North Carolina has made a habit of blowing through the No. 4 regional seeds during its recent runs direct to Omaha, but the firepower was not available against the Mean Green. However, the bats were good enough on a night when the Heels pitching and defense were more than adequate.
Harvey allowed just two earned runs on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings, and Brian Moran slammed the door with five strikeouts and one hit over the final 2 2/3 innings.
North Carolina built a 3-0 lead with a Dustin Ackley infield RBI single in the second, followed by RBIs by Garrett Gore and Mike Cavasinni in the third frame. Kyle Seager knocked in a RBI of his own in the sixth to increase the lead to 4-0, but Dartmouth threatened in the seventh with a Brett Gardner solo homerun over the left field wall and Joe Sclafani's RBI single.
Ackley (3-of-5, 2 RBI) rounded out the scoring in the bottom of the eighth inning, doubling home Cavasinni for the 5-2 margin. That hit was career No. 329 for the junior first baseman, moving him past current undergraduate assistant coach Chad Flack for the UNC career hits record.
"To be up in the record books with Chad Flack, who is pretty much Carolina baseball, is really special," Ackley said. "I mean, his record, probably many people didn't think it would ever be broken. But to just be able to say that I broke his record – a guy that's done so much for this program. It's pretty special to me."
The Tar Heels return to action Saturday at 5 pm against No. 2 regional seed Coastal Carolina, which throttled No. 3 regional seed Kansas, 11-3, earlier in the day.
INSIDE THE GAME
Dartmouth entered the Chapel Hill Regional on a tear offensively, putting double digits on the scoreboard in 15 of its last 26 contests. The Big Green set school records this season with 339 runs, 43 home runs and 19 triples, so UNC head coach Mike Fox spent this week stressing the importance of a strong defensive showing to his squad.
The Tar Heels notched a season-high four double plays on Friday, including one in three straight innings. Dartmouth picked up 10 hits, but left six men on base, against a UNC defense that coughed up just one error (Levi Michael) in playing behind Harvey.
"All I was trying to do when I had a runner on was try to have them roll it over and get a double play or hit it right to them," the sophomore pitcher said. "I was able to do that quite a few times tonight, and that also helps you keep your pitch count down… They definitely helped me a lot."
After the Big Green escaped North Carolina's bases loaded, one-out situation in the bottom of the first inning, they found themselves staring at a scoring opportunity in the top of the second. With bases loaded and nobody out, Harvey struck out Gardner before forcing a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
"I don't think we had a hit with runners in scoring position, which is unfortunate," Gardner said. "We usually are very good at that. We usually have a lot of clutch hitters. They just made pitches when runners were on. They bared down and really made it hard for us."
During Wednesday's media session, a reporter recalled a Fox quote from February suggesting that he wasn't sure what he had offensively, and the 11th-year UNC head coach promptly interjected, saying, "I'm still not… You've seen us be really good at [Boston College], and you saw what we did against Casey Harman at Clemson. We've got to work on moving the ball with two strikes and working the short game. We just can't take for granted that we're going to score six or eight runs against Dartmouth."
Who knew that Fox's side job involved seeing the future.
The Tar Heels scattered 13 hits on Friday with only two hits – a pair of doubles – going for extra bases. Seager and Gore etched RBIs with singles into the outfield, but Ackley's infield RBI single was due to the pitcher losing sight of the ball sitting on the mound, and Cavasinni utilized a suicide squeeze sacrifice bunt to add the third run of the night.
The Tar Heels moved runners successfully with bunts in three different innings, with runs resulting each time. North Carolina also delivered four hits when facing two strikes in the count.
The Battle Against Lefties
Looking at the statistics, North Carolina's 20-7 record against left-handed pitching this season doesn't appear to be detrimental. After all, the Tar Heels are 23-9 against right-handers.
But UNC's two ACC Tournament losses against Virginia and Clemson came at the hands of a lefty, and Dartmouth left-hander Robert Young (7.0 innings, 4 ER, 11 hits) gave the Tar Heels fits for much of Friday's contest.
"We knew coming in that they had historically struggled against lefties," Young said. "It's a common thing – left-handed hitters struggle against left-handed pitchers… It would have been a lot more fun sitting up here with the win, but they didn't struggle enough."
North Carolina's lineup boasts six lefties at the plate, and a pitcher's ability to throw across the plate from the batter's body out presents a difficult challenge. Regardless, the Tar Heels brought more firepower to the plate than the Ivy League school was accustomed to, forcing Young and reliever Ben Murray to get creative on the mound.
"With all of these hitters, you just can't fall into a pattern," Young said. "You have to mix fastball, mix change-up, mix off-speed, mix your sequence – fastball early and then off-speed early… I don't remember any particular batter that we faced that we did the same pattern, and it worked out well."
The left-handed pitching pattern against the Tar Heels is emerging, as Coastal Carolina saved its lefty ace – Big South Pitcher of the Year Cody Wheeler (10-0, 3.34 ERA) – for the showdown with UNC on Saturday.
Ackley was asked if the left arms were posing the problems that they appeared to be, and he replied, "I don't think so – maybe a little bit. Anybody, right-handed or left-handed, if you have good pitches and you're able to locate them, you're going to have success. I think lefty-righty doesn't matter to us."
The Chanticleers are betting on that not being the case.
Fox has harped on the fact that Ackley and Seager will need timely hitting from their supporting cast if the Tar Heels hope to return to Omaha, but unfortunately for this offense, the UNC third baseman has found himself in a mini-slump at arguably the worst time possible.
After reaching base five times – on three hits and two walks – in the ACC Tournament opening victory against Duke, Seager is batting .133 (2-of-15) with six strikeouts while stranding four runners over the last three games.