The No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament for the first time in 23 years, North Carolina played the role of favorite to perfection in opening pool play Thursday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Junior Kent Emanuel pitched a four-hitter and the offense collected 18 hits as UNC defeated No. 8 seed Miami 10-0 in an eight-inning game that was shortened by the 10-run mercy rule.
The Tar Heels (49-8) scored three runs on five singles in the first inning and never looked back. Cody Stubbs went 4 for 5 with three RBI and Brian Holberton went 3 for 4 with three RBI.
Emanuel (10-3), the ACC pitcher of the year, was coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in his career. He didn’t record any strikeouts, but he didn’t need to — free-swinging Miami (35-22), which didn’t have a .300 hitter in the lineup, had just four singles.
“They were in total swing mode the whole day,” Emanuel said. “Even if I made bad pitches they would swing and get themselves out. As the game went on I basically had to keep on the edges and they were going to pop up or ground out.”
Emanuel did allow his only two walks to lead off the second, but the Tar Heels turned their first 3-6-1 double play of the season, with first baseman Cody Stubbs throwing to shortstop Michael Russell at second, and Emanuel getting to first base for the relay throw.
Miami still had a runner on third with two outs, but Emanuel — who coach Mike Fox said is the best-fielding pitcher he’s ever coached — knocked down a comebacker from Garrett Kennedy, retrieved the ball near the first-base line and got the out.
Emanuel didn’t allow a runner past second base for the rest of the game.
“That’s a trait of a lot of really, really good pitchers — you have to get them early,” Miami coach Jim Morris said. “He settled down after that (second) inning.”
Emanuel is the first Tar Heel since Robert Woodard in 2006 to record three shutouts in a season. The lefty said a season-high 85 percent of his pitches were fastballs.
“Once he got a comfortable lead he was coming at us with fastballs,” Kennedy said. “He was getting ahead in the count and then he could start using all his pitches to his advantage.”
UNC provided that lead against Andrew Suarez (3-5), who allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings against the Tar Heels in March but gave up all seven runs in 5 1/3 innings Thursday.
Colin Moran drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single, posting his school-record 84th RBI of the season. The previous mark was set by Marshall Hubbard in 2004.
With two outs, Holberton then came through with a two-run single, making the score 3-0. Holberton was hitting .135 in May but ended UNC’s regular-season Monday with a game-winning RBI single in the eighth inning against No. 2 Florida State.
“Confidence is such a big thing in this game,” Fox said. “I think it did carry over. We needed him back doing some good things for us.”
Stubbs added a two-run single in the third inning, and pinch hitter Parks Jordan had a two-run single in the sixth.
UNC could have ended the game in the seventh, but Skye Bolt was caught stealing at second base before Stubbs doubled. Still, the Tar Heels led 9-0 and put the mercy rule in effect in the eighth when Stubbs doubled again with one out to score Moran.
Miami had beaten UNC in each of the past two ACC Tournaments, and the Tar Heels were just 5-7 in the event during the past four years.
“I challenged them before the game,” Fox said. “Just because it’s been pretty obvious the teams that have won in this tournament have been locked in.”
UNC will complete pool play with games against No. 5 Clemson tonight at 7 and No. 4 N.C. State Saturday at 7 p.m. (both games will be televised by Fox Sports South). The Wolfpack beat the Tigers 6-3 on Wednesday night and both teams had Thursday off.