He was looking for Ridgely’s slider. He hacked at the third pitch he saw, stretching his bat to the outside part of the plate. Crack.
The Tar Heel dugout froze. The players saw the game hang in the balance. The press box refocused, too; the story of the game floated in the air, after all.
The ball flew right over the 355-foot marker printed on the navy-blue outfield wall in right center. Gone.
Miller hopped in exhilaration after rounding first, and the team met him just outside the batter’s box to congratulate the junior center fielder on his first home run on the season — one that gave UNC a 2-0 lead.
“I don’t know if I can say (what my teammates said) for the mic,” Miller said. “Everyone was just excited, though — kind of a deep breath.”
The gist of what the players were feeling was clear, though. In that moment, the Tar Heel dugout knew it had escaped with a win. That is, everyone but head coach Mike Fox.
“You’ve got to be careful in games like that where you think the first team that scores is going to win,” Fox said. “That’s not how it goes … It’s kind of natural to say, ‘Yes, we finally scored.’ But the game’s not over.”
Yet as the box score later declared, it was over. The Tar Heels extended their undefeated season with the win. In essence, the home run was supposed to effectively decide the outcome of the series.
But after a blowout loss in Game 2, the Highlanders were not willing to give up. Game 3 ended up hanging in the balance in the top of the ninth inning. Radford was down two runs.
“I told the guys before the game, ‘I could try to script out every game, and I would be wrong every single time because you just never know how the game is going to go,’” Fox said. “A game’s never over. It’s never over.”
There was one on and two outs for the Highlanders. It was tense all over again. Fox calls redshirt first-year Josh Hiatt, his closer, to take care of the last out. Coincidentally, he was ready to go.
“I was actually throwing in the bullpen, getting ready for midweeks and stuff …” Hiatt said. “I was already ready. I mean, you just can’t give up. That’s what that team did: They just didn’t give up.”
And the redshirt first-year closer did his job, capturing his fifth save of the season.
As it turns out, Fox was right. There’s no clock in baseball; it’s never over. No sigh of relief is allowed until the last out.
And, in the end, the Tar Heel dugout ended up escaping the series unscathed — all thanks to Miller and Hiatt, who provided the sighs of relief.