With loss to Pitt, UNC won't advance to semifinals of the ACC Baseball Championship

UNC’s Fox: ‘When we don’t play defense, we have a hard time winning’

University of North Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox talks about UNC’s 5-4 loss to Pitt on Wednesday.
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University of North Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox talks about UNC’s 5-4 loss to Pitt on Wednesday.

Their goal was to win an ACC Baseball Championship. After losing in the championship game last season, North Carolina's baseball team had a chip on its shoulder.

But that goal of winning a championship will not come to fruition. Pitt beat UNC on Wednesday 5-4, and now the Panthers will advance to the semifinals of the tournament.

Pitt had previously beaten Georgia Tech on Tuesday, and UNC needed to beat Pitt in order to advance to the semifinal game.

Had the Tar Heels won, they would have advanced whether they won or lost on Friday, because of a tie breaker. The team with the best record advances from each pool. In the case of a tie, the team with the highest seed advances.

But none of that will come into play. The 12th seeded Panthers will leave pool play with a 2-0 record. Pitt will play either No. 4 Duke or No. 5 Louisville in the semifinals on Saturday.

The expectation was that UNC (37-18) would get the victory. It swept Pitt earlier in the season, outscoring the Panthers 32-5 in the three games. But Pitt (29-25) appeared prepared.

After UNC went ahead 4-3 in the top of the fifth inning, Pitt scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to take its first lead of the game, and held on the rest of the way.

"I'll give it to them, they pounded the zone," UNC sophomore first baseman Michael Busch said. "They were ready to pitch. I won't say we weren't ready to hit, but I think the pitching was very well tonight."

Wednesday night's game started nearly an hour and a half later than expected. No. 2 seeded Clemson blew out No. 11 seeded Notre Dame 21-4 in the previous game.

For UNC, however, its game was much tougher. Every time UNC scored, Pitt had an answer.

"When we don't play defense, we have a hard time winning," UNC coach Mike Fox said. The Tar Heels had two errors Wednesday.

"You can look at the box score and only see five hits, and that's not good enough either, but we had some good at-bats, you have to look at the walks, look at the 3-2 counts," Fox added. "You just have to give them credit. They stepped up there, got a base hit after a couple of walks and we didn't."

"That's just baseball."

The Tar Heels started the game putting up two runs in the top of the first inning. Junior Kyle Datres knocked in the first run, with a RBI groundout. And Ike Freeman hit a RBI-single with two outs to make it 2-0.

Pitt answered in the bottom of the inning, scoring one run. When UNC scored a run in the top of the third inning, Pitt put up two runs in the bottom of the third to tie the game 3-3.

In the fifth inning, with bases loaded and zero outs, UNC sophomore Brandon Martorano hit a ground ball to second base, which resulted in a double play. However, UNC junior Brandon Riley was able to score, and the Tar Heels went up 4-3.

Pitt threatened to tie the game or take the lead on multiple occasions, including the bottom of the fifth and bottom of the sixth. UNC relief pitcher Josh Hiatt put a stop to it both times.

But the Panthers finally broke through in the seventh inning.

Hiatt walked two consecutive batters with one out and was pulled. Pitt's Chris Cappas then hit a one-out double down the left field line to score a run. Pitt's Cole Maclaren then knocked in another run on a sacrifice bunt to give Pitt its first lead of the game.

Both runs were charged to Hiatt, who pitched in four innings.

UNC had a runner in scoring position in the top of the ninth. Riley hit a shot to the wall, but Pitt's Frank Maldonado tracked it down.

UNC will play one final game of pool play against Georgia Tech on Friday at 3 p.m. Having won the ACC regular season, UNC will likely receive an At-Large Bid in the NCAA tournament. Fox said the Tar Heels will approach Friday's game like any other.

"We're going to do everything we can to win," Fox said. "Like Michael said, the tournament is what it is. The format is what it is. I don't believe in meaningless games. We have a lot to play for in my opinion."

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander