CHAPEL HILL — In some ways, it was a microcosm of a season gone wrong for North Carolina: pitching that was good enough to win, wasted in defeat, and poor defense along with hitting that was just as bad.
In other ways, though, it was worse. The Tar Heels committed a season-high five errors – though none led to runs – during their 1-0 defeat against East Carolina on Tuesday night, North Carolina failing to score for the first time this season.
UNC coach Mike Fox laughed afterward at the thought of momentum, and whether the Tar Heels had lost what they’d created during the four-game winning streak they brought into Tuesday. After all, Fox said, there is no such thing as momentum, which changes, he said, “from pitch to pitch, inning to inning.”
Even so, this was a low in a season of lows.
“A disappointing performance,” Fox said. “And embarrassing performance, really, by us.”
It wasn’t all bad. Taylore Cherry, a looming 6-foot-8, 270-pound right-hander, gave UNC (27-19) a chance. Cherry allowed eight hits in six innings and was at his best when he needed to be, pitching out of trouble again and again before leaving after allowing a leadoff single to Garrett Brooks in the seventh.
Moments later, after Trevor Kelley replaced Cherry, Brooks scored on a single from Charlie Yorgen. Cherry was good, but he was not good enough on a night when the Tar Heels mustered nearly nothing – just five hits, and four of those with two outs – against East Caorlina left-hander Reid Love, who pitched a complete game and struck out seven.
Love pitched 4 2/3 innings and allowed one run during the 3-2 victory against UNC last week in Greenville. Tuesday night, he led ECU (28-18) to its first victory in Chapel Hill since 1994.
“He was just consistent,” Tar Heels senior left fielder Parks Jordan said of Love. “Just like he was last week, pounding the strike zone. He did a good job of throwing strikes with all his pitches.
“He got ahead of us and he took advantage of it.”
The Tar Heels didn’t send more than four batters to the plate during any inning, and they reached second base against Love just twice. It was hardly the first time this season that UNC’s offense has done little to help its pitching, which often has given the Tar Heels a chance to win.
North Carolina entered Tuesday ranked 23rd nationally, and second in the ACC, in team ERA (2.83). Tuesday, though, was the 14th time the Tar Heels have failed to score more than two runs.
“We just go out there and keep trying to throw strikes, keep trying to get outs and sometimes the offense is off,” Cherry said. “But we can’t really worry about that. It’s not our job.”
Cherry was a bright spot, Fox said, and UNC stranded 12 East Caorlina base runners. Yet it wasn’t enough, and that four-game winning streak – UNC’s longest in more than a month – came to a quiet end.
The Tar Heels now will have six days off before playing again, and that could be beneficial.
Freshman second baseman Wood Myers, one of the team’s leading hitters, suffered a broken hand last week that could force him to miss four weeks. Leadoff hitter Michael Russell left the game Tuesday with a sore back.
During the break, Jordan said UNC would rest and attempt, again, to rediscover itself. The Tar Heels, who have been among the best teams in the nation for years, aren’t used to seasons like this.
“We’re used to dominating,” Jordan said. “We have a really young team and not that (many) guys playing have experience and we have older guys like myself that are so used to winning and going to Omaha (to the College World Series in Nebraska).
“Yeah, it is different. But at the same time, it’s not like we’re not capable of it.”
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter