Virginia ends UNC ACC Tournament title game hopes
North Carolina’s quest for a second straight ACC Tournament title is over. Now the Tar Heels can worry about extending their streak of 12 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
UNC missed a chance to cement its NCAA Tournament bid with a 3-2 loss to Virginia, the No. 1 team in the RPI, Friday night in NewBridge Bank Park.
The loss eliminated the sixth-seeded Tar Heels from contention for the ACC Tournament championship game.
UNC freshman Wood Myers of Jordan High School tied the game with his first home run of the season, a two-run shot that made it 2-2 in the seventh inning. But No. 2 seed Virginia got the lead right back in the eighth. Joe McCarthy was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on a one-out single by Derek Fisher that hit off the glove off Myers at second base and went into the outfield.
UNC (33-25), which is 44th in the RPI, has one chance left to impress the NCAA selection committee. Its final pool play game is today against No. 6 Maryland (3 p.m., Fox Sports Carolinas), which is 28th in the RPI.
"This would have been a big win for us," Fox said. "We’ve got a big game tomorrow. We’re going to do everything we can to show up and compete tomorrow. Hope we’ll play a little bit of better and then really it’s out of our hands after that."
The Terrapins have won 11 straight games and would advance to Sunday’s 1 p.m. final with a win over the Tar Heels.
Fox said that his team was “fighting for our lives” this week when it came to its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Tar Heels beat N.C. State in the play-in game Tuesday, then lost to FSU (No. 3 in the RPI) on Wednesday.
UNC junior Benton Moss did his part on Friday, allowing just two unearned runs and four hits and striking out eight in 6.2 innings.
But the Tar Heels stranded 11 runners and couldn’t score early despite getting the leadoff runner on in four of the first five frames against third-team all-ACC pitcher Brandon Waddell, who allowed nine baserunners but no runs in five innings.
Virginia (44-12) scored the first run in the fourth inning. With a runner on second and two outs, Derek Fisher hit a chopper to Landon Lassiter, who was playing shortstop because second-team all-ACC shortstop Michael Russell was out with back spasms. Lassiter’s throw sailed over first base, allowing Nick Howard to score.
UNC had runners on the corners with one out in the third but Lassiter struck out and Skye Bolt grounded out. Then the Tar Heels had runners on second and third and two outs in the fifth but No. 9 hitter Adam Pate – who replaced Russell in the lineup – struck out.
Brandon Cogswell was 3 for 3 and his teammates were 0 for 19 until the seventh, when the Cavaliers added to their lead. John La Prise led off with a single, moved to second on a fielding error by third baseman Alex Raburn, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a suicide squeeze.
The Tar Heels tied the game in the bottom half of the inning. Pinch hitter Zach Daly reached on a throwing error by Cogswell at second, and Myers hit a 1-1 changeup over the rightfield wall for his first home run in 200th at-bats.
After the Cavs went ahead in the eighth, they turned to closer Nick Howard, whose 18 saves (in 20 chances) is one shy of the ACC record set by UNC’s Michael Morin in 2012.
Howard came in with two outs and walked Joe Dudek on four pitches. Pinch runner Michael Massardo got to second on a wild pitch but Howard struck out Daly to end the inning.
Freshman rightfielder Tyler Ramirez made a catch while crashing into the wall with two on and two outs in the top of the ninth to keep the deficit at 3-2, and the Tar Heels had the top of the lineup up in the bottom half of the inning.
Myers (4 for 5) led off with a shallow pop to center that fell for a single and he was sacrificed to second. But Howard struck out Lassiter and got Bolt to fly out to end the game.
It was another tight contest between the teams, which have met 289 times (UNC leads the series 179-106-4). Virginia has won three of four this season, with neither team scoring more than four runs in any game.
Follow UNC beat writer Harold Gutmann on Twitter at @haroldgut.