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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC baseball drops series opener despite strong outing from Zac Gallen

The No. 17 North Carolina baseball team fell to the No. 5 Louisville 6-0 at Boshamer Stadium on Friday. The Tar Heels (29-16, 9-13 ACC) were unable to string together hits against the Cardinals (37-9, 15-9 ACC) and lost the first game of an important three-game set against an ACC foe.

What happened?

North Carolina could not get anything going against do-it-all sophomore Brendan McKay. On the mound, McKay allowed three hits over seven innings and struck out nine.

He also made an impact at the plate. Pitchers are notoriously bad hitters and rarely see the plate in college, but McKay is unique in that he hits and hits well. Against North Carolina on Friday, he batted fourth in the order and got two hits, an RBI and scored a run.

Led by McKay, the Cardinal offense tallied 10 hits and six runs. Much of that offense came in the later innings against Tar Heel relievers Hunter Williams and Spencer Trayner. Williams was credited with two earned runs in just a third of an inning of work and got pulled in the ninth without recording an out.

Who stood out?

UNC pitcher Zac Gallen turned in another solid performance on the mound. He threw 7.2 innings, allowed two earned runs, struck out six and walked just one. He was credited with the loss — his fifth of the season — but the junior allowed only six hits, and even a few of those were soft infield singles helped by unlucky bounces and a slow, wet infield.

“I felt like I had good stuff. Having that week off helped,” Gallen said. “But that’s just the way the game goes sometimes. You’ve got to him them where they ain’t. And they did that, they did a good job. We will bounce back tomorrow.”

Gallen had control of all four of his pitches tonight, attacking hitters with a fastball that sits in the low 90s. He controlled that pitch well and induced lots of soft contact. In the end, he threw strikes and got outs but did not get the run support he needed to win the game.

“I thought Zac Gallen was sensational. That will get lost in all this but that’s one of the better outings he’s had, I think in his career here, against a really good team.” Coach Mike Fox said.

When was it decided?

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning, North Carolina put two runners on base with no outs, but Louisville brought in hard-throwing righty Zack Burdi — whose first pitch hit 98 mph — to quell the run. Burdi retired Adam Pate, got North Carolina’s best hitter Tyler Ramirez to chop out and struck out Logan Warmoth looking to end the inning and the scoring threat.

Burdi even touched 100 mph on one or two fastballs, hitting a speed that is impressive even for major league players to reach.

"(I’ve) never seen it before. I didn’t even know our scoreboard would do that... that’s pretty amazing.” Fox said.

In the top of the ninth inning, Louisville’s lead-off hitter lifted a ball over the right-field wall, giving the Cardinals a 4-0 lead. If the game wasn’t over already, that solo home run ended it.

Why it matters?

This is an important three game series for the Tar Heels for both ACC and NCAA Tournament positioning. Coming into the weekend, North Carolina was in fourth place in the ACC Coastal standings. Only 10 teams make the ACC Tournament, and the Tar Heels want to make sure they are among those 10 at the end of the season.

If the Tar Heels were going to win the series, it felt like the team would have to win the first game behind a strong performance from Gallen. They got the outing they needed from Gallen, but they weren’t able to capitalize.

Fox isn’t going to put any more pressure on his team during the next two games, though.

“I’m just gonna try not to put more importance on the game tomorrow than there probably already is. I’ve got to try to do the opposite, because that doesn’t help,” Fox said.

“It’s like, ‘Just get a good nights sleep, come in here tomorrow, pregame meal, go through our same routine and keep fighting.’”

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Where do they play next?

The series continues Saturday at 1 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium. Right-hander J.B. Bukauskas will take the mound for UNC, while left-hander Drew Harrington will start for the Cardinals.

@bauman_john

sports@dailytarheel.com