Cavs put Tar Heels title hopes on hold
With Kent Emanuel on the mound and 3,095 fans in the stands at Boshamer Stadium, North Carolina was primed to celebrate its first ACC regular-season title in 23 years.
Instead, the second-ranked Tar Heels allowed a season-high 10 runs and 17 hits to No. 7 Virginia on Thursday and lost 10-4 for its most lopsided defeat of the year.
Emanuel (9-3), a junior who has the sixth-lowest ERA in school history (2.11), gave up 10 hits and six runs (four earned) in five innings. It was the first time he didn’t pitch into the seventh in 13 starts this season.
“These kids aren’t robots,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “You just don’t plug them in and they go out and give you seven or eight innings. It’s a tough thing and Kent just didn’t have it tonight, but I think it was more Virginia. That’s as good an offensive team as we’ve played this season, by far.”
Every starter had at least one hit for the Cavaliers (44-8, 21-7 ACC), who lead the conference in batting average and are third nationally in scoring.
UNC (46-7, 20-6), the highest-scoring team in the country, failed to record an extra-base hit against Brandon Waddell (5-1) and closer Kyle Crockett and struggled aside from designated hitter Landon Lassiter, who went 4-for-5.
“They just beat us like a drum,” Fox said. “Bottom line — they’re as good as advertised.”
The first two batters were indicative of how the night would go. Mike Papi hit a ball to the rightfield wall that was dropped by Skye Bolt, and then Jared King worked a walk on a 12-pitch at-bat.
Emanuel got out of the inning by striking out Brandon Downes and Derek Fisher, but the pitches soon would add up and the base runners eventually would lead to runs.
Virginia got on the board in the second when No. 9 hitter Nate Irving lined an RBI single to center. Then, after third baseman Colin Moran failed to catch a foul pop, Papi used his second chance to drive in a run on a groundout, making it 2-0.
Moran’s nation-leading 79th RBI on a single put UNC ahead in the third inning, and Mike Zolk’s sacrifice fly made it 4-2.
But Virginia got runners on second and third with no outs in both the fourth and fifth innings, and all four runners came around to score against Emanuel.
“Everything was just up — simple as that,” Emanuel said. “That was the only issue of the day. They were able to string a bunch of hits together, and it just… sucked.”
After being ranked No. 1 by the coaches for 10 straight weeks during a 44-4 start, the Tar Heels now have dropped three of five, including their first series loss last weekend at Georgia Tech.
“We weren’t going to continue just to win games at this clip, no matter what,” Fox said. “Did we want it to be right now? No. I’d rather it be in February and March. We do have our backs against the wall a little bit, so we’ll see how much fight we have.”
The Tar Heels still can clinch the ACC regular-season title by winning one of its final two games against the Cavs. UNC sophomore Benton Moss (8-1, 2.96) goes against lefty Scott Silverstein (8-1, 3.21) today at 7 p.m., and UNC junior Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 1.99) faces Whit Mayberry (4-0, 1.66) Saturday at 2 p.m.