UNC receives some breaks - finally - in 3-2 victory against Virginia Tech

acarter@newsobserver.comApril 25, 2014 

— Amid a long season of tough luck and bad breaks, the North Carolina baseball team won a game on Friday night that left the Tar Heels hoping, at last, that perhaps their fortunes are starting to turn.

“I don’t know how we won that game,” UNC coach Mike Fox said after his team’s 3-2 victory against Virginia Tech. “Obviously we pitched really well and made a couple of plays when we needed to and we just got a couple of gifts there from them on the double play balls.

“I mean, we’ll take it but we can’t be very happy certainly with our level of play.”

Happy, satisfying moments have been rare for Fox during this trying season, one of the most difficult of his tenure at UNC. Finally, though, his team found some luck on Friday night and took advantage of it in a victory the Tar Heels (25-18, 11-11) desperately needed.

UNC received another strong start from Trent Thornton, the sophomore right-hander who is the team’s ace, but the Tar Heels trailed 2-0 entering the bottom of the sixth inning. Moments later, after loading the bases, UNC received its first break of the game.

With one out, sophomore center fielder Skye Bolt came to bat against Sean Keselica, the Hokies’ starting pitcher. Bolt, who has struggled this season after earning freshman All-American honors a season ago, hit a routine double play ball to second base.

Had Virginia Tech (18-23, 7-15) completed the play the inning would have been over. But Brendon Hayden, the Virginia Tech first baseman, dropped the throw and UNC scored twice to tie.

“You’re always looking for the silver lining, always looking for a turning point,” said Bolt, who is hitting .230.

Two innings later, in the eighth, Bolt came to bat amid identical circumstances – with one out and the bases loaded. Again, he hit a routine double play ball to second base and, again, the Hokies failed to turn it.

This time, the throw to Hayden was wide of the bag, and Bolt ducked under Hayden’s tag moments after Adam Pate, the freshman left fielder, scored the go-ahead run. In the dugout, Thornton said, the Tar Heels “were ecstatic” at the sequence.

“Any way to get the job done and we’re happy,” Thornton said.

UNC’s satisfaction, though, will be short-lived. The Tar Heels in recent years have made a near-annual tradition of reaching the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., but now making the NCAA tournament will be a challenge.

The Tar Heels last missed the NCAA tournament in 2001, but without a strong finish to the regular season during the next three weeks it’s possible they could miss it this season. UNC’s victory on Friday night evened its ACC record, and it ended the night ranked 45th in the RPI.

After this weekend’s series against Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels’ final two ACC series are against Florida State and Miami – two of the best teams in the ACC. It will only get more difficult from here, but there was hope on Friday that a strange, gritty victory – UNC scored all three of its runs on botched double play attempts – could serve as a turning point.

“It seems like everything bad has happened to our team this year,” said Trevor Kelley, a junior right-hander who relieved Thornton in the seventh inning and allowed one hit while pitching into the ninth. “We just need some breaks like that.

“We don’t like winning off those, but it’s always nice that that happens, especially in a series like this which could be a really pivotal point of our season. We know the position we’re in.”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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