DURHAM — The opponent — one the North Carolina baseball team had faced almost 300 times dating back to 1895— was familiar. The setting was not.
No. 15 UNC (24-13, 12-6 ACC) began its toughest stretch of the season with a 8-3 loss to No. 4 N.C. State on Tuesday night at the neutral confines of Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Maybe the unfamiliar ballpark explains why the Tar Heels, winners of 22 of their last 28 games heading into the contest, looked flat on the field for most of the game. The one silver lining for the Tar Heels is the fact that the game was recorded as a non-conference contest, so UNC did not fall further behind first-place Duke in the ACC Coastal Division.
"I thought State just beat us handily in pretty much every phase of the game," head coach Mike Fox said. "I thought everybody out of their bullpen was good. They didn't make mistakes. We left the ball up and that was pretty much the game."
Neither team did much damage in the first inning, a bad omen for the Tar Heels, who are now 9-11 when failing to score in the opening frame. Disaster quickly struck in the second in the form of a two-run home run off the bat of N.C. State catcher Patrick Bailey. Bailey’s two-run blast seemed to rattle Tar Heel starting pitcher Rodney Hutchison Jr., who lasted just 3.1 innings on the night, his shortest start since Feb. 25.