UNC baseball gets much-needed victory against Florida State

acarter@newsobserver.comMay 11, 2014 

— It was but one game in a series the North Carolina baseball team had already lost, but in some ways it might have been the most important game in a season of struggles.

Tar Heels coach Mike Fox described it as “a game we had to win,” before saying it again: “We had to win.”

“And we did,” he said with a smile after the Tar Heels’ 5-4 victory against No. 4 Florida State on Sunday.

The Tar Heels (30-21, 14-13 ACC) lost to the Seminoles (39-12, 19-8) Friday and Saturday, and Fox understood well the consequences of a series sweep. So did his players.

“You get swept this time of the year and you put yourself in a situation where it’s going to be hard to get to .500 in the league,” Fox said. “(And) some of your goals aren’t necessarily reachable.”

Fox has built a program that has contended annually in recent years for a spot in the College World Series. This year, though, making the NCAA tournament would be an accomplishment for UNC, which lost the majority of its best hitters from a season ago and has never really filled the voids.

For once, though, the Tar Heels received some clutch hitting – and from a somewhat unlikely source. Tyler Ramirez, a freshman right fielder, drove in what proved to be the winning run with a two-out single in the seventh inning. His hit drove home Parks Jordan, a senior who likely was playing for the final time in Boshamer Stadium.

“It is a big deal,” Jordan, who went 2-for-3, said of the victory. “That Sunday game, you want to bounce back after two losses and prove yourself a little bit and have the right answer to failure. It’s only one game, but it still means a lot for our team going forward into this next week.”

While Jordan called the victory “a big deal,” Reilly Hovis, a sophomore right-handed relief pitcher, described it as “monumental.” Hovis entered the game with two outs in the fifth and gave up three hits and one run, which scored after he hit a batter and then allowed him to come home on a wild pitch.

Outside of that, Hovis was nearly flawless – especially in the final few innings. When Hovis struck out FSU catcher Danny De La Calle to end the game, a crowd of more than 2,000 let out its loudest cheer of the afternoon. It was a fitting punctuation to one of UNC’s most important victories of the season.

“It’s huge,” Hovis said. “… In our place right now, we need to stay about .500 (in the ACC). So it’s huge.”

The Tar Heels have long grown accustomed to hosting an NCAA regional, but there’s almost no chance of that happening this season. Even so, the victory gave them a much-needed boost to their NCAA tournament resume.

“We took the Sunday game at Virginia (after two losses) and (that) obviously got us pumped up going into the Virginia Tech series,” said Ramirez. “So hopefully going into Miami we’ll have a lot of confidence to go in there and play well, like we did today.”

UNC will play at Gardner-Webb this week before finishing the regular season with a three-game series at Miami, the leader in the Coastal Division, next weekend. Had they been swept by Florida State, the Tar Heels would have faced tremendous pressure to perform well at Miami.

The victory didn’t exactly eliminate that pressure, but it lightened the Tar Heels’ burden. In addition to the clutch performance from Hovis and the timely hit from Ramirez, UNC benefited from strong performances from seniors Jordan and Zengel.

Jordan scored the winning run and drove in another, and Zengel drove in a run with a double in the second.

“If you could script it out, that’s how you’d script it out,” Fox said. “On senior day … you want the seniors to go out there and be the hero and that sort of thing, or at least have a big part. And both of them did today. So I think that was pretty special for those guys.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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