Most of the fireworks that North Carolina offered up came in the postgame show that caps every Friday night ACC baseball game at Boshamer Stadium.
Mostly the Tar Heels bats fizzled against Virginia junior left-hander Brandon Waddell, who threw seven shutout innings as the Cavaliers claimed a 6-2 victory and clinched a berth in next week’s ACC tournament at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Tar Heels, however. They got some help down the road in Durham, where Duke beat Wake Forest 7-0 and allowed UNC to also claim a berth in the ACC tournament.
UVa (32-19, 14-15 ACC) and UNC (32-21, 13-15) currently stand seventh and eighth in the ACC standings with one regular-season game left. They will play at noon Saturday in the series finale. Senior right-hander Benton Moss (7-0) will start for UNC against UVa freshman left-hander Adam Haseley (2-1), who is usually the Cavaliers’ center fielder.
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UNC, which hasn’t beaten UVa in the season series since 2012, had no success solving Waddell, who made his most effective start of the season. He scattered seven hits and four walks, helped by three of the four double plays that UNC second baseman Alex Raburn grounded into for the night. Waddell also helped himself by striking out six, usually in key moments. He used strikeouts to escape a bases-loaded jam in the second and two situations with two men on each in the third and fifth.
“Waddell, when he needed a strikeout, threw that cutter down and in to our right-handers,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “It’s a ball, but it’s hard to lay off.”
UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth, who accounted for the UNC offense with a two-run double off Virginia reliever Josh Sborz in the eighth, said Waddell was especially tough on the Heels.
“Tonight he had good command,” said Warmoth, who with Tyler Ramirez and Landon Lassiter led UNC with two hits apiece. “It seemed like he had six pitches, and he threw all of them for strikes. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but having six pitches makes him hard to hit.”
The numbers bore Warmoth out. The Tar Heels went 3-for-16 with runners on base, and they’re 3-for-28 for the series coupled with a 2-1 10-inning loss Thursday night.
“That’s been the story of our season,” Fox said. “We’re just not good with runners in scoring position. It comes down to the pitcher and the hitter. You’ve got to learn how to move the ball with the bat early in the count, because pitchers don’t like to get behind with runners on base.”
UNC fell behind early as freshman right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, the first of six UNC pitchers, lasted only 11/3 innings, his shortest start of the season. He was touched up for five runs, four earned. In the first he walked Daniel Pinero with one out, gave up a sharp single to right to Matt Thaiss that sent Pinero to third, and fell behind Kenny Towns to prompt a visit to the mound by pitching coach Scott Forbes.
Towns then lined an RBI double to left center for his team-leading 49th RBI, and a wild pitch brought home a second run. Pavin Smith made it 3-0 for the Cavaliers with a long sacrifice fly to left.
Bukauskas didn’t survive the trouble in the second. Joe McCarthy led off with a single to right and came around to score when Ernie Clement sliced an opposite-field single down the line and the right fielder Ramirez let it get past him for a two-base error. Haseley followed with an RBI single to right that made it 5-0 and chased Bukauskas.
“J.B.’s got to learn how to pitch,” Fox said. “In high school he could rear back and throw it. He’s got to take that jump from a thrower to a pitcher. He’s got to learn how to command his second and third pitches.”
Virginia added a run in the fifth off reliever Hansen Butler when Jack Gerstenmaier slapped a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Towns, who led off the inning with a single and moved up on two infield outs.
Fox said the bullpen was a bright spot for the Tar Heels, however. “It was 3-0 before we could blink,” he said. “Our bullpen gave us an opportunity. We just didn’t get it done.”