North Carolina finds itself in unfamiliar territory on the final weekend of the regular season: with its status uncertain for the ACC baseball tournament.
The Tar Heels need one victory to secure its place in the tournament, which begins next week in Durham, and they nearly earned that victory on Thursday night. Instead, though, they lost a lead in the ninth inning and then suffered a 2-1 loss against Virginia in 10 innings.
The Cavaliers tied the game at 1 with one out in the ninth and then scored the go ahead run – the winning run, it turned out – one inning later off of Trent Thornton, the Tar Heels' fourth pitcher of the game.
Zac Gallen, who started for UNC and struck out seven, pitched into the ninth inning before leaving after allowing a double with one out. Trevor Kelley relieved him Virginia's Robbie Coman singled up the middle – of the glove of second baseman Elijah Sutherland – to drive home the tying run.
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UNC, which scored its lone run off Tyler Ramirez's home run to lead off the sixth inning, stranded runners on second and third in the bottom of the 10th. Virginia's Alec Bettinger, a right-handed sophomore, escaped trouble, though, and the game ended on Landon Lassiter's foul pop-out to right.
Wake Forest's victory against Duke on Thursday night means UNC will enter Friday as it did on Thursday: needing a victory – or a Wake loss – to secure a place in the ACC tournament.
Star of the game: Gallen didn't get the win, and neither did UNC, but he pitched one of his finest games of the season, and was in line for his second complete-game shutout in his past three starts until allowing that one-out double in the ninth inning. He struck out seven and allowed one runner past first base during the final five innings.
▪ Twice during the first four innings Virginia threatened to score but came away empty. Gallen escaped the first inning when he left runners on first and third and in the fourth the Cavaliers left the bases loaded. There, they had runners on first and third with one out before Gallen recorded the second out on an infield pop-up. After a walk the inning ended on a close fielders' choice play at second.
▪ Coman, the Virginia catcher, had an interesting night. He drove in the tying run in the ninth inning but also had his share of challenges behind the plate, where at times he struggled to throw the ball back to the pitcher. Once, Coman hit a UNC batter in the helmet on a return throw.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter