Colin Moran's 3-run blast lifts No. 1 UNC past No. 6 N.C. State
No. 1 North Carolina saw its winning streak end earlier this week and the Tar Heels didn’t like it one bit.
“It ticked them off,” UNC coach baseball coach Mike Fox said. “I don’t have to worry about this team. They don’t feel sorry for themselves much. It made them mad.”
On Friday night, the Tar Heels showed rival and sixth-ranked N.C. State how it feels.
UNC scored three runs before the Wolfpack defense recorded an out and rolled to a 7-1 ACC win at Doak Field that ended N.C. State’s 15-game winning streak.
The Tar Heels (41-3, 19-2 in the ACC) had won 14 games in a row until No. 21 UNC Wilmington topped them 9-8 on Tuesday night. UNC responded the next night, whipping Charlotte 10-2. But the sting from seeing its streak end prior to this weekend’s battle between the ACC’s division leaders remained painful.
“We’ve got a little spit on this team, a little fire,” Fox said. “We’re upset about that. We wanted to come in here with a winning streak just like State. They were upset about that. It’s baseball. It happens. But I’m real pleased with how we responded against Charlotte and, of course, tonight.”
The Tar Heels took out their frustration on N.C. State left-handed starting pitcher Ryan Wilkins. Chaz Frank singled and moved to third when Landon Lassiter followed with a hit-and-run single to left field.
Colin Moran blasted a 3-run home run over the 400-foot mark in centerfield and, just like that, UNC was up 3-0 and the rowdy crowd of 3,048 at Doak Field fell silent.
It stayed that way the remainder of the night as UNC knocked Wilkins out before he could retire two batters.
“I don’t think this stadium got loud the whole night and we were expecting it be rowdy,” UNC starting pitcher Kent Emanuel said. “It kind of helped us out on the road. We couldn’t have scripted it better than to start with three hits with one of them being a homer.”
The Tar Heels banged out 14 hits, pushing their lead to 6-0 at one point. But Emanuel played a large role in keeping the Wolfpack faithful quiet as well.
UNC’s left-handed ace threw eight innings, scattering seven hits while walking three and matched a career high by notching nine strikeouts.
“I thought we had guys on base a lot and a chance for that big hit,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “But you give him credit for that, too. Competitors like Emanuel, just because you don’t get a hit doesn’t mean it’s all on you. He might reach back for a little something extra. I thought his changeup was outstanding tonight.”
The Wolfpack stranded 12 runners against the Tar Heels missing out on a pair of bases-loaded situations when Emanuel proved too tough.
In the second inning, with UNC up 3-0, N.C. State rallied with two outs when Jake Armstrong and Bryan Adametz each singled to right before Logan Ratledge walked on four pitches.
But Emanuel struck out Trea Turner, N.C. State’s lead-off man, when Turner chased a high pitch on a 2-2 count.
Trailing 6-0 in the seventh, N.C. State (33-11, 14-8) had another chance to climb back into the game against Emanuel.
The Wolfpack loaded the bases with no outs when Adametz and Ratledge singled before Turner walked to load the bases with no outs.
Jake Fincher hit a fly ball to deep right field that UNC’s Brian Holberton hauled in for a sacrifice fly that finally got the Wolfpack on the scoreboard.
But Emanuel struck out Brett Austin looking and Terran Senay swinging to snuff N.C. State’s comeback hopes.
Wilkins (5-2), N.C. State’s starting pitcher, lasted only 1/3 of an inning, allowing five runs and three runs.
“Sometimes you want things too much,” Avent said. “Maybe gripped the ball a little too tight and it straightened out a bit. Obviously, they are a good hitting team.”
Former Riverside High School pitcher D.J. Thomas replaced him and did his part to stem the UNC tide. A junior lefthander, Thomas pitched a career-long 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and three runs, with only one earned.
That lone earned run came on a Holberton solo home run. The other two runs scored as a result of an error and a passed ball.
“D.J. was outstanding,” Avent said.