DURHAM, N.C. – Thanks to another quality start from Zac Gallen and a crooked number in the third inning, No. 8 seed North Carolina eliminated 9th-seeded Virginia Tech, 5-3, in an ACC Tournament play-in game on Tuesday.
Even though the Tar Heels had dropped six of their past seven games, including back-to-back sweeps in the ACC, UNC head coach Mike Fox was confident his team would be prepared.
“We’ve struggled a little bit down the stretch, but I was confident our team would come in here and play hard,” Fox told reporters following the game. “We did that today, so I’m proud.”
Virginia Tech took a 1-0 lead in stressing Gallen early, but the Tar Heels found some offense, thanks to a break in centerfield.
Third baseman Landon Lassiter led off the fourth inning with a deep fly ball that was dropped by Hokies’ centerfielder Saige Jenco. Lassiter made his way to third on the three-base error and was soon driven home on a sacrifice fly by Skye Bolt.
Designated hitter Adam Pate followed Bolt with a double down the right field line. After stealing third, Pate scored on an infield RBI single off the bat of shortstop Logan Warmoth.
A Joe Dudek single then put runners on the corners with one out, as third baseman Zack Gahagan knocked an opposite field single off the end of his bat barrel to plate Warmoth and give UNC a 3-1 lead.
“That error was big right out of the gate,” Fox said. “We needed a break and we took advantage of it and got some two-out hits… To put up three in one inning, we haven’t done that much, so it was good to see.”
The Tar Heels would add one more run in the top of the seventh (another sacrifice RBI from Bolt) to bring the score to 4-1.
The Hokies threatened late, cutting their deficit to 4-3, in the eighth inning, but reliever Trevor Kelley shut the door with the tying run on third base and just one out with a pair of strikeouts.
“Early in the game you can go for ground outs, but later in the game you’re looking for strikeouts,” Kelley said. “Today that’s what I did. It was a big situation and I knew I had to get back-to-back strikeouts. I’m more of a ground ball guy, so for me to get those two strikeouts in a big situation is very rewarding.”
Including the play-in game, UNC will play four games in four straight days. If the Tar Heels were going to have any chance of making noise in this tournament, Gallen needed to log some major innings on Tuesday.
Gallen was roughed up the last time he faced the Hokies to the tune of nine hits and four earned runs in five innings.
In a must-win game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the second-team All-ACC selection turned in a solid effort, allowing two earned runs on eight hits in 6.2 innings.
More importantly, the fact that Gallen and Kelley combined to pitch nine innings meant that the rest of UNC’s bullpen would be rested when pool play began.
“My goal this time was to get us deep as I could,” Gallen said. “Because I know we are going to need all the pitching we can get for the week coming up.”
There had been no decision made immediately after the game as to Wednesday’s starter against No. 1 seed Louisville.
“I have no idea who is going to start tomorrow right now,” Fox said. “Obviously we are playing a great team, one of the best in the country. It’s going to be a great challenge for our players, I think. They don’t have too many weaknesses…
“We’ll have to play pretty much a perfect game to have a chance to win.
Heels Advance in ACCT Play
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