CHAPEL HILL — Mike Fox has coached plenty of North Carolina baseball teams that have been good enough to overcome their own mistakes. This one, though, isn’t among them.
That’s why Fox was particularly frustrated by one sequence in the second inning of his team’s 7-0 defeat by Florida State on Friday night.
“It’s very slim,” Fox said Friday night of his team’s margin for error, which has been practically nonexistent during this long season. “That’s to the point of that second inning – like, really, did that just really happen?”
The Seminoles (38-11, 18-7 ACC), ranked fourth nationally, scored their first two runs in the second inning on a wild pitch. The first runner, Jose Brizuela, crossed home plate easily after Trent Thornton, the Tar Heels’ starting pitcher, threw a pitch that catcher Korey Dunbar couldn’t handle.
And then, after Dunbar took his time locating Thornton’s errant pitch, the Seminoles’ Ben DeLuzio scored from second base. Dunbar, Thornton said later, thought he had caught the pitch and was surprised to see that it wasn’t in his glove.
Even so, Fox quickly made a substitution at the end of the half-inning, ending Dunbar’s night early.
“You’ve got to run after the ball,” Fox said. “You know? It cost us a run. You’ve got to run after the ball. Simple as that.”
This has been an agonizing, maddening season for Fox, and plays like that wild pitch are part of the reason why. Another reason: The Tar Heels (29-20, 13-12) haven’t been an effective offensive team – at least not consistently.
UNC generated little against Luke Weaver, the Seminoles’ junior right-hander. The Tar Heels’ best scoring chance came in the first inning, when Skye Bolt, the team’s No. 2 hitter, reached third base.
With runners on first and third, Weaver recorded one of his six strikeouts to end the inning. From there, just one more UNC batter reached second base, and the Tar Heels didn’t advance past first base between the second and sixth innings.
The Seminoles, who clinched first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, extended their lead with a run in the fourth inning and two more in the seventh. They took advantage of a hit batsman in the fourth and a walk in the seventh, and then clutch hits – including a double in the seventh from D.J. Stewart, who hit three doubles – drove in runs.
There was nothing clutch about the Tar Heels’ performance, though – neither on the mound nor at the plate. Still, Thornton, UNC’s sophomore right-hander, allowed four hits in five innings. The Seminoles seemed to capitalize on all of them.
“(I) thought I gave the team a chance to win, but we didn’t score any runs,” Thornton said. “So it’s kind of hard to win the game when you don’t score any runs.”
The defeat gave UNC a troubling start to a three-game series that is of critical importance for its NCAA tournament hopes. The Tar Heels, who have become an annual College World Series contender, need a strong finish to the regular season to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter