In the top of the first inning, North Carolina took a 1-0 lead with two outs after a walk and a passed ball put Cody Roberts in position to score. When Michael Busch singled up the middle, the Tar Heels already matched their hits and run total — with eight and a half innings to go.
“We got out to a lead and I thought we had a chance to extend it,” head coach Mike Fox said. “We had a runner on every inning, so we were putting pressure on them every inning.”
In the third inning, the offensive pressure exploded again for two more runs. But the game wasn’t decided yet — a few more game defining moments had yet to happen.
Here came the fifth inning.
ECU had mustered a few hits up until that point, but the team was due for a few runs. The Pirates rattled sophomore Tyler Baum on the mound, for a double and a single that took him out a few batters later. He left the game with two runners on – but escaped major harm, at least for the moment.
"Boom," Fox said. "Three-run homer and all of a sudden we are down."
Spencer Brickhouse sent one of Austin Bergner’s first pitches straight over the dead center wall, well over the 395-foot label. In one hit, North Carolina fell behind 4-3 and the momentum was shifting in favor of the Pirates.
The hit was big, but it didn’t decide the momentum the rest of the game. The response did.
Kyle Datres saw the effect a big hit could have for his team. As the lead-off hitter for the top of the sixth, he just wanted to get on base. He swung hard and connected on a 2-0 count and the ball continued to travel higher and higher into the left field sky, until finally it crossed the big blue monster.
“It was nice to be able to respond right away and get the momentum back on our side,” Datres said. “And it really turned the tide for us there.”
The big hit resonated into the later innings, when Bergner sat down the Pirates 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Tar Heels scrapped another run onto the board. The Tar Heels had used the moment to go up 5-4, and it was winning the crucial moments.
In the eighth inning, one more challenge loomed. With two on and one out, Bergner was yanked and closer Josh Hiatt was brought in. It looked as if the Pirates could break the game open and score enough runs to put the game to bed for another North Carolina loss.
Hiatt walked the first batter to load the bases.
“I have all this gray hair because of Josh Hiatt,” Fox said. “He likes to walk guys and then he likes to make great pitches and get strikeouts and double plays. It drives me crazy.”
The raucous ECU crowd was on its feet for a play of the game, but it wasn't the one they expected. Two pitches later, Hiatt forced an easy ground ball for a double play. Out of the jam and one more inning for a 5-4 victory.
In the ninth inning, the Pirates go another two runners on, but they hit into another double play. Game over.
North Carolina still has work to do. The team left 15 runners stranded on base over the course of the game and relied upon four players for all but one hit of the night.
In the final game on Sunday, the Tar Heels were crushed 12-0 to drop the series to the Pirates.
There's still plenty of room for improvement this season, but Saturday night, it was the big plays, not the mistakes or mishaps, that made all the difference.
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