GREENSBORO — North Carolina got the best of N.C. State again.
N.C. State had a controversial call go against it again.
The Tar Heels beat the Wolfpack 4-3 in the play-in round of the ACC tournament on Tuesday, but it wasn’t without a controversy involving the umpires.
N.C. State’s Trea Turner appeared to steal home in the fifth inning, which would have tied the score at 4, but home plate umpire Mark Chapman initially had his back turned to the play while calling a strike three on Jake Fincher and was caught off guard.
UNC catcher Korey Dunbar, who didn’t see Turner take off for home, lobbed the ball back to pitcher Trevor Kelley, who immediately turned and fired the ball back to Dunbar. Replays showed that Turner slid headfirst under Dunbar’s tag, but Chapman called Turner out.
“Mark Chapman is a good umpire; he’s one of the best in our league,” Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. “Is he going to hate this film? Probably.”
It’s the third straight year UNC has beaten N.C. State in the ACC tournament and its fourth postseason win over the Wolfpack in three years.
“Incredible game – just what everybody expected when we get together,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “We did just enough to come out with a win.”
N.C. State is no stranger to controversy with ACC officials. In the 2012 ACC basketball tournament, game officials showed up with the initials of veteran official Karl Hess taped to their sneakers in support of Hess, who earlier that season ejected former Wolfpack players Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta from a regular-season game.
This past football season, the Wolfpack’s 26-14 home loss to Clemson turned when Bryan Underwood was ruled out of bounds by line judge Richard Misner on an apparent 83-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The Heels (33-23) advance into pool play in the tournament and will face Florida State at 7 p.m. Wednesday at NewBridge Bank Park. The Wolfpack (32-23) will wait and hope on Monday it will be included in the NCAA tournament field. It’s more likely N.C. State’s season, which started with so much hope, is over.
“We’ll see,” N.C. State catcher Brett Austin said of the team’s NCAA hopes. “We’re going to keep a positive mindset and just be as optimistic as we can.”
Skye Bolt drove in two runs for UNC, which scored three times in the third inning, and pieced together just enough pitching to move onto Pool B with FSU, Virginia and Maryland.
Bolt hit a solo home run in the second inning and had a sacrifice fly in the third. The Heels had four hits in the third to chase N.C. State starter Eric Peterson and take a 4-1 lead.
Avent decided against using star pitcher Carlos Rodon on three days’ rest. Rodon did start at designated hitter, but the expected top-5 pick in the major league baseball draft likely threw his last college pitch at Virginia Tech last Friday.
Avent said it wouldn’t have been fair to risk injury to Rodon.
“He has done so much for us,” Avent said. “We just decided we couldn’t do it.”
N.C. State cut UNC’s lead to 4-3 with a pair of runs on three hits in the fourth inning. Austin and Andrew Knizner singled and both scored on a single by Bubby Riley.
Still down 4-3, the Pack loaded the bases again in the top of the fifth. With Turner on third base, Knizner popped up to third. Fincher stepped in and struck out looking. Chapman demonstratively punched out Fincher and turned his back to Turner, who broke from third base when Dunbar wasn’t paying attention.
“I thought I was safe,” Turner said. “I saw the catcher put his head down and with two outs I thought I could take a chance. I did everything like I wanted to; the call just didn’t go our way.”
Turner, third base coach Chris Hart and Avent all protested the call with Chapman, but it was to no avail. The ACC adopted a replay system for the tournament for the first time, but it is only to review calls down the foul lines or home runs.
The previous two ACC tournament games between the two teams went into extra innings, including an 18-inning marathon last year in Durham.
After Turner was called out in the fifth, N.C. State didn’t threaten until the eighth inning.
The Wolfpack got runners on second and third, after Michael Russell made an error on a Rodon grounder, with no outs. UNC coach Mike Fox brought in Trent Thornton, his ace and likely Friday starter, to get out of the jam.
Thornton struck out Chance Shepard and Jake Armstrong and then got Logan Ratledge to line out to center.
The Tar Heels will play three more games. The Wolfpack now can only wait.