No. 1 Virginia drops UNC 3-2 in Friday ACC baseball
Brandon Downes drove in three runs and Nathan Kirby outdueled Trent Thornton as No. 1 Virginia topped North Carolina 3-2 Friday night at Davenport Field. Landon Lassiter and Michael Russell had two hits each for the Tar Heels, who rallied to tie it in the sixth before Virginia scored the game-winner in the bottom half of the frame.
Virginia (32-6, 15-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) struck first in the bottom of the second when Downes drove an 0-1 pitch from Thornton out to left for his fifth home run of the year. It was the second homer allowed by Thornton (7-2) in 2014, and just the fourth extra-base hit against the Charlotte, N.C., sophomore.
And it seemed like it would be enough for the Cavaliers, as Kirby held the Tar Heels scoreless through the first five innings despite Carolina getting the leadoff man on base three times.
But UNC (22-16, 9-10 ACC) equalized against the sophomore lefty in the sixth. Trailing 2-0, UNC put two on with one out when Skye Bolt led off the inning with a walk and moved to third on Lassiter's double to the gap in left center. Parks Jordan then plated Bolt on a chopper to first before Lassiter scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 2.
The tie would be short-lived, however, as the Wahoos used a perfect hit-and-run in the bottom of the sixth to put runners on the corners with no one out. John La Prise's single moved Nick Howard to third and Downes' sac fly made it 3-2, despite Bolt getting a second out with a bullet to catch La Prise trying to move up.
Carolina's best chance in the late innings came in the eighth, when Kirby departed with two outs and a runner on second after Wood Myers led off the frame with a single and moved to second on a Bolt sacrifice. It was nearly a bunt hit, but Kirby beat Bolt to the bag by a half-step for the first out of the eighth. Kirby (8-1) then struck out Tom Zengel for the third time before giving way to Whit Mayberry. Mayberry got Lassiter to swing and miss for the final out of the eighth, preserving the Virginia lead.
Trevor Kelley kept the Tar Heels within reach with two scoreless innings of relief, but Howard - the UVa first baseman/closer - struck out the side in the ninth to end it.
Russell led off the game with a double off Kirby that nearly left the yard and added his team-high 14th double of the year in the third.
Carolina will look to even the series Saturday afternoon at 1 when Benton Moss takes the mound opposite Virginia's Josh Sborz. That game will be televised live on the ACC Regional Sports Networks.