“We just didn’t play well as a team collectively. And I think the credit is to (West Virginia) for that.”
Before Pate’s near-triple, 22 UNC batters had approached the plate. Twenty left hitless.
The Tar Heels (14-6, 4-2 ACC) made solid contact throughout the game’s first innings — but the well-hit balls traveled foul or directly to a West Virginia fielder.
“We’re still finding our pace,” Russell said. “You can go up there and hit the ball hard three times — and get out three times.”
Means, the Mountaineers lefty ace, never allowed UNC to find an offensive cadence.
The junior no-hit the Tar Heels through five innings and threw the team’s first complete game of the season.
“We usually don’t see that good of an arm on a Wednesday,” said the pinch-hitting Pate. “We had to adjust, and we didn’t do that until it was too late.”
And Fox said Means (4-1) relied on one pitch.
“He basically beat us with his fastball,” he said.
To win, then, the Tar Heels would have had to play nearly flawless defense and rely on opportunism and aggression.
They didn’t, Fox said.
“When you have a well-pitched game,” he said, “the margin of error is very small for the mistakes you can make.”
UNC exceeded that margin.
The Tar Heels committed four errors, and in the bottom of the fifth inning West Virginia (11-6) exploited their defensive inelegance.
After UNC starting pitcher Luis Paula (1-1) hit Mountaineers designated hitter Max Nogay, sending him to first base, Paula attempted to pick off the base runner.
The throw hit the ground before skipping past UNC first baseman Joe Dudek for the pitcher’s first of two errant pickoff attempts.
“Just threw ’em straight into the dirt,” Paula said.
On the next at-bat West Virginia’s Taylor Munden then ripped a grounder to third base. Tar Heels third baseman Landon Lassiter bobbled it, and Munden reached first on what should have been an out.
The Mountaineers would score their first two runs in the fifth inning, and they wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.
“That’s my biggest concern — all the mistakes that we made,” Fox said. “You’re gonna run into pitchers like that, where you’re gonna struggle to score runs and it’s gonna be 1-0, 2-1, and you just hope you keep the game close. But we just made too many mistakes.”
That’s why Pate’s seventh-inning life-infusing double was so valuable: it was going to spark UNC’s bats.
But the pinch-hitter, paying the price for his calculated aggression, was tagged at third for UNC’s last out of the inning.