Game 3 Tournament Notebook

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Inside Carolina looks beyond the box score following the Tar Heels' 9-6 loss to Florida State in the 11th game of the ACC Baseball Championships on Saturday.

* When North Carolina's bullpen blew a save opportunity in Wednesday's loss to Virginia, it marked the first time since the home opener against Old Dominion on Feb. 26 that the Tar Heels lost a game when leading after eight innings. That fact makes it even more mind-boggling that UNC would cough up a second save opportunity only four days later.

North Carolina is now 41-3 when leading after eight, but the bullpen's performances this weekend have created some concern heading into the NCAA Regionals next weekend.

UNC head coach Mike Fox refused to place too much emphasis on the bullpen's collapses during his postgame interview, however, chalking up the losses to bad timing and nothing more.

"Those last three outs in any game, especially in this tournament and in the ACC, are the hardest ones to get and any coaches will tell you that," Fox said. "We had difficulty in two out of three games down here getting those last three outs, and it came back to get us."

* Overshadowed by the late-game pitching woes were the overall strong showings by all three North Carolina starters over the long weekend. Alex White, Nate Harvey and Adam Warren combined for 32 strikeouts and six walks in giving up just three earned runs over 20 1/3 innings.

"I think probably down the stretch that if people had a knock on us that it was, ‘Do we have good enough starting pitching to win in a regional, or are we just going to count on our bullpen?'" Fox said. "I think we almost did the opposite here. We're going to try to pull those positives out. I thought Adam Warren was sensational tonight, and everybody saw what Matt did, and Alex. We have three really good starts and that's what you have to have."

* With three of the four games on Saturday having no importance in terms of Sunday's championship game, criticism continues to build for the ACC's round robin format, currently in its second season. But as Fox indicated on Friday night, he's not going to change his stance on favoring the new setup.

"We voted for pool play so it is what it is. I think all of us knew going in this could happen," Fox said. "It's happened to several teams now, and I don't know. I think that hopefully the players and coaches enjoy playing. Everybody wants to win the championship, but what are we going to do? After we played one game, we lost and we shouldn't have lost. It's our own fault.

"For us to say we're playing two meaningless games is a little shallow on our part or anybody's part. I thought it was a great game, an entertaining game between two really good teams. If you focus on what is not at stake, you lose the point of why you should be out there competing."

Dustin Ackley believes the format is beneficial in preparing the conference members for the NCAA Tournament play set to begin next weekend.

"We come down here and we play a bunch of good teams," Ackley said. "I think that's a good thing going into the post season, the super regionals and the regionals. I think it's good to play good teams like this and know what you're going to face, and it's not going to be a surprise in the regional."

* After playing two late night games with a small scattering of fans in the seats, the Tar Heels were treated to a pro-Florida State crowd on Saturday night, complete with war chants and loud roars of encouragement. But for the Tar Heels, having an increased number of people in the seats was not necessarily a negative thing.

"I think we like having the crowd there – I did," Fox said. "I like having people in the stands even if they're pulling for Florida State. You can say they're pulling against us, but, I think people need to be in the stands for the ACC Tournament. The last two nights we've played until 12:30 and you can count the number of people up there, so, it's nice having people up there cheering."


Inside Carolina Top Stories