UNC continues winning streak with 6-0 victory against Wake Forest

acarter@newsobserver.comMay 24, 2012 

— North Carolina began play in the ACC baseball championship on Wednesday night in much the same way the Tar Heels ended the regular season: with timely, clutch hitting and with dominant pitching. And with a victory.

UNC’s 6-0 victory against Wake Forest was the Heels’ 14th consecutive, and their performance mirrored so many of their others during the past month. The second-seeded Tar Heels, who haven’t lost since April 24, will carry their momentum into their game today against Miami, which suffered a 3-2 defeat against N.C. State on Wednesday.

Long a team that relied mostly on its dominant pitching, the Heels of late have started to produce the offense to go along with their reliable arms. That trend continued on Wednesday night, when UNC (43-13) used a four-run third inning to take control. The Heels scored three of those runs with two outs.

“Pretty typical,” UNC coach Mike Fox said of his team’s performance, which reminded him of others in UNC’s winning streak. “It’s not pretty the way we’ve won, it’s not flashy – but we just get a couple of big hits, and we’ve not been a big inning team [this season] … that’s pretty much how we’ve won the past couple of weeks.”

After loading the bases against Wake Forest lefthander Tim Cooney, who struck out 10 in seven and two-thirds innings, the Heels scored their first run on Mark Russell’s fielder’s choice grounder to first. Then came the most damaging blow of the inning: a Jacob Stallings double down the left line that scored two runs.

It was all the offense that UNC needed, what with the way Shane Taylor started the game, and how five others finished it. Taylor, a sophomore right-hander who was making his third start of the season, walked four batters and allowed three hits but didn’t surrender a run in his four and one-third innings.

He successfully maneuvered out of trouble and received some defensive help, too – none more important than when Chaz Frank, the Heels’ center fielder, threw out Wake’s Pat Blair at home plate in the top of the third. Blair had been trying to score from second off of Mac Williamson’s single to center.

“Off the bat, it was kind of like a blooper and I kind of saw Blair hesitate a little bit,” Frank said. “… I knew we had a chance.”

Frank’s throw barely beat Blair to the plate to preserve what was then a scoreless tie.UNC broke it open in the bottom of the inning, and the Heels’ bullpen did the rest.

After UNC coach Mike Fox pulled Taylor in the fourth, two pitchers – Tate Parrish and Luis Paula – recorded the next two outs. R.C. Orlan, a junior left-hander, then worked the next three and two-thirds innings for UNC. He allowed one hit and struck out six.

“That’s why they have the best pitching staff in the league,” Wake coach Tom Walter said.

Wake Forest (32-23) went hitless in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, and UNC used more pitchers (six) than the Demon Deacons had hits (four). Fox changed pitchers with a six-run lead and two outs in the ninth inning, joking that he didn’t mind extending the game a bit. He said he wanted to get some of his other pitchers some work.

“It’s just what we do,” Fox said of using a multitude of pitchers. “No apologies.”

The Tar Heels, meanwhile, cushioned their lead with runs in the fourth and eighth innings.

UNC prevailed with ease on Wednesday despite using its least experienced starting pitcher. Kent Emanuel, a sophomore left-hander who earned first-team All-ACC honors after going 8-3 with a 1.80 ERA, will start for UNC today against Miami.

The Hurricanes swept UNC in a three-game series in Coral Gables, Fla., in early April. The Heels scored a combined three runs, and Frank acknowledged that he and his teammates had been flat that series. Frank and Stallings vowed that’d be different this time.

“Miami’s kind of kicked our butts, since I’ve been here,” said Stallings, who went 2-for-4 on Wednesday night. “ … We definitely want to come out and not let them beat us four times this season.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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