In the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday at Boshamer Stadium, Tommy Coyle was doing his best to avoid dropping North Carolina’s series to N.C. State for the second year straight.
After the Wolfpack took Saturday’s opener 3-1, game two was knotted at three and came down to the Tar Heels’ junior shortstop after five-and-a-half tied innings.
With two runners on base to start the Tar Heels’ final push, right fielder Michael Russell preceded Coyle and hit into a double-play to put two outs on the scoreboard.
But Coyle came through in the next at-bat with a single through the middle to plate Parks Jordan for a 4-3 win Sunday to even the series.
“I was looking forward to getting that chance to win it there, especially after that double play right before,” Coyle said. “I had let my team down a little bit with some of my previous at-bats.
“I was up in the count and got myself out when there were runners on, so I really wanted to make it up with that last at-bat, so I was really happy for the opportunity and happy that I pulled through.”
N.C. State took advantage of two UNC errors Saturday to give ace pitcher Kent Emanuel his first loss in more than a year and just the second of his career.
But the Tar Heels rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the second inning Sunday to put the series’ fate in game three’s hands.
UNC’s offense strung together a two-run answer that inning with three straight singles from Cody Stubbs, Shell McCain and Matt Roberts, all with two outs, and Jordan reached on an error.
And just one inning later, senior catcher Jacob Stallings came through for UNC with an RBI double to tie the game by scoring Russell, who also doubled that inning from the lead-off spot.
Wolfpack starter Carlos Rodon would soon settle down, though, and hammered at UNC’s batting order with 129 pitches in 6.2 innings of work for seven strikeouts.
“He threw hard, had a rhythm on his fastball, had a rhythm on his slider, so with a guy like that you have to take advantage of their mistakes, and we were able to do that,” Stallings said.
“You know, we got to him early, but then he settled down a little bit. But we won, so I guess he wasn’t that good.”
Still, the Tar Heels struggled to push runs across for the rest of the game. As UNC turned to its bullpen for a defensive answer, closer Michael Morin was eventually credited with the win.
“It was exceptionally well pitched, I thought, on both sides,” coach Mike Fox said. “I was beginning to wonder when we kept having a guy out there: were we going to be able to do something — to get a bunt down and move the ball and get a big hit.
“It’s kind of been our nemesis all year long, so we’ll see what (Coyle’s hit) does to our team.”
North Carolina will face the Wolfpack once again tonight at 7 p.m. to decide the series, as freshman righty Benton Moss takes the mound for UNC.
And if it’s up to Fox, Coyle’s game-finishing spark will rub off on his team sooner rather than later.
“It’d be nice if we get opportunities to get a big hit,” Fox said. “That would help, I think, to take the air out a little bit. We seem to be struggling to score runs.”
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