UNC’s Mike Fox on the Tar Heels’ ACC baseball tournament championship
On the night after North Carolina’s 11-2 loss to rival N.C. State in the final game of the regular season, senior pitcher Hansen Butler sent his teammates a group message.
He told them to remember the loss, and said that they would get back to work the next day. That message resonated with UNC’s players, and it showed in their performance in the ACC baseball tournament.
“Sometimes things don’t go your way, but the faster that your team can regroup the better your team is going to be,” UNC junior first baseman Michael Busch said.
North Carolina won three consecutive games to get to the ACC Baseball Championship final. And Sunday, against second-seeded Georgia Tech, the fifth-seeded Tar Heels put on their most impressive performance.
The Tar Heels used a big fourth inning and pitching to dominate the No. 2 Yellow Jackets, 10-2, and win the ACC baseball championship.
The players celebrated and jumped up and down near first base where the final out was made. One by one, UNC coach Mike Fox gave each of his players a hug.
“This as good as it gets,” Fox said with a big smile on his face. “Any time you can win a championship in the ACC, it’s pretty special.”
The win gives UNC (42-17) its seventh ACC tournament title in school history. The previous two years – 2007 and 2013 – it advanced to the College World Series.
With the win, the Tar Heels also earn an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament and are likely, but not guaranteed, to host a regional. Coming into Sunday’s game, UNC had the 14th-best RPI in the country. That will improve after the Georgia Tech win.
As a top-eight seed in 2018, the Tar Heels hosted a regional and super regional. They went undefeated through both and advanced to the College World Series.
This year, the Tar Heels are 32-6 at home and 8-10 on the road.
After losing five of its last eight games of the regular season, including two of three at home against N.C. State, the Tar Heels’ goal was to win the ACC tournament.
It didn’t come easy.
Two of their games went into extra innings. UNC beat Virginia 3-2 in 10 innings on May 22. Against Miami on May 24, the Tar Heels were down five runs before winning 7-5 in the 12th. UNC held off a late comeback attempt by Boston College to win 12-5 in the semifinals.
The Yellow Jackets were the better team in the regular season. Georgia Tech beat UNC in two out of three games in Atlanta in April, and won the ACC Coastal Division title.
But the Tar Heels looked like the dominant team on Sunday.
UNC allowed one run in the third, but the game was tied 1-1 in the top of the sixth when the Tar Heels caught fire. Freshman designated hitter Aaron Sabato blasted a two-run home run over the right center field wall. Two batters later, second baseman Ashton McGee hit a two-run home run to give the Tar Heels a 5-1 lead.
Busch hit a solo home run, his third home run of the tournament, in the seventh inning to make it 6-1. He finished the game 2-for-4 with an RBI, three runs and a walk, and was named tournament MVP.
The Tar Heels’ bullpen, which had been good all tournament, was good again on Sunday. Fox went to his bullpen early in the third inning. Relievers Hansen Butler and Joey Lancellotti combined to pitch 6 1/3 innings of one-run baseball. They faced 23 batters, struck out five, walked two and allowed two hits and one run.
Butler was credited with the win.
Their only run allowed came in the ninth. Entering Sunday’s game, the bullpen had a 2.45 ERA in the tournament.
“Pitching is the key to winning championships,” Fox said. “We’ve seen all our relievers really, really good throughout the year. So what this did this week didn’t surprise me, and I don’t think it surprised their teammates.”
The Tar Heels added four runs in the ninth, including a home run from catcher Brandon Martorano.
When the final out was recorded, Busch raised his hands in victory.