UNC tops Duke 10-1 to run record to 39-2

lkeeley@newsobserver.comApril 21, 2013 

— Before Sunday's game against Duke, the second straight sellout at Boshamer Stadium, Tar Heels head coach Mike Fox told his players to look around. There was already a healthy crowd in the stands and people milling about the concourse well before the first pitch in what would be a series sweep with the third win over Duke. Fox wanted to make sure his team didn't take the scene for granted.

The Tar Heels put together a baseball atmosphere group recently, and hula-hoop contests, T-shirt tosses and additional encouragement for fans to get loud on the video board are the by-products of that work. And the fans have responded. Sunday's attendance of 4,255 set a new regular-season record.

“Some of these fans come here and it's not really about the game,” Fox said. “It's about entertainment, food, easy parking, the sunshine, the weather, and the game is sort of a byproduct of that. And I'm okay with that. That's the way baseball is sometimes. And if were winning and they enjoy it, they come back.

“And I think some people are coming because they know our record and want to see if we're that good.”

UNC is, in fact, that good, or at least the Tar Heels are playing like a 39-2 team right now. It's a start that has rarely been seen before in college baseball--Miami went 39-1 in 1981 but then lost the next two--and three teams (Texas twice and Florida Atlantic) won at least 40 games before losing their third during the previous century. But that's about it as far as comparisons.

“It's hard when people ask us because we don't keep track of it, we just keep winning,” right fielder Brian Holberton said. “It doesn't feel like we've played (41) games.”

Holberton, who moved into the cleanup spot after freshman sensation Sky Bolt broke his foot, gave the Tar Heels all the offense they would need Sunday against Duke (22-19, 8-12 in the ACC) in the first inning. Holberton took a 2-0 pitch over right field for a 3-run home run in the 10-1 win.

Duke starter Robert Hubert struggled to throw first-pitch strikes--a point of emphasis for the Blue Devils--and seven of UNC's first nine at-bats featured 1-0 counts. The Tar Heels Hobbs Johnson was the opposite, finding his command early in the count.

North Carolina never trailed in the three-game series. The Tar Heels also opened each game with multiple runs in the first inning--two in both games Saturday and three on Sunday.

The three Tar Heel starters, Kent Emanuel, Benton Moss and Johnson, each threw a quality start. Emanuel threw his third complete game of the year, a two-hit in a 7-1 win in the first game of a double header Saturday.

Duke's best chance to upset UNC came in the night game Saturday. Trailing just 2-1 after two innings, the Blue Devils put runners in scoring position in three of the next four innings. Duke had runners on the corners with zero outs in the sixth, but Mark Lumpa popped a bunt up to Cody Stubbs at first base, Chris Marconcini struck out swinging and Kenny Koplove popped up to third baseman Colin Moran. UNC added a run in the next half-inning as Landon Lassiter led off with a double and came around to score on a balk by Nick Hendrix. The Tar Heels added one more run in the 4-1 victory.

The lone offensive bright spot for Duke was Jordan Betts, who a home run in each game Saturday. Those were the only two runs the Blue Devils scored on the weekend until pinch hitter Al Morris singled in a run with two outs in the ninth inning Sunday.

“Carolina, they way they pitch, they make a lot of teams look bad offensively,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “We'll find out this week if that was just us with a bad offensive approach or if Carolina is just that good.”

There's a distinct possibility it's the latter.

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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