Phoenix fizzles against top-ranked Tar Heels

With Elon leading the top-ranked North Carolina baseball team 1-0 after the first inning, the Phoenix faithful began rumbling about a potentially historic upset for the Southern Conference team.

Unfortunately for the visitors, that dream quickly disappeared.

From that point onward, the Tar Heels outscored the visitors 14-4 on the way to a 14-5 victory to push their overall record to 36-2, improving upon the best start in program history.

UNC also continued its perfect 21-0 record against nonconference foes.

With each win, the target on UNC’s back grows bigger and bigger. But senior outfielder and Chaz Frank says his team can handle the pressure.

“Every in-state team that comes in here wants to beat us,” Frank said. “This is like the World Series for them, and we’ve had some disappointments in previous years with midweek games.

“But this team has just been really consistent — that’s the difference — and is coming out and playing its butt off every game.”

The Tar Heels only needed until the second inning to respond to Elon’s one-run advantage and build a 6-1 lead of their own.

The inning started with Cody Stubbs walking and snowballed from there. Mike Zolk lined a hit down the third base line to score Stubbs and tie the game. Two walks and an Elon error loaded the bases with the red-hot Colin Moran coming to the plate.

Moran, true to his recent form, crushed the second offering from Elon pitcher Jacob Baker and sent the ball over a diving left fielder for a bases-clearing triple.

Moran’s first triple of the season gave the Tar Heels a lead they would never relinquish and allowed UNC to exhale.

But the general sense of relief following Moran’s hit was nothing compared to the relief felt by shortstop Michael Russell after his fifth-inning home run.

The round-tripper was Russell’s first of his two-year career, and it was easy to sense his joy after proving to himself and his teammates he could hit one over the wall.

“Nice to get that off my back,” Russell said. “I’ve probably had 2,000 at-bats, and that’s my first one. I’ve always been messing around about hitting homers, but it had never actually happened. So (my teammates) didn’t congratulate me for a while, and then they came out a few minutes later. Silent treatment, 100 percent.”

UNC used seven pitchers throughout the three-hour and 32-minute game, with the second pitcher of the game, Trevor Kelley, pitching three innings of shutout ball to record a win.

Even in light of his team’s unprecedented success, Stubbs said his team is trying to stay humble.

“Where we’re at right now, no one takes it for granted, he said. “I knew we had the talent, and people are just playing well for us right now. We just have to keep it going.”

But after Russell was asked what this team needs to improve on, he struggled to find an answer.

“Shoot, as of right now, I don’t really know of much.”

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