DURHAM, N.C. – North Carolina turned in a typical Mike Fox win on Friday in a season that’s been atypical for a program that measures success based on trips to Omaha.
In a likely do-or-die game for its NCAA Tournament hopes, UNC (34-24) received steady pitching, quality fielding and just enough hitting to dispatch Clemson, 6-3.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” junior centerfielder Skye Bolt said after the game. “It’s a sigh a relief. We got a win; we got a good, solid win. We put wins on the board. We pitched well. We played defense well. It’s really important going into this regional that I’m pretty positive we’re going to make.”
Freshman J.B. Baukauskas allowed two runs and two hits while striking out seven batters in 5.2 innings of work. Bolt put the Heels in control with a three-run bomb over the right field wall in the third inning before drawing a walk to score another run in the fourth. Adam Pate also added a RBI single in the fourth before Tyler Ramirez scored off an error in the sixth.
All six runs were scored with two outs.
It was a relatively clean, workmanlike performance that’s been lacking for most of the past two seasons in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are 32-35 in ACC games since reaching the College World Series for the sixth time in eight years in 2013.
“I think it’s just baseball,” Fox said when asked about his team’s struggles this season. “I think you have to take the good with the bad in this, and we’ve been fortunate – our program and these guys – we’ve been on the good side. We’re not immune to this type of season. It was a struggle for us at times.
“We lost some really close games early in the season. We lost leads that we couldn’t hold and I think that shook our team a little bit. We lost a little confidence along the way, but regrouped enough. It’s just been a combination of a lot of things.”
UNC opened the season ranked No. 6 nationally, but split its first eight series and were swept in back-to-back ACC series for the first time since 2001 to close the regular season. Injuries have undoubtedly factored into the Tar Heels’ inconsistent play.
Sophomore shortstop Wood Myers, who was leading UNC in batting average, broke his leg in early March. First-team All-ACC reliever Reilly Hovis made just two appearances before suffering an injury and ultimately needing Tommy John surgery in April, while bullpen stalwart Chris McCue has struggled to return to his early 2014 form following a shoulder injury last spring.
The injuries to Hovis and McCue have forced Fox and pitching coach Scott Forbes to lean heavily on senior reliever Trevor Kelley, who made his NCAA-leading 41st appearance of the season against the Tigers. Kelley notched his fifth save of the year in 3.1 innings of work.
UNC, which earned national seeds in the NCAA Tournaments six times in seven years from 2007-13, will have to sweat out its postseason hopes for the second year in a row on Selection Monday.
The Tar Heels were one of the last four teams to get into the 2014 NCAA Tournament. A similar fate may await on Memorial Day.
Heels Win; Await Hopeful NCAAT Bid
Inside Carolina Top Stories
Pinson Completes SurgeryThe junior wing broke his right foot during practice last Thursday.
Inside Carolina11:33 AM
Backcourt Criticism Fuels Berry, HeelsUNC contends its perimeter play will be a strength, not a weakness, in 2016-17.
Inside Carolina11:14 AM
Bradley's Disruptive LengthThe freshman forward's wingspan is posing problems in the paint for his Tar Heel teammates.
Inside Carolina9:58 AM
Running Back Recruiting ScoopBreaking down UNC's running back recruitment in light of Malik Davis's committed to Florida.
Inside Carolina6:57 AM
Fedora Live: Bonilla Steps UpLarry Fedora noted during his radio show that Ayden Bonilla earned defensive player of the game honors for his performance against Virginia.
Inside Carolina6:45 AM