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The Daily Tar Heel

Reliever Spencer Trayner helps lead UNC baseball to win over Elon

Baseball games, even blowouts, have the tendency to hinge on certain moments that decide the winner and the loser. 

The No. 10 North Carolina baseball team’s 11-6 win over Elon Wednesday evening hinged on a critical stretch in the sixth inning, when the Phoenix put seven straight runners on base.

Up until the sixth inning, the Tar Heels (14-2) had been in control. North Carolina jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, as leadoff hitter Brian Miller scored from third base on a balk.

Elon (8-9) struck back with two runs in the top of the second inning, but UNC countered with four runs in the bottom of the inning. Elon wouldn’t score in the next three innings, getting shut down by sophomore Brett Daniels — who earned his first win of the season.

North Carolina added four more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, increasing its lead to 9-2 and setting the stage for the top of the sixth inning.

The frame began with a walk by Elon's Danny Lynch. The next six Phoenix followed his lead, reaching base on a combined three walks and three hits. Neither first-year Rodney Hutchison, who started the inning, nor senior reliever Chris McCue could slow Elon down.

“I don’t think we let our guard down, I think that’s just baseball,” said junior Spencer Trayner on Elon’s rally. “Sometimes you end up walking, maybe a lucky hit here or there, mishit a ball, infield hit, and next thing you know there are bases loaded with no outs.”

After taking stock of the situation, pitching coach Scott Forbes does what he normally does when the Tar Heels are in trouble — bring in a new pitcher. In trotted Trayner from the UNC bullpen.

“When he comes in, you know what you are going to get,” said first-year Brandon Riley, who finished the game with two hits and two RBIs. “You know you are going to get good fastballs, he’s gonna have a good off-speed ... He’s gonna go straight at them.”

After allowing two inherited runners to score, Trayner buckled down, striking out back-to-back batters in the heart of the Phoenix's batting order to end the inning.

“That was a key, those two strikeouts,” Coach Mike Fox said. “Spencer has been doing that for us. That inning got away from us a little bit. Spencer is a veteran and came in and got us two big strikeouts there and gave us a little bit of life.”

Trayner was confident he could get the outs his team needed.

“I knew if I was locating down in the zone, they weren’t gonna hit it," he said. "I was a little shaky with the first batter, and I zoned in after that.”

North Carolina added two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and cruised from there behind 2 2/3 perfect innings by first-year reliever Taylor Sugg. 

The last three innings were mostly a formality, though. Elon threw everything it had in the top of the sixth inning, hoping to swing the tide of the game.

Instead, in the game’s most critical moments, Spencer Trayner stepped up to shut the Phoenix down.


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