DURHAM — If you’re going to have one bad inning in a baseball game, it’s better to make it the first one than the last.
North Carolina and Miami proved that Friday afternoon.
Playing for a spot in the ACC tournament semifinals, the Tar Heels got off to a miserable start by allowing three runs on five hits in the top of the first.
But at least they left themselves plenty of time to play catchup.
The Hurricanes didn’t that luxury.
After UNC rallied to tie the game on Michael Busch’s two-run homer in the eighth, Miami melted down in the 11th, A pair of mental mistakes opened the door for two decisive runs, lifting the Tar Heels to a 7-5 win at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Their second extra inning victory in as many games at the tournament sets up a semifinal meeting with surprising Boston College. NC State and Georgia Tech will play in Saturday’s other matchup.
The Wolfpack advanced despite losing a meaningless game to Florida State on Friday. The Yellow Jackets denied Duke a shot at the tournament title by winning in walkoff style in the day’s opening game.
“If you get down big in an inning, sure, you want it to be early in the game to give you a chance to get back in the game,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “It’s kind of a mindset in the dugout of, okay, we’ve still got (a lot of) innings to play here and we’re going to respond one way or the other.
“Either we’re going to press or you’re going to get angry or you’re just going to try to keep playing. We have a mature team. Got to give credit to our leaders on our team.”
The Tar Heels (40-17) needed all the leadership they could muster after a first inning that saw Miami rough up starter Austin Bergner. The Hurricanes added to their head start by scoring single runs in the second and third to extend their lead to 5-0 and threaten to break the game open early.
That’s when UNC began to chip away.
Danny Serretti and Ike Freeman, the Tar Heels’ two hottest hitters in the tournament, got the comeback started with RBI singles in the fourth. Catcher Brandon Martorano made it 5-3 in the fifth.
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman reliever Austin Love was doing his part to cool Miami’s hot bats down. The hard-throwing right-hander kept his team in striking distance by throwing 6⅓ strong innings, while allowing only three hits with six strikeouts.
“That was the key to the game, without question,” Fox said. “Obviously, we’ve got to score, but you’ve got to hold down a really good offensive team to get back in the game and Austin’s been really good for us all year.”
Love combined with Joey Lancellotti and Hansen Butler to shut out the Hurricanes (39-18) over the final eight innings. The offense then did its part to finish the job.
UNC got back even in the eighth, ironically in the same way their winning rally against Virginia two nights earlier ended — with pinch-hitter Caleb Roberts getting hit by a pitch. This time instead of driving in a run, he scored one when Busch followed with his long homer into the right field seats.
“I was just waiting for a fastball,” Busch said. “And trying to put a good swing on it.”
Three innings later, the Tar Heels got some help to finish Miami off.
First, the Hurricanes’ right fielder Adrian Del Castillo and second baseman Anthony Vilar misplayed Aaron Sabatto’s blooper into a one-out double. Then shortstop Freddy Zamora made a bad decision by trying to cut down pinch runner Angel Zarate at third instead of taking the easy out at first.
Zarate was ruled safe after a video review. He then scored on a sacrifice fly by Freeman that would otherwise have been the third out. Ashton McGee followed with an RBI single to give the Tar Heels a two-run cushion.
“To get punched in the mouth like that early and come back and win the game is just a credit to them and their resiliency,” Fox said of his players. “We talk all the time about how you respond to things and just kind of challenged them there after the third inning and got great response from everybody in the dugout. It was an incredible win for us.”
Georgia Tech 5, Duke 4
The Blue Devils got off to a strong start in their quest to reach the ACC tournament semifinals for the second time in the three years of the current pool play format by scoring three times in the first on singles by Michael Rothenberg and Chris Crabtree.
But they were ultimately brought down by the bat and arm of the Yellow Jackets’ Tristin English.
The Tech star hit a two-run homer and pitched two shutout innings of relief. Then with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, he hit a double off the wall in left field that scored teammate Luke Waddell with the winning run.
Duke left fielder Kyle Gallagher tried to make a leaping catch on English’s game-winning hit, but the ball eluded his glove to send the Yellow Jackets into the semifinals.
“It was hard because of the way the wind was playing today,” Blue Devils coach Chris Pollard said. “That ball was coming straight down. I’ll be very candid with you, when it left the bat I said, ‘good job.’ because I thought it was an F7.
“I thought that ball would land about the edge of the warning track, but the ballpark played difficult today in left with the way it was pushing.”
Despite the disappointing loss, Pollard and his players are confident that they’ll get an at large bid to the NCAA tournament on Monday.
“We’re definitely going to prepare like we’re going to be in the tournament,” senior center fielder Kennie Taylor said. “We’re going to take it each day at a time. We’ll have a plan throughout this coming days until selection Monday. But I think we’re very confident in ourselves, and we think we deserve to be there.”
Florida State 11, NC State 0
The Wolfpack was already assured of its semifinal spot, making this a meaningless game. And coach Elliott Avent’s team played like it.
State managed only one hit in the game, a second inning single by Tyler McDonough, and four pitchers allowed 16 hits and 11 runs while suffering its first shutout loss in 139 games.
According to Avent, the most positive aspect of the game is that it ended after seven innings because of the slaughter rule.
“We saved two innings of pitching and come back, get home a little bit earlier, come home ready for Georgia Tech,” he said.