UNC squanders chances in 3-2 loss against Virginia in ACC baseball tournament

acarter@newsobserver.comMay 23, 2014 

— North Carolina had no shortage of chances Friday night against third-ranked Virginia – chances to score runs and chances to prevent the Cavaliers from scoring them. The Tar Heels, though, squandered too many of those opportunities during a 3-2 loss in the ACC baseball tournament.

The defeat knocks UNC, the defending tournament champion, out of contention for the championship game Sunday at NewBridge Bank Park. It also deals a blow to the Tar Heels’ NCAA tournament hopes.

UNC coach Mike Fox had said this week that the Tar Heels were “still fighting for our NCAA lives.” A victory against Virginia, which ranks No. 1 in the RPI, likely would have secured the Tar Heels’ place in the NCAA tournament field.

“This would have been a good win for us,” Fox said Friday. “We’ve got a big game (Saturday against Maryland) and we’re going to show up and compete and hopefully play a little bit better and it’s really out of our hands after that.”

UNC (33-25) now is likely to endure some tense moments Monday when the tournament field is announced. The Tar Heels never had much of a chance Wednesday during a 7-1 loss against fourth-ranked Florida State, but UNC had chance after chance Friday night.

And for a short while, the Tar Heels had hope, too.

Wood Myers, a freshman second baseman, tied the score at 2 in the seventh inning with a home run over the right-field fence. Myers’ home run, his first of the season, came moments after Zach Daly reached base on a throwing error by second baseman Branden Cogswell.

“He just left it out over the plate and I got a pretty good swing,” Myers said of his home run.

It wasn’t the first time on Friday night that a team capitalized on an error. The Tar Heels made two errors – in the fourth and seventh innings – that led to the Cavaliers’ first two runs. Some sharper fielding might have prevented Virginia from scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth, too.

Not long after Myers’ home run, Virginia (44-12) reclaimed the lead on an RBI single from Derek Fisher, whose hit drove in Joe McCarthy. The play stood as a hit, but Myers had a chance to field it.

Instead, the ball deflected off Myers’ glove and rolled into the outfield, allowing McCarthy to score easily. It was that kind of game for the Tar Heels in the field – a game of mistakes and miscues on which Virginia capitalized.

In the fourth inning, Virginia scored the first run of the game on a throwing error by shortstop Landon Lassiter, who was playing in place of injured Michael Russell. In the seventh, an error by third baseman Alex Raburn allowed Virginia to put runners on first and second with no outs.

John La Prise later scored when Nate Irving laid down a bunt down the first-base line. La Prise sprinted home on the squeeze play and barely slid under the tag.

Those two runs, both unearned, spoiled one of Benton Moss’ finest starts of the season. Moss, a junior right-hander, pitched into the seventh inning and allowed four hits and struck out eight. He left the game with the Tar Heels trailing 2-0, though.

“It goes back to what coach Fox says,” Moss said. “Execution is key and Virginia is very good at taking advantage of (errors).”

While UNC’s miscues helped Virginia to its first two runs, the Tar Heels for long stretches did little to help themselves.

Before Myers’ home run in the seventh, UNC’s leadoff hitter reached base in four of the first six innings. The Tar Heels stranded two runners in the second, third and fourth innings, and they likely would have scored in the fourth had Korey Dunbar’s ground-rule double remained in play.

It barely bounced over the wall instead, forcing Adrian Chacon to stop at third base.

“I don’t know if Adrian Chacon would have scored on that or not, but I sure would have been waving him,” Fox said.

Overall, UNC stranded 11 runners, including one in the eighth and ninth innings.

In its last at-bat, UNC followed a familiar formula. Myers led off the ninth inning with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt but remained there as Virginia closer Nick Howard ended the game with a strikeout and a flyout.

“We just couldn’t come up with the big hit in the end,” Myers said.

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

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