It wasn’t how the Tar Heels expected to win, but as North Carolina infielder Ike Freeman said late Wednesday night, “a win is a win.”
The bases were loaded in the bottom of the 10th, and the game was tied at 2 when UNC freshman outfielder Caleb Roberts was hit by a pitch, giving No. 5 seeded UNC the 3-2 win over No. 9 seeded Virginia in the Tar Heels’ first game of the ACC Baseball Championship.
Roberts’ teammates greeted him at first base, and celebrated by spraying him with water bottles and ripping off his jersey.
The Tar Heels got great production from their pitching staff when their hitting struggled. UNC junior starting pitcher Tyler Baum pitched 7 1/3 innings, struck out six, while giving up only two runs and five hits.
“He’s a prepared and he’s a winner,” UNC coach Mike Fox said of Baum after the game. “You want your best pitcher right now, you want them to be at their best in these games, and he was.”
Sophomore relief pitcher Joey Lancellotti pitched the final 2 2/3 innings, and was credited with the win. Freeman finished the game 2-for-2 with three walks and an RBI.
No. 5 seeded UNC (39-17) will play No. 4 seeded Miami (38-17) on Friday at 3 p.m.
A win on Friday means the Tar Heels will advance to the semifinals on Saturday. If UNC loses to Miami, the Hurricanes advance. According to the rules of pool play, the team with the best record through two games and highest seed advances to the next round.
Baum had one of his best outings of the season on Wednesday. In the middle innings, he retired 11 consecutive batters.
He did not give up a run until the seventh inning when Virginia first baseman Nate Eikhoff launched a solo home run over the left field wall. But Baum managed to get out of the inning, and returned in the top of the eighth.
Baum was pulled from the game after giving up a walk and a sacrifice bunt. Lancellotti, who replaced him, gave up a single to the first batter he faced, which scored the runner on second base and tied the game 2-2.
But Lancellotti finished the game without giving up any runs.
Both teams’ starting pitchers pitched well, but the Tar Heels got on the board first in the bottom of the fourth inning. Freshman designated hitter Aaron Sabato hit a double off the left field wall. Two batters later, Freeman hit a RBI single to right field to score Sabato, giving the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Tar Heels added another run to make it 2-0. Tar Heel fans at Durham Bulls Athletic Park began to chant “Tar! Heels!”
Defense has been UNC’s biggest issue in recent games. The Tar Heels had a combined seven errors in their three-game series with N.C. State last weekend. As a result, the Wolfpack won two out of three games and outscored the Tar Heels 25-7.
But in the game against Virginia, UNC did not make many defensive mistakes and did not commit an error.
“For us to come back and make error-free defense, that’s what’s expected,” Freeman said. “We worked hard the past few days especially on defense.”
“We just have to have confidence in ourselves.”
Pitching and defense helped the Tar Heels win in the bottom of the 10th, when Virginia’s bullpen walked three consecutive batters and hit the fourth, giving UNC the win.