Current Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2013 09:01:00 -0500
Mike Fox’s “$64,000 question” doesn’t need an answer yet.
In the North Carolina baseball team’s opening weekend, the question — which pitcher will close games for the Tar Heels — was off the table.
No. 2 UNC swept Seton Hall in a snow-shortened series this weekend. The Tar Heels beat the Pirates 1-0 on Friday behind top starter Kent Emanuel’s complete-game shutout, and then blew out Seton Hall 17-2 on Sunday.
On Opening Day, Emanuel took the team’s closer issues out of the equation. On Sunday, the UNC offense did.
Emanuel’s shutout was the first by a UNC pitcher on opening day. He allowed just four hits, picked off two Seton Hall baserunners and kept the Pirates off-balance all afternoon with his slow curves and changeups.
With the closer question looming entering the ninth inning of a 1-0 game, pitching coach Scott Forbes kept the ball in the hands of his ace.
“I sat at the other end of the dugout. I didn’t want to hear what (the coaches) were saying,” Emanuel said. “Apparently they were debating it at the end, but I’m sure glad they let me go out there.”
In the top of the ninth, the Pirates got runners to second and third with one out, but Emanuel shut the door.
The lefthander caught Giuseppe Papaccio looking at an inside fastball for the second out, keeping the tying run at third. Then he got Sal Annunziata to hit a high chopper back to the mound. The 6-foot-4 junior snagged the ball at a full jump and calmly threw Annunziata out to end the game.
“We don’t have any other pitcher that makes that play,” Fox said. “He’s probably the best fielding pitcher I’ve ever coached.”
On Sunday, though, the Tar Heels didn’t need a Herculean effort from their starter — the offense did the heavy lifting in the 17-2 win. UNC scored twice in the first inning, six times in the second and six times in the fifth to blow the game wide open.
Six different Tar Heels drove in multiple runs — including freshman Skye Bolt, who now has six hits in his first eight at-bats as a Tar Heel. Bolt went two-for-three on Friday and scored the game’s only run, and he went four-for-five on Sunday, driving in three runs in the win.
“Right now I’m seeing the ball real well, picking it up out of the pitcher’s hand really well,” Bolt said. “I’ve found myself in a lot of two-strike situations, and I’ve been able to cut down on the swing and put it where they’re not.”
But the Tar Heels won’t score 17 runs every game, and their starters won’t always throw complete games. At some point, they’ll need a closer — and after their opening weekend, Fox still isn’t sure who can provide the $64,000 answer.
“That’s still the unanswered question,” he said.
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