With a season-long streak on the line, the No. 3 North Carolina baseball team needed to step up. And it did so in epic fashion.
Sunday’s win over Virginia Tech was more than a win. It was a dismantling. The 20-0 victory was the biggest ACC shutout in school history.
It also secured a ninth ACC series win in as many tries for UNC (41-10, 21-6 ACC) after the Tar Heels and the Hokies split the first two games.
Here are three takeaways from North Carolina’s successful road trip to Blacksburg, Va.
Bats stay awake
Last Wednesday, North Carolina blew past UNC-Asheville, 16-4, in Chapel Hill. That was the first time the team had double-digit runs since an April 25 win over Elon.
The Tar Heels carried that midweek momentum into their weekend, averaging 11 runs per game and just under 13 hits per game in three contests.
Brian Miller, Tyler Lynn and Brandon Riley all hit home runs in the first game of the series, and five different Tar Heels had at least one RBI in a 9-4 win.
Sandwiched in between North Carolina’s wins was an 8-4 loss in the second game of a Saturday double-header. Logan Warmoth and Kyle Datres had three hits each, and UNC totaled 11.
But UNC left 11 runners on base in the game. This problem of missed opportunities has plagued North Carolina in its losses this season.
The box score from Sunday was eye-popping. Zack Gahagan drove in five runs and hit his sixth home run of the season. Miller tied a career high with five hits. Warmoth and Datres also hit home runs.
UNC got 14 of its 20 runs from the sixth and seventh innings. Virginia Tech blew through its bullpen, using six different pitchers. Four of those pitchers allowed at least four runs each.
This would usually be the time to talk about another great weekend from North Carolina starting righty pitchers J.B. Bukauskas and Gianluca Dalatri. But this time, it’s quite the opposite.
Bukauskas, a junior, pitched just 3.1 innings before exiting — the quickest he’s left a game all year. He allowed six hits and struck out just two. A game later, the first-year Dalatri allowed season highs in runs (eight) and hits (12) before being benched after five innings.
Luckily for Bukauskas, his reliever, Rodney Hutchison Jr., was spot on. Hutchison inherited runners on second and third but was unfazed, pitching 4.2 scoreless innings and keeping his team alive.
Dalatri’s relievers, Austin Bergner and Taylor Sugg, combined to pitch three scoreless innings, and neither allowed a hit. But Dalatri’s struggles had already done in the Tar Heels.
UNC’s 20 runs deserve recognition, but its shutout of the Hokies does as well. Using a lot of pitchers in a game usually signals that a team’s struggling to keep its opponent off the board.
Sunday was an exception as a five-pitcher staff of Taylor Sugg, Brett Daniels, Jason Morgan, Bo Weiss and Zach Attianese combined to give North Carolina its third shutout of the season.
Locking up the division
This weekend of great individual performances also produced a team-wide accolade — for the first time since 2013, UNC clinched the ACC Coastal Division title outright.
Saturday’s win gave North Carolina 40 wins for the 14th time in 19 years under head coach Mike Fox. But the other reward — a guaranteed top-two seed in the ACC Baseball Championship in Louisville later this month — was much sweeter.
A midweek game against UNC-Wilmington and a final ACC series against rival Duke remain for the streaking Tar Heels, who have won 12 of their last 14 games.
2013 was also the last time North Carolina made it to the College World Series — that statistic may not stand for much longer either.
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