RALEIGH — In the top of the ninth inning, the North Carolina baseball team forgot about avoiding the obvious.
It was all too apparent the Tar Heels were about to be swept for the first time this season.
Down two games in the series and 10 runs in game three against N.C. State, the Tar Heels (30-8, 12-6 ACC) instead turned their attention to stopping the pain and avoiding a shutout by an aggressive Wolfpack (21-16, 8-10) at Doak Field.
And while a set of young pinch hitters managed to post two runs to ease the finale to just a 10-2 rout, it didn’t ease the sting of UNC’s third loss in a row.
“We just weren’t ready to play and didn’t show up,” second baseman Tommy Coyle said. “That’s what happens when you’re not ready to play in this league — they take advantage. Right out of the gate it ended up that way.”
After UNC fell to N.C. State by just one run on both Friday and Saturday, starting pitcher Chris Munnelly took the mound Sunday desperate to pound the strike zone and avoid the eventual sweep.
“I felt like I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder coming in here, especially down two games — I wanted to make a statement,” Munnelly said. “I just felt like we had a little bit more to play for.”
In a scoreless game until the fifth inning, a routine fly out and a forced groundout at third by Munnelly and North Carolina’s defense kept NCSU from capitalizing on two bases-loaded opportunities.
“We dodged the bullet the first couple innings with them,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “They had the bases loaded twice, but we got out of it. We were thinking, ‘Oh, maybe it’s our day.’”
But momentum soon swung in N.C. State’s direction — enough to make a four-run dent in just the beginning of the Wolfpack’s confidence-killing rally.
After powering through two innings with four strikeouts, Munnelly baited just a few wolves too many. The right-hander set up the bases-loaded opportunity that would soon doom the Tar Heels on his way to walking four batters.
Just as a pitching changeup from struggling starter Patrick Johnson in Friday’s 5-4 drop didn’t shake the Wolfpack, NCSU’s offense smoothly withstood the Tar Heels’ changeup on the mound to Michael Morin on Sunday.
In the fourth inning, N.C. State’s designated hitter Tarran Senay drove in a pair of runs that was soon followed by a teammate’s sliding double to complete the inning with a second duo scored.
Just one inning later, N.C. State would do it again.
This time, though, a relentless NCSU pounded the outfield’s gaps to score six runs, the most tacked on the scoreboard in an inning against the Tar Heels this year.
“N.C. State just did a good job hitting the ball and moving the ball around,” Coyle said. “They found a lot of holes, and we were on the other end of that for the first time this season.”
Just as a three-RBI triple from Ben Bunting on Friday and back-to-back homers from Levi Michael and Colin Moran on Saturday were overshadowed by defeat, the Tar Heels’ two-spot in the top of the ninth couldn’t cover up their inability to score runners all weekend long.
“The ball just didn’t jump off the bat for us,” Fox said. “Obviously when we did hit a couple of balls on the nose, they’re making great plays in the outfield. It’s just one of those days at the ball yard. I’ve seen it. You just get ready to get it over with and go home.”
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