With the score tied at 5 in the top of the ninth inning, the No. 21 North Carolina baseball team had a chance to take the lead over No. 9 UCLA.
But with two outs and junior outfielder Tyler Lynn on second base, first-year designated hitter Brandon Riley lost that chance when his fly ball found the mitt of the UCLA shortstop.
Consequently, the Tar Heels fell 6-5 to the Bruins (1-1) in the bottom of the inning in Game 2 of the three-series at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday.
The game started off with everything going right for UNC (1-1). An explosive second inning put the Tar Heels up 3-0, and sophomore pitcher J.B. Bukauskas nipped any UCLA efforts at contention with fierce pitching — striking out six batters in the first three innings.
But UNC’s luck sputtered in the fourth inning.
Bukauskas walked junior infielder Luke Persico before redshirt senior outfielder Eric Filia reached first base after being hit with a pitch. An error by first-year second baseman Kyle Datres then allowed Perisco to score, and Filia later scored on an RBI single by redshirt senior Christoph Bono.
In the fifth inning, the Tar Heels got into trouble again when Bukausdkas gave up two more walks. Junior pitcher Zach Rice took over, but he surrendered another walk to load the bases for UCLA.
Junior designated hitter Kort Peterson's two-out single ultimately drove in two runs, giving the Bruins a 4-3 lead — their first of the series.
But UNC was swift to respond.
Sophomore shortstop Logan Warmoth kicked off the top of the sixth inning with a triple, and junior outfielder Adam Pate singled to drive in Warmoth. Pate eventually scored on an RBI single by first-year catcher Cody Roberts, handing the Tar Heels a 5-4 lead.
But the Tar Heels only held that lead for one inning, as a UCLA runner scored from third base on a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning.
UNC had a chance to take the lead back in the top of the eighth inning, as Roberts singled, stole second base and reached third on a wild pitch. But sophomore first baseman Brian Miller grounded out to end the inning.
The Tar Heels entered the ninth inning still tied at 5, but Riley's fly out to end the inning stranded Lynn on second base and gave the Bruins a chance to win in the bottom of the frame.
One out away from sending the game into extra innings, first-year pitcher Cole Aker entered the game and walked the first batter he faced. The runner then stole second base before scoring on a walk-off single by Filia.
“Just a tough loss. We played hard, we had three double plays, we had opportunities to win. Walks and errors hurt us. But we still played hard, and it’s kind of hard looking at the box score to believe we lost the game. But that’s the way the game goes.” — Coach Mike Fox on his team’s loss.
Bukauskas struck out a career-high nine batters on Saturday. His previous record was eight, which he set in starts against Duke and Boston College during the 2015 season.
Three numbers that matter
2: Of the six runs UCLA scored, two were unearned.
7: UNC’s pitchers walked seven total batters. Five of UCLA's runs were scored by players who reached base via a walk. The other run was scored by Filia, who got on base after being hit with a pitch in the bottom of the fourth inning.
4: UNC outhit UCLA 12-4 on Saturday, but the Tar Heels were unable to use the difference to their advantage.
The Tar Heels will take on UCLA at 4 p.m. on Sunday in the third and final game of the series. Sophomore right-hander Jason Morgan will take the mound for UNC across from first-year righty Kyle Molnar.
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