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Thursday September 29th

North Carolina baseball sweeps Clemson behind dramatic Friday night victory

The North Carolina Tar Heels defeated NC State University in their first of three baseball games on Friday, April 14, 2017. The Tar Heels won 7-2.
Buy Photos The North Carolina Tar Heels defeated NC State University in their first of three baseball games on Friday, April 14, 2017. The Tar Heels won 7-2.

The fireworks in Boshamer Stadium on Friday night weren’t for the No. 5 North Carolina baseball team. But if they were, nobody would’ve batted an eye.

The Tar Heels deserved them.

In the first game of a series sweep of No. 4 Clemson, UNC delivered a 5-1 win in epic fashion. After six scoreless innings, North Carolina’s outburst in the bottom of the seventh had a 3,720-person crowd rocking.

With the bases loaded and two outs, head coach Mike Fox called on first-year Michael Busch. Clemson had just made a change, too. After 6.2 innings of great pitching, Charlie Barnes had been replaced by Patrick Andrews.

“They can say he was nervous,” Busch said. “But I was also a little nervous.”

The crowd buzzed more and more with each pitch. Andrews was dealing fastballs, but Busch — a man who was at bat for the very first time tonight with all the pressure on him — was ready.

On the sixth pitch of the count, which was another fastball, Busch made contact. The clink of the ball hitting aluminum resounded throughout a tense, quiet stadium.

That silence didn’t last for long. As the ball skipped through right center field and the runners on base took off, a growing roar began. This game, tied at 1-1 thanks to a wild pitch earlier in the inning that brought Brandon Riley home, wasn’t going to be tied for much longer.

Zack Gahagan was the first to score. He clapped his hands in enthusiasm as he jogged in. 3-1.

Tyler Lynn was on his way running hard with his head down — so focused that he almost tripped on third base. He recovered from a near stumble and ran in. 4-1.

By this point, the majority of UNC’s dugout was leaking onto the field. Players were jumping, screaming and fist-pumping. Most importantly, they were waving Cody Roberts home.

The sophomore was almost there. He took a few final steps and slid stomach-first for the plate. His left hand grazed it right before Clemson’s catcher turned to tag him out.

It was 5-1. Feet stomped and towels waved. An umpire furiously pointed at Busch’s teammates and made pushing motions to get back in the dugout.

“We tried to buy into the whole ‘not being a huge game’ thing,” said junior pitcher J.B. Bukauskas, who had seven strikeouts and allowed one run in seven innings. “But as you can see from the bottom of the seventh inning, we were pretty amped up.”

“Everybody running out on the field — we probably shouldn’t have done that. Sometimes your emotions get the best of you. I’d rather them be for something like that than in a negative way.”

Close games were the story of the weekend. On Saturday, Riley’s eight-inning score gave UNC a 5-4 lead. Although Sunday’s game took an extra inning, the Tar Heels thrived under pressure yet again. Lynn drove in a single to beat the Tigers, 3-2.

“I love being in those kind of games,” head coach Mike Fox said of Friday’s win. “That’s an NCAA regional-type game, atmosphere and opponent. Most of those guys out there — they haven’t been in that.”

UNC’s ACC series record remains spotless at 8-0, and this weekend’s sweep is the team’s third. The Tar Heels (36-9, 19-5 ACC) should be ready for more and more games with Friday’s atmosphere.

A College World Series drought dating back to 2013 is the last thing on North Carolina’s mind nowadays.


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