Mistakes doom UNC in series-opening loss to Seminoles
Facing No. 4 Florida State and ace Luke Weaver and needing some wins to improve its NCAA Tournament chances, North Carolina couldn’t afford any mental mistakes.
Instead, the Tar Heels allowed two runs to score on a wild pitch in the second inning, sending the Seminoles on their way to a 7-0 win in the series opener at Boshamer Stadium.
UNC ace Trent Thornton just wanted to throw a pitch high to see if No. 9 hitter Danny De La Calle would chase it for strike three. Instead, the throw glanced off the glove of catcher Korey Dunbar, who initially stood at the plate thinking he had caught the pitch, and then didn’t hustle after the ball as two runs came across to score .
“You have to run after the ball,” said Tar Heels coach Mike Fox, who replaced Dunbar after the half inning. “Cost us a run. You have to run after the ball. Simple as that.”
Still, Fox said the team still had plenty of time to come back from the early 2-0 deficit. But UNC (29-20, 13-12 ACC) got just two runners into scoring position and was shut out by Florida State (38-11, 18-7) for the first time since 2001.
“Definitely as a pitcher giving up runs early in the game is kind of difficult because we haven’t been the best offensive team,” said Thornton (7-3), who allowed three runs in five innings. “We didn’t get it done hitting or pitching.”
Weaver (7-3) gave up five hits and struck out six in seven innings, and reliever Billy Strode faced the minimum in his two innings of relief.
UNC entered Friday with an ACC-best .278 average in conference play, but only recorded six singles against the Seminoles. Leading hitter Michael Russell (.361), who was suspended for the previous game because of a violation of team rules, went hitless in four at-bats and had his 19-game hitting streak come to an end.
Fox had freshman Tyler Ramirez lead off when Russell was suspended and kept him there on Friday, but he wouldn’t commit to the lineup going forward.
“It doesn’t matter what order right now,” Fox said. “You have to compete a little bit better. We didn’t hit enough balls hard to give ourselves a chance to score any runs.”
The Tar Heels threatened just twice. Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter had back-to-back singles in the first inning, but designated hitter Tom Zengel struck out with runners on the corners and two outs. Then in the seventh, Parks Jordan led off with a single and advanced to second on a groundout, but couldn’t get any further.
FSU got three doubles from star DJ Stewart, who had three RBIs. But four of the Seminoles runs came after batters either walked or were hit by a pitch and then came around to score.
“I really didn’t think their hitters were all that great,” Thornton said. “We just walked too many guys, hit too many guys, and didn’t make the pitch in certain situations the whole game. We gave them bases the whole game. Our pitching wasn’t as good as it needs to be.”
Florida State clinched the Atlantic Division for the eighth straight season with Friday’s win. The Tar Heels have more chances for marquee wins – games today and Sunday against the Seminoles are followed by a three-game series at Coastal Division leader Miami – but can’t afford many more slip-ups if they want to make the ACC or NCAA Tournaments.
“We’re not putting up a ton of runs,” senior outfielder Parks Jordan said. “There is a small margin of error, and we need to make the routine plays and make a special play here and there.”