UNC FALLS IN NCAA OPENER
Facing a Long Beach State team built around pitching and defense, the last thing North Carolina could afford to do was fall behind early.
But the third-seeded Tar Heels were unable to recover from an early six-run deficit in a 6-1 loss to second-seeded Dirtbags in the Gainesville Regional.
North Carolina (34-26) unraveled during Long Beach State’s six-run fourth inning. It began with an infield single and included three more bloop hits, two walks, three stolen bases and a two-run double by No. 9 hitter Colton Vaughn.
“It was one of those innings where you wake up in the middle night, hoping that you just dreamed it,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “And then you hope that it doesn’t deflate your team.”
But it did.
The Tar Heels couldn’t solve Long Beach State redshirt sophomore righty Andrew Rohrback, who took a shutout into the ninth inning. Rohrback (7-2) allowed just a run on seven hits in 8-1/3 innings with no walks and two strikeouts. North Carolina third baseman Landon Lassiter broke up the shutout bid with an RBI single in the top of the ninth, but by then, it was too late.
Of Rohrback’s 94 pitches, 58 were strikes.
“He just pounded the strike zone,” North Carolina designated hitter Tom Zengel said of Rohrback. “He went right at us and unfortunately we came up a little short.”
UNC starter Trent Thornton matched Rohrback early before the fateful fourth. Long Beach State shortstop Garrett Hampson led off the inning with a sharp ground ball in the hole between third base and shortstop. North Carolina third baseman Landon Lassiter tracked it down, but double-clutched on the throw.
Hampson moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI single by Richard Prigatano. Two more big hits, an RBI single by Johnny Bekakis and a two-run single by Eric Hutting with the bases loaded, extended Long Beach State’s lead to 4-0. All five hits for Long Beach State (33-24) came during the fourth inning.
“If you are going to get five hits in a game, you would like to get all five of them in one inning,” Fox said. “Believe it or not, four of those hits were with 1-2 counts, which says two things, one we’re not quite making the pitches we need to make and number two, they are doing what they need to do to move the ball.”
Thornton (7-4) was pulled during the fourth, before Vaughn’s double. In 3-1/3 innings, Thornton was charged with six runs on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
“The first three innings, I thought he was lights out,” Fox said. “The thing with Trent, we should have had an out to start the fourth inning, it’s a ground ball, it should be an out. The next guy dribbles one to first and then Trent gets going too fast. You get out of rhythm.”
North Carolina will try to keep its season alive in the double-elimination tournament at 1 p.m. today in an elimination game against the loser of Friday’s late game between top-seed Florida and fourth-seed College of Charleston. Fox said junior righty Benton Moss will start for the Tar Heels.
“I think we’re going to come out tomorrow and play our best game of the year,” Lassiter said.