UNC provides fireworks in title-clinching win
North Carolina had stayed atop the ACC by being the only team in the country without consecutive losses.
By keeping that streak alive, UNC ensured it would finish as conference regular-season champions.
The Tar Heels scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth and defeated the Cavaliers 8-5 on Friday night at Boshamer Stadium, clinching UNC’s first ACC regular-season title in 23 years.
Tar Heels (47-7, 21-6) will be the top seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament, which starts Wednesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
After striking out the side in the ninth inning, closer Trent Thornton pumped his fist as his teammates streamed out of the dugout. The team then stayed on the field for the regularly scheduled Friday night fireworks, which provided a fitting backdrop as No. 2 UNC celebrated its fifth Coastal Division championship in eight years.
The Tar Heels entered their final series needing just one win in three games against No. 7 Virginia to get the top seed, but they allowed season-highs of 10 runs and 17 hits in a 10-4 loss Thursday, its most lopsided defeat of the season.
The Cavaliers then went up 5-2 in the eighth inning Friday before UNC scored six runs against closer Kyle Crockett (4-1), who previously had allowed a total of six runs in 45 innings this season.
“The game can turn on a dime,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “It’s what’s kind of unique and frustrating at the same time about baseball is you just never know.”
This one turned on the game’s only error. Virginia shortstop Nick Howard failed to collect a grounder by Brian Holberton, providing a spark for UNC.
Michael Russell followed with an RBI triple, Cody Stubbs was hit by a pitch, and Mike Zolk tied the game with a two-run triple, sliding into third to avoid the tag. Zolk would score the go-ahead run on an RBI single by Chaz Frank.
The Tar Heels did their damage offensively without top hitters Colin Moran and Syke Bolt, who combined to go hitless in 10 at-bats. Russell went 4-for-4 and Zolk had a two-run double to go along with his eighth-inning triple. Landon Lassiter also went 3-for-4, giving him seven hits in the first two games of the series.
“I kept writing on my lineup card ‘hard-hit ball, hard-hit ball,’” Fox said. “You start to wonder is it not going to be our night. We just kept playing and did just enough on the mound to hold them down.”
Previously, when UNC had lost its series openers against Miami and Georgia Tech, it could count on a strong outing from Benton Moss, who followed the losses with 15 scoreless innings.
Virginia got to Moss this time — the sophomore allowed four runs and eight hits in 5.2 innings — but Chris McCue (6-0) kept UNC within striking distance by allowing one run in 2.1 innings.
Thornton then made up for blowing a three-run lead last weekend at Georgia Tech by shutting down the Cavs (44-9, 21-8), ensuring there wouldn’t be a second straight loss.
NOTES — The series ends today at 2 p.m. UNC junior Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 1.99) is scheduled to pitch against junior righty Whit Mayberry (4-0, 1.66). ... The schedule for the ACC Tournament will be announced Sunday morning.