Sports

Tar Heels slug Hokies again, seek top seed in ACC Championship

UNC coach Mike Fox calls shortstop Ike Freeman, right, the team MVP.
UNC coach Mike Fox calls shortstop Ike Freeman, right, the team MVP. rwillett@newsobserver.com

North Carolina clinched the ACC Coastal Division baseball title about 1 a.m. Friday, when the final out was recorded in Duke’s loss at Georgia Tech.

Twelve hours later, the Tar Heels were back on the field at Boshamer Stadium with another goal in mind: being the top overall seed in the 2018 ACC Championship next week in Durham.

"It's awesome and you obviously want to win your division, but we have bigger goals than that," UNC shortstop Ike Freeman said. "That's just one step.."

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North Carolina coach Mike Fox, right, was named ACC Coach of the Year on Monday. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

UNC dispatched Virginia Tech for the second straight day, winning 11-2. With a 21-8 ACC record, the Tar Heels then turned their attention to Clemson’s game at Pittsburgh, where the Tigers won 4-1 to match UNC’s ACC record.

Clemson's victory gave the Tigers the Atlantic Division title over N.C. State. That leaves it to UNC and Clemson to decide the tournament’s top overall seed in Saturday’s final regular-season games.

After beating the Hokies 9-1 on Thursday, UNC needed either one more victory or a Duke loss Thursday to win the Coastal. The Blue Devils lost to Gerorgia Tech 9-6 in a game that had a long weather delay and did not end until early Friday, and the Tar Heels had a second straight Coastal title.

UNC coach Mike Fox said he was asleep by then but received a text early Friday with the news.

"It's absolutely a goal and I'm proud of our guys, but we've got bigger ones out there," Fox said. "We want to do it on the field certainly, and not count on anybody else. Back-to-back (division titles) is not easy to do, so I'm proud of my team."

The Tar Heels (36-17) made short work of Friday’s game, taking a 9-1 lead over the Hokies (21-32, 8-21 ACC) after four innings. UNC led 10-2 in the bottom of the sixth as rain began to fall, although the shower was brief.

Sophomore Ashton McGee had a solo home run, a two-run double and added a single for the Tar Heels, who had 14 hits. Fox said McGee's two-out, two-strike double in the first may have been the biggest hit of the game, giving UNC a 3-0 lead..

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North Carolina closed out a sweep of Virginia Tech on Saturday to take the No. 1 seed in the ACC baseball tournament. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

"I felt like we won the game in the first inning," Fox said. "That was a huge swing of the bat."

First baseman Michael Busch and Kyle Datres each had four hits for UNC, Busch scoring three times and driving in two runs.

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North Carolina’s Kyle Datres (3) crosses home plate to score on a sacrifice fly by Ike Freeman in the third inning against Virginia Tech on Friday, May 18, 2018 at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Busch, a sophomore, now has reached base in a team-best 25 consecutive games, setting a career high.

Going without a hit Friday was centerfielder Brandon Riley, who has been on a tear. The junior’s 10-game hitting streak came to an end.

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North Carolina pitcher Austin Bergner (45) works from the mound in the fifth inning against Virginia Tech on Friday, May 18, 2018 at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Sophomore righthander Austin Bergner (6-2) gave the Tar Heels six good innings, allowing three hits and one earned run. Bergner pitched out of a base-loaded jam in the fifth, forcing Stevie Magnum to ground into a double play and then striking out Joe Freiday, who had homered in the third.

The Tar Heels and Hokies close out the regular season with a 2 p.m. game Saturday at Boshamer.

"We haven't had a great May but we can end our regular season on a good note," Fox said. "The tournament is always a challenge but we'll worry about that after (Saturday)."

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