CHAPEL HILL — On his lineup card Mike Fox kept writing down the same phrase over and over on Friday night: Hard-hit ball. Hard-hit ball.
One time Fox, the North Carolina coach, looked down and counted that hed written it 15 times. At the time, the Tar Heels had only seven hits against Virginia.
You start to wonder, Fox said. Well, is it just not going to be our night?
The Tar Heels often hit it were the Cavaliers were on Friday. At last, UNC began hitting it where Virginia wasnt.
Trailing by three runs and down to their final six outs, No. 2 UNC scored six times in the eighth inning in a come-from-behind 8-5 victory. The win evened the series with the Cavaliers (44-9, 21-8) at one game apiece and, more importantly, secured UNCs first regular-season ACC championship since 1990.
Its special, Fox said. Its special for this group, that they can always say that that were the No. 1 seed in the (ACC) tournament. And I think thats pretty cool.
He could say the same for his teams offensive resurgence. After scoring four runs on Thursday night in a 10-4 loss against Virginia, UNC again struggled to generate scoring opportunities on Friday.
That changed, though, just when the Tar Heels (47-7, 21-6 ACC) most needed it to change. Trailing 5-2 with one out in the eighth inning, Brian Holberton reached on an error by Virginia shortstop Nick Howard. The mistake seemed to spark the Tar Heels, who had spent plenty of time on Friday watching well-hit balls land in the gloves of the Cavaliers.
After the error, UNC shortstop Michael Russell tripled to left-center, sending home Holberton in the process. Two batters later, after Virginia left-hander Kyle Crockett hit Cody Stubbs in the back with a curve ball, Mike Zolk hit another triple,. scoring Russell and Stubbs to tie the score.
I think it was adrenaline and competitiveness, more than anything, Zolk said of his triple.
The Tar Heels took the lead on Chaz Franks single to center, and after a pitching change Landon Lassiter drove home another run with a single to right field. Colin Morans RBI, which came on a fielders choice, extended UNCs lead to three runs before the inning ended to a loud ovation.
Weve been waiting kind of for a big inning like that, Fox said.
After his teams defeat on Thursday, he acknowledged that UNCs backs were against the wall. He was anxious to see how his team would respond to its most resounding defeat of the season.
It took a while, but the Tar Heels did indeed respond well. In addition to the offensive surge in the eighth, UNC benefited from a strong performance from its bullpen, which allowed three hits and one run in 3 1/3 innings.
Virginia did most of its damage off starting pitcher Benton Moss, who pitched into the sixth inning after allowing eight hits and four runs. Virginia starter Scott Silverstein allowed just two runs and seven hits in six innings. Crockett recorded just two outs while surrendering three hits and six runs.
Crockett on Thursday pitched the final two innings of Virginias victory, and he allowed just one hit and no runs. In the process, though, the Tar Heels learned something about him.
We had no other choice but to sit on the slider, be aggressive, Zolk said.
The Tar Heels were aggressive in the eighth. And finally, the hard hits turned into real hits, and runs followed just when UNC most needed them.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter