hits, with five different players driving in runs.
On the mound, starter A.J. Bogucki, who had thrown just 10.1 innings this season, was solid (5.0 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs). UNC’s bullpen was superb once again, as Zach Rice and Trevor Kelley combined for four innings of three-hit baseball without allowing a run.
Now the focus will shift to the final series of the regular season against the Cavaliers (12-15 in ACC play). Neither team has secured an ACC Tournament berth and both are currently slotted for Tuesday’s play-in games, so the magnitude of this series cannot be overstated.
“We always play well against Virginia and they play well against us,” Fox said. “There have been some great series. We’re both fighting for our lives. I think the team that plays the most relaxed will have the better opportunity to win.”
The UNC-UVa series begins on Thursday with a 7 p.m. first pitch at Boshamer Stadium.
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