UNC rallies from 5-0 deficit to beat Miami and advance to ACC semifinals

When North Carolina needed a big hit, junior first baseman Michael Busch was there to deliver.

With one runner on first base and one out in the top of the eighth inning, Busch swung at the first pitch and launched a two-run home run over the right-field wall to tie the score 5-5.

Before Busch’s home run, the Tar Heels had trailed since the first inning, and by as many as five runs after three. But Busch’s blast put the Tar Heels in a position to win. In the top of the 11th, the Tar Heels scored two runs and defeated Miami 7-5 to advance to the semifinals of the ACC Baseball Championship, where they will face Boston College at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

“(Greg) Veliz is a really good pitcher,” Busch said. “You want to try to take advantage of any mistake that he gives you, if he does give you one. And I was just kind of waiting for a fastball, and tried to put a good swing on it.”

The game-winning run came on a sacrifice fly from junior infielder Ike Freeman. Miami outfielder Gabe Rivera made a strong throw from deep in left field to the plate, but it was a fraction of a second too late, and UNC’s Angel Zarate slid into home plate for the score.

The win for UNC (40-17) should strengthen its chances of hosting an NCAA tournament regional. The top 16 seeds in the tournament are chosen as hosts; the Tar Heels are 19th in the latest RPI rankings.

UNC will play Boston College (31-26) on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Tar Heels swept the Eagles at home earlier this season. But 12th-seeded Boston College is playing well. The Eagles beat Clemson 7-5 on Tuesday, then took down No. 1-seeded Louisville on Wednesday.

It was a hot day for baseball Friday afternoon. Temperatures at Durham Bulls Athletic Park reached the mid 90s.

For three innings, it looked as if Miami might blow past North Carolina and cruise to an easy victory. The Hurricanes jumped out to a 5-0 lead through three innings.

UNC pitcher Austin Bergner, who was 5-1 with a 5.06 ERA entering Friday’s game, struggled against Miami’s hitters. He gave up four earned runs and was pulled after 1 1/3 innings pitched.

But the Tar Heels’ bullpen took control of the game. Austin Love pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing only three hits and one earned run. He also struck out six batters.

“It was an unbelievable performance by him,” UNC coach Mike Fox said of Love.

Over the next few innings, UNC chipped away at Miami’s lead. By the end of the eighth, the score was tied.

The Tar Heels, trailing 5-0 after three, finally got going in the top of the fourth inning. They scored two runs on RBI-singles from infielders Danny Serretti and Freeman to cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 5-2.

In the top of the fifth, UNC catcher Brandon Martorano launched a 416-foot solo home run over the center field wall to make it 5-3, forcing the Hurricanes to go to their bullpen.

The Tar Heels went scoreless in the sixth and seventh innings, before Busch finally tied it with his home run.

It was Busch’s 13th home run of the season and gave him 52nd RBI. Busch, who finished the game 1-for-5, was named first team All-ACC last week.

“Our hitters hit the ball hard all game,” Love said. We just needed one break. And once we got that break, I think it just tumbled through, and (we) kept it going.”

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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