Prior to Saturday night’s baseball game between North Carolina and N.C. State, there was perhaps no better starting pitcher in the ACC than the Wolfpack’s Brian Brown.
He was 6-0 in 10 starts and had a sub-one ERA (0.99). In the 63-plus innings he had pitched this season, no one had hit a homer against him.
Until Saturday night.
The UNC Tar Heels (30-13) hit three — two in the fourth inning — off Brown, and held on to beat the Wolfpack (31-10) 8-6, taking the second of its three-game series. The Tar Heels also took the first game 6-5 on Doak Field at Dail Park on Friday.
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With the win, UNC increased its Coastal Division lead over Duke to 2.5 games. N.C. State fell one game behind Clemson in the Atlantic Division.
N.C. State and UNC will play one final time on Sunday afternoon.
Unlike the first game of the series where N.C. State jumped out on UNC first, the Tar Heels got on the board first.
In the top of the fourth inning, UNC sophomore first baseman Michael Busch hit a solo home run over the right center-field fence to put the Tar Heels up 1-0. Busch said that he knew Brown threw a good change up by watching him on film, so he wanted to connect on his fast ball.
"Because I knew he was going to throw me one," Busch said, "and I got one fast ball and put a nice swing on it."
Before that, neither pitcher had given up a hit. It was also the first homer given up by Brown all season.
And it didn’t stop there.
The next batter, UNC junior third baseman Kyle Datres, hit a solo home run over the left field wall on the first pitch. UNC added one more run in the inning after a throwing error by N.C. State catcher Patrick Bailey to go up 3-0. The Tar Heels attempted a double-steal on second and third base. Bailey’s throw to third base was too wide and went sailing past third baseman Dillon Cooper.
N.C. State scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to make it 3-2. After UNC went up 4-2, the Wolfpack brought the score to one run again, but never got closer than that.
"It was like a heavy-weight fight really," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "We scored, they'd come back. We score they come back...But obviously (UNC pitcher) Austin Bergner was the story of the game. That's about as well as we've seen him throw."
The sophomore righty was sharp for most of the game. Whenever he found himself in trouble, he managed to get himself out of it. He gave up only five hits and three runs in eight innings pitched. He also struck out 11 batters and earned the win to improve his record to 5-1 on the season.
"I don't like to put lables on something, but that was definitely the best game anybody has pitched against us," N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. "I don't want to put a label on Bergner, but that's a big-leaguer. That's a big league arm."
"I was so proud of our guys tonight, because we battled and battled and battled, and you're facing a guy...that's like facing (Justin) Verlander."
UNC at one point extended its lead to 8-3.
But in the bottom of the ninth inning, N.C. State hit back-to-back-to-back home runs to bring to the score to 8-6. But its comeback was too late.
N.C. State's Brown, a senior, gave up four earned runs in 6 2/3 innings pitched and struck out four batters.
Before losing this series, N.C. State had won 10 straight ACC series.
Sunday's Probably Starting Pitchers
UNC: RHP Tyler Baum (3-1, 4.42 ERA, 57 SO, 27BB) is scheduled to start for the Tar Heels in the final game of the three-game series.
N.C. State: RHP Johnny Piedmonte (4-1, 3.82 ERA, 27 SO, 15 BB) is expected to start for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State and UNC will play the final game of its series at 1 p.m. on Sunday.