UNC falls to Miami in ACC baseball; Fox suspended for next game

acarter@newsobserver.comMay 25, 2012 

— North Carolina’s 5-3 defeat against Miami on Thursday ended after the Tar Heels left the bases loaded, and it ended with UNC’s best hitter, Colin Moran, standing motionless in the batter’s box, stunned at a third called strike. He wasn’t the only one in disbelief.

Mike Fox, the Tar Heels’ normally-stoic head coach, argued the call. And kept arguing. Randy Harvey, the home plate umpire, warned Fox to stop but he persisted. And then he was ejected.

Fox’s ejection, even if it did come after the game had ended, will force him to serve one-game suspension when the Tar Heels play against N.C. State on Saturday night in the final pool play game of the ACC baseball championship at NewBridge Bank Park. That game will decide which team advances to the conference championship game on Sunday -- whether that team is the Tar Heels, Wolfpack or Miami.

Not that Fox was in the mood to talk much about the future on Thursday.

“You can look at the video,” Fox said of the pitch that ended the game. “You look at it, you come back and you tell me [whether it was a strike]. The kids should decide the game.”

As it was, though, Miami’s A.J. Salcines struck out Moran looking, and stranded three Tar Heels in the process. UNC (43-14), which dropped to 1-1 in pool play, had loaded the bases with one hit and two walks, but Salcines recorded all three outs in the ninth with strikeouts.

The ending befit the Heels, who entered Thursday with a 14-game winning streak. During that stretch, they benefitted from stellar pitching and timely hitting, especially with runners on base. But UNC left nine runners stranded on Thursday – five in its final two at-bats alone.

“You know, probably that’s a recipe on how not to win a game against a really good team,” said Fox, who then listed all the times his team failed to capitalize on its scoring chances. “… Those things, they come back to get you in the course of a nine-inning game and that was exactly the case.”

The Hurricanes (35-20) finished with seven hits – two fewer than UNC’s nine – but they more often took advantage of their opportunities. That was especially true in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Miami centerfielder Dale Carey broke a tie with a two-run home run that gave his team a 5-3 lead.

“Believe it or not, of all the hits they got, I think that was the one where I didn’t miss my spot,” said UNC starting pitcher Kent Emanuel, who gave up the home run. “It was kind of funny how it worked out. I felt like he didn’t even get all of it, to be honest with you, but he still got enough to get out of the ballpark.”

Carey’s home run was a line drive that didn’t clear the fence by much. It didn’t resemble the high home run that UNC’s Grayson Atwood hit in the top half of the inning.

Atwood, a freshman who hadn’t hit a home run since his senior season in high school, had played in just 15 games during the regular season when Fox called on him to pinch hit in the seventh, with one out and a runner on first. His home run momentarily gave the Heels hope.

“[Fox] said, ‘Be ready to go in,’” Atwood said. “So I was just trying to stay mentally prepared and my approach was to put a good swing on the first good pitch I [saw].”

Atwood did, and hit the first pitch he saw over the fence. The Heels had more hope in their final at bat, in the top of the ninth, with the bases loaded and their most feared hitter at the plate.

But Moran, who entered with a .384 batting average, watched the third strike pass by him, and the usually-calm Fox expressed his anger. In Fox's absence on Saturday, UNC's pitching coach, Scott Forbes, will serve as the team's head coach.

“They think there’s no emotion involved here – after the game, apparently,” Fox said. “You’re not supposed to say anything. It’s hard to play this game without emotion. Sometimes you’ve got to let things go.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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