DURHAM — Mike Fox didnt remember using the word mojo earlier in the week when he described what he hoped his North Carolina baseball team would regain in the ACC tournament, and upon hearing the word on Thursday he professed not to know its meaning.
Did I say that word, really? Fox said. I dont know what that means.
Whatever the definition, the Tar Heels during their 10-0 victory against Miami did indeed regain something thatd gone missing recently. UNCs victory in its first game of the ACC Baseball Championship ended in the eighth inning after UNC first baseman Cody Stubbs drove in the Heels 10th run, prompting the tournaments 10-run mercy rule that goes into effect after the seventh inning of all tournament games except the final on Sunday.
UNC, ranked No. 1 nationally throughout much of the season, arrived at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park amid its most disappointing stretch of the season. The Tar Heels (49-8) ended the season with a 4-3 victory against Florida State, but that came after back-to-back series losses against Georgia Tech and Virginia.
Earlier in the week, Fox said he hoped his team would get a little bit of our mojo back during the ACC tournament. The dominant performance against the Hurricanes (35-22) couldnt have hurt.
The victory was UNCs first shutout against a conference opponent since mid-April, and the Heels 10 runs were their most against a conference opponent since their 10-1 victory against Duke on April 21. Stubbs, who finished 4-for-5 with three RBIs, led UNCs offense while junior left-hander Kent Emanuel kept Miami scoreless.
They were in total swing mode the whole day, Emanuel said. And even if I made bad pitches, it seemed like they would swing and get themselves out. And as the game went on, I just basically had to keep it on the edges and they were going to pop out and ground out.
Emanuel pitched all eight innings, allowed just four hits and helped his cause with one of the best defensive plays of the game. The Hurricanes had a runner on third and two out in the second when Garrett Kennedy hit a sharp line drive up the middle that Emanuel knocked down with his glove before throwing to first to end the threat.
That play followed a rare 3-6-1 double play after Miami had two runners on with nobody out.
We worked on that I dont know how many times the other day, Fox said. We had a lot of those (opportunities). And thats probably the first one weve gotten all year.
UNC already led 3-0 when the Hurricanes threatened in the second. After that, though, Miami failed to generate scoring chances. The Heels added to their lead.
They scored two runs in the third and two more in the sixth and seventh innings before Stubbs came through with the game-ending hit in the eighth. When Stubbs came to bat then, he said he was aware of the stakes that with a hit he could drive home Colin Moran and end the game.
Oh, I knew, Stubbs said with a smile. I was well aware.
Stubbs four hits led the Heels, who mustered just five hits and one run in mid-March against Miami starter Andrew Suarez. This time, he allowed 11 hits and seven runs before leaving the game in the sixth inning. In addition to Stubbs four hits, Brian Holberton and Skye Bolt had three apiece for UNC, which outhit Miami 18-4.
Holbertons two-out single in the first drove in two runs and gave UNC its early 3-0 lead. Fox pointed to that moment, and his teams defense in the next half-inning, as the turning points. Emanuel wasnt overpowering he didnt record a strikeout but Miami made no adjustments at the plate, Canes coach Jim Morris said.
The Tar Heels adjusted.
Our kids were ready, Fox said. I challenged them before the game, because its been pretty obvious the teams that have played here and so far won in this tournament have really looked like theyve been ready to play, and locked in.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter