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Friday September 30th

Ashton McGee amazes with diving catch in UNC baseball's win over Elon

Ashton McGee runs to 3rd off a hit. UNC men's baseball team played Elon on Tuesday night, April 25, 2017.
Buy Photos Ashton McGee runs to 3rd off a hit. UNC men's baseball team played Elon on Tuesday night, April 25, 2017.

The ground wasn’t wet. It wasn’t dry either.

As the No. 5 North Carolina baseball team and Elon began play at Boshamer Stadium, it was something in between. UNC’s sports turf crew had battled Chapel Hill’s incessant drizzle just enough for the 6 p.m. first pitch.

Maybe caked was the right word for the dirt — something cleats sink into just enough to annoy a player, making every cut just a little bit slower.

That didn’t stop Ashton McGee from making the play of the game in the Tar Heels’ 11-2 win.

It was the top of the third, and North Carolina had started hot. Sophomore Brandon Riley had driven a three-run home run over the right-field wall in the first inning — just over the 355-foot marker.

In the next inning, the Tar Heels added three more runs, one courtesy of a timely single by McGee. With a 6-1 lead this early, it was a chance to play comfortable. Play loose.

First-year right Tyler Baum stood on the mound. McGee was behind him, about five steps up and to the right of second base.

Elon’s Ryne Ogren — and his team-high .365 batting average — waited at the plate. Baum raised his left leg, reared back and fired the second pitch of the count.

The second he ended his throwing motion, he went into his catching motion. Ogren hit a good one — fast, low and right toward Baum. The pitcher flung his gloved right hand into the air and just missed the ball.

As soon as Ogren’s hit escaped Baum’s extended arm, McGee was on the move.

“Anything up the middle is my ball,” McGee said. “I knew (shortstop) Logan (Warmoth) wasn’t going to be able to get there.”

One step. Another. Then he was airborne.

“I just did my best ...” he said. “Got a good first step and dove for it.”

McGee, who is in his first semester at UNC after finishing high school early, is usually slotted in the designated hitter spot. And this was his second career start at second base — his first coming in Sunday’s loss against Pittsburgh.

A ball that had already gotten away from one fast-reacting Tar Heel didn’t get past a second. McGee secured it with his left hand.

For a split second, he and the ground were parallel.

With no time to brace himself, McGee belly flopped. He promptly gathered himself and tossed the ball to his third baseman as the crowd applauded.

“He doesn’t play like a senior in high school,” head coach Mike Fox said.

“He doesn’t look like one. He doesn’t run the bases like one. He’s a player.”

McGee added his second run of the game in the bottom of the sixth. UNC finished the game with 14 hits.

After a sizzling start to April, North Carolina went seven consecutive games without posting double digits. Tonight was the first time the Tar Heels had 10 or more runs since an April 11 drubbing of South Carolina.

“Today, it seemed like a bunch of balls — especially for me — just fell at the right time,” Brian Miller said. “A little bit of timing, a little bit of luck.”

In a game of offense, McGee’s defensive hustle — and the long streak of dirt that lined the right side of his otherwise spotless white uniform because of it — still stood out.


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