CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Something had to give for Mike Fox’s team.
With four outs left in Tuesday’s game against Liberty, No. 3 North Carolina had allowed 11 hits, but had only given up a single run. The Tar Heels were up 2-1 in the top of the eighth inning after a night of poor hitting and missed opportunities, and Fox’s team was doing its best to steal a win.
“We thought, ‘Dang, are we actually going to win this game 2-1,’” Fox said after the 5-2 loss. “That would have been crazy. Usually that doesn’t happen.”
He was right – it normally doesn’t, and it didn’t. With relief pitcher Rodney Hutchison (4-2) on the mound in a bases loaded jam, Flames batter Trey McDyre cleared the bases with a shot deep to right field, good for a three-run double. Liberty followed that paramount play with one more run, helping build the 5-2 lead that they would not relinquish.
After the game, Fox refused to put any of the blame on Hutchison, who was forced early into the game after the two previous pitchers, starter Tyler Baum and Jason Morgan, gave up a combined eight hits through 4.2 innings.
“It really hurt us that we had to bring Rodney Hutchinson in as early as we did,” Fox said. “We did not plan on doing that. If we had been able to get a couple more innings out of Jason Morgan, we would have brought Rodney in much later and he wouldn’t have gotten 65 pitches… that hurt us.”
The explosion in the eighth was a long time coming for the Flames, who left men in scoring position each of the first five innings of the game. It was just a matter of time before some of those players started to cross home plate.
“Poor Rodney makes just one bad pitch and it did us in,” Fox said. “But we were dodging bullets the first four or five innings anyway… the score could have been 10-1 through five innings. We were lucky to be hanging in there.”
Designated hitter Ashton McGee, who finished the game with a home run and three walks, sad that he could sense all the momentum going Liberty’s way from the early stages of the game.
“It always seemed like they were always on base,” McGee said. “The start of the game they didn’t get any runs in really but you just felt like they just kept getting on base and grinding and you could tell they wanted to win. It was their World Series. They battled the whole night.”
The Flames ended up collecting 14 total hits, a season high for a Tar Heel opponent this season. On the other side of the plate, the Tar Heels four hits were close to their season low, and marked a batting performance that Fox says he could have never seen coming.
The 29-8 Tar Heels will look to get back on track after back-to-back losses this weekend in Pittsburgh.