Holt comes through in a pinch

Staff WriterMarch 9, 2009 

— For eight innings Sunday afternoon, Greg Holt sat in the dugout, a forlorn figure encouraging and cheering his North Carolina teammates.

But at game's end, it was the other players cheering Holt, whose pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth scored Alex White with the winning run as the Tar Heels beat Clemson in a wild 9-8 game.

The drama at balmy Boshamer Stadium unfolded after the Tigers erased a 7-1 lead and went ahead 8-7 on Jeff Schaus' three-run homer in the top of the ninth.

Carolina (10-2, 2-1 ACC) won for the second time in three games with the Tigers (6-4, 1-2), marking the 17th straight regular-season weekend series UNC has won since 2007.

"A crazy game,'' said a drained Carolina coach Mike Fox, who asked his wife, Cheryl, if his third-ranked team had given her heart failure.

With starter Matt Harvey giving up one run on four hits and one walk through seven innings, all seemed near perfect in Carolina country. Warm weather. Baby blue sky. Big lead.

But then the Tar Heels bullpen of Logan Munson, Brian Moran, Nate Striz and Colin Bates experienced an uncharacteristic meltdown, and Clemson roared back.

That set up a suspenseful finish that no doubt left the Tigers feeling as if victory had slipped through their paws.

Kyle Seager (4-for-4, four runs) led off with a single. Then Mark Fleury reached on a throwing error by Clemson reliever Casey Harman. After Ryan Graepel (3-for-5, three RBIs) drove in White with the tying run and one out, Fox summoned Holt, a struggling .222 hitter.

With his team in a pinch, he turned into a hero. Holt drove a fastball by Harman through the middle of Clemson's drawn-in infield, then raised his arms in triumph on the sprint to first base.

"I was hoping my number would be called," Holt said. "I felt confident, and it worked out pretty well."

During pregame batting practice, Fox gave Holt tips that helped eliminate a high leg kick and looping swing and create a balanced stance.

The technical changes helped. So did Holt's resolve, which is as tough as his aluminum bat.

"He's always ready, he's not scared," said Fox, cognizant many at Boshamer had frayed nerves until Holt drove White home with the decisive run.

aj.carr@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8948

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