But in a season where everyone on Tobacco Road is dominant on the diamond, UNC entered its weekend trip to Durham needing two wins out of three to clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division title. The chance to do that is still on the table, but after Friday night, the Tar Heels will now need at least one victory Saturday or Sunday to feel good about its lead in the division with one more ACC series remaining next week.
Even if they were held scoreless through the opening five frames, Friday night’s game felt a bit like one that got away from the Tar Heels, who saw their fortunes turn in the seventh.
“The whole game kind of flipped there in the seventh,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said. “We got first and second nobody out with the middle of our order up, and we don’t get it done. I thought we really had momentum on our side right there. If we had punched one across or two across, I think it obviously changes the game.
“We don’t get that done, and then they come back in the bottom of the seventh and push a couple across. That was the game.”
While UNC couldn’t take advantage of its opportunities at the plate in the seventh, Duke could. UNC’s relievers helped the Blue Devils’ cause, however.
After looking dynamite in the sixth, first-year Joey Lancellotti issued a one-out walk and fell behind 2-0 on Duke’s Jimmy Herron. Fox then called on senior Brett Daniels, the Tar Heels’ most experienced and reliable arm out of the pen this season. After walking Herron, whom he inherited with two balls, Daniels issued another walk to Chris Proctor, as the Blue Devils loaded the bases without a hit.
Rather than give Daniels, who entered Friday night’s game with a 2.22 ERA through 48.2 innings this season, an extended opportunity to get out of the jam, Fox called upon redshirt sophomore Josh Hiatt, who was making his first appearance in an ACC game since getting suspended last month.
“Brett’s our guy right there. He just didn’t have his feel for his changeup,” Fox said. “We know that early on with him. That’s why we got him out as quickly as we did.”
The first pitch Hiatt threw was drilled down the left field line by Duke’s Zack Kone, and two Blue Devils scored, with both runs charged to Lancellotti.
From there, the Blue Devils tacked on two more insurance runs in the eighth off of Hiatt, and the Tar Heels failed to rally against Duke, which is now 30-0 when leading after the seventh this season.
Junior Cooper Criswell started on the mound in a fourth consecutive ACC series for the Tar Heels, and Fox thought the 6-foot-6 right-hander “kept (the Tar Heels) in the game,” with his five-inning, three-earned run outing.
Already ahead 1-0 thanks to a solo home run by Griffin Conine in the second, Duke went ahead 3-0 with a two-run fifth that was aided by two video reviews.
After a one-out single, Duke’s Kennie Taylor attempted to steal second and was initially ruled out after UNC sophomore catcher Brandon Martorano’s throw. After the play was reviewed, however, Taylor was ruled safe.
Two at-bats later, Herron singled to left field. UNC sophomore left fielder Dallas Tessar came up firing and he appeared to throw out Taylor at the plate. Originally ruled out, Taylor was eventually ruled safe after the inning’s second review.
Undeterred, UNC fought back in the top of the sixth. The Tar Heels got on the board with an RBI single by first-year designated hitter Ben Casparius. With one out, a sacrifice fly from sophomore shortstop Ike Freeman plated a second run, and UNC pulled even when Duke second baseman Max Miller muffed a routine ground ball hit by sophomore pinch-hitter Ashton McGee with the bases loaded.
“Proud of our team for coming back from 3-to-nothing,” Fox said.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, that was their only comeback of the night.
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