With the NCAA regionals upcoming next weekend, North Carolina regained some momentum Friday. So did freshman right-hander J.B. Bukauskas.
One week after his worst outing of the season, Bukauskas turned in one of his best efforts. He pitched 52/3 strong innings, giving up five hits and striking out seven without a walk, as the eighth-seeded Tar Heels knocked off fifth-seeded Clemson 6-3 in the final game for both teams in the ACC tournament at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Skye Bolt supplied most of the offense for UNC with four RBIs on a three-run homer off right-hander Jake Long (2-1) and a bases-loaded walk.
In his final regular-season start, Bukauskas (5-3) had lasted 11/3 innings and gave up five hits and five runs in a 6-2 loss to Virginia. But he regrouped against the Tigers (32-27), retiring the first 11 batters he faced before Tyler Krieger broke up the perfect game with a line single to left in the fourth.
Trevor Kelley pitched 31/3 innings of relief, allowing one run, to earn his fifth save for UNC.
“The last couple times out I haven’t been very sharp,” said Bukauskas, who was named to the ACC’s all-freshman team. “(Today) I felt like I had my fastball more, and the slider kept snapping off.
“I felt good about my command today.”
With the win the Tar Heels (34-24) squared their ACC tournament record for the week at 2-2. Their RPI of 28 should put them in the field when the NCAA regional bids are announced Monday.
“I hope we’re in,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “This is kind of new territory to us somewhat.”
That’s because the Tar Heels are usually among the teams ticketed to host regionals, not sweating out the selection show hoping to get an at-large bid.
“I still think it’s about wins,” Fox said. “You have to have enough wins. Our RPI is good, but I don’t think that’s enough.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett certainly hopes RPI is overrated. His Tigers are at 53, going 1-2 in the ACC tournament.
“I think we’re deserving and a good enough team,” Leggett said. “We’re 7-4 against top-10 teams. We play in an extremely tough conference.”
If the Tar Heels do go to the regionals, it will be without junior left fielder Landon Lassiter. UNC announced before the game that Lassiter, who ranks third on the team in hitting at .302, had been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. Fox said Lassiter’s suspension would remain in effect through the regionals.
Lassiter had gone 4-for-11 with two runs scored in three tournament games, and he had the highest batting average among the regular starters on a team that hit .266 this season.
True to form, the Tar Heels didn’t exactly knock down the fences against Clemson, despite Bolt’s blast. They scraped together five hits but took advantage of eight walks and four Tigers errors to jump-start their attack.
With two outs in the third, Adam Pate reached on a throwing error by Clemson shortstop Eli White, and Tyler Ramirez beat out an infield single.
Bolt lifted a foul fly down the line, but right fielder Steven Duggar, who was fighting the sun, couldn’t hold onto the catch after a long run into foul territory. He wasn’t charged with an error, but that was small consolation two pitches later when Bolt rocked a full-count pitch into the right-field stands for his 10th homer of the season.
Four walks sandwiched around Pate’s RBI single produced two more runs in the fourth for UNC.
Two more Clemson errors led to the final UNC run in the sixth. Ramirez singled with two outs and went to third on an errant pickoff attempt by Clemson reliever Charlie Barnes. Bolt then skied a pop fly behind third base, and White dropped it to allow Ramirez to score.
The Tigers finally got to Bukauskas in the sixth. White singled with one out, stole second and came home on Krieger’s single to right. Bukauskas departed after giving up a single to Reed Rohlman, and a second run scored on a wild pitch by Kelley, who gave up a run on three singles in the eighth.
#4 Florida St. (2-0)
#1 Louisville (1-1)
#5 Clemson (1-2)
#8 UNC (1-2)
# 2 Miami (1-0)
#6 N.C. State (1-0)
#3 Notre Dame (1-1)
#7 Virginia (0-2)
Pool B: Notre Dame 8, Virginia 2
Pool A: North Carolina 6, Clemson 3
Pool B: N.C. State vs. Miami, late
Florida State vs. Louisville, 11 a.m.
Miami vs. Notre Dame, 3 p.m.
N.C. State vs. Virginia, 7 p.m.
Championship game, 1 p.m.