North Carolina relief pitcher Chris McCue had nothing to work with in the sixth inning other than the ball in his hand.
It was his job to protect a 6-1 lead with High Point base-runners covering the bags and one out. He did that with a pop out to shallow right field and a strikeout. Both outs he recorded with his fastball.
“I’ve been put in a lot of pressure situations, so I’m kind of used to it,” McCue said.
It was the only life the Panthers showed since their one-run second inning, and McCue snuffed it out. That effort helped No. 7 UNC (28-9) absorb a three-run ninth inning from High Point (22-17) to win 10-5.
Prior to that spurt, there was little High Point could do against UNC and starter Shane Taylor.
Taylor (4-0) made his first start of the season and second career start Tuesday. Taylor allowed five hits and just one run in five innings of work even though he said he didn’t have his best stuff.
“We were mixing it up quite a bit, just keeping them off the barrel,” he said. “Defense made all the plays out there today, so that really helped. I just tried to keep them off balance mostly today.”
Coach Mike Fox said it wasn’t vintage Taylor, like he showed last season where he struck out 38 batters in 36 innings while walking 12. But Fox wanted to get Taylor time on the mound, and he saw glimpses of that performance.
The Tar Heels built a commanding lead behind Taylor. Outfielders Brian Holberton and Adam Griffin each knocked RBI singles in the first inning, and Griffin added another in the third.
All the while, Taylor was cruising in front of UNC’s defense. He gave up two of his five hits in the second inning and walked just one of the 20 batters he faced.
The Tar Heels gave Taylor even more slack after a three-run fourth inning. Third baseman Michael Russell and designated hitter Cody Stubbs knocked in two runs to give the Tar Heels a 6-1 lead after four innings.
Taylor left the game after five innings, and UNC used three pitchers to escape the sixth inning. McCue eventually got the job done, which swung the pendulum back in the Tar Heels’ favor.
UNC turned a four-hit seventh inning into four runs and increase its lead to 10-1. Russell and Holberton started off the inning with singles, and Mike Zolk knocked in a run with his hit to left.
Then with runners on each bag, Chaz Frank cleared the bases with a triple to the right-field wall.
“I was just trying to hit it through the four-hole to be honest, and the barrel was up and it got down the line,” Frank said.
Fox decided to take advantage of the eight-run lead after eight innings and play Chris O’Brien, who didn’t travel with the team in its weekend series against Virginia with a shoulder impingement.
O’Brien struggled at the mound surrendering three runs, one earned, before R.C. Orlan cleaned up the final two outs of the inning.
“Usually those impingements last a little bit longer and I was a little surprised we were using (O’Brien) tonight,” Fox said. “I’m not very happy that we had to use R.C. We’ve got to give those guys a break. That’s his 23rd appearance.”
And there’s a chance UNC may need Orlan again today when the Tar Heels look to tackle Liberty and its 30-10 record.
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