To put it bluntly, the Catamounts never had a chance in this one. From start to finish, in every aspect of the game, UNC seemed in full control.
A three-up, three-down inning from pitcher Taylor Sugg got the game underway before center fielder Brandon Riley launched a two-run home run to right field in the bottom of the first to start the scoring. One inning later, third baseman Kyle Datres singled to drive in catcher Brandon Martorano and stretch the lead to three runs.
After a couple of strong defensive plays from left fielder Dallas Tessar and second baseman Zack Gahagan bailed out UNC relief pitcher Ben Casparius in the top of the fifth, the wheels began to fall off for the Catamounts.
First baseman Michael Busch advanced to first base on an error to start the bottom of the inning, then Datres was hit by a pitch and Riley singled to right field to load the bases. Shortstop Ike Freeman walked to bring home a run, before designated hitter Ashton McGee singled to drive in another and to keep the bases loaded. Two walks later, and the Tar Heels had plated four runs in the inning on just two hits.
“I think that kind of made everyone a little more comfortable at the plate,” Riley said. “Just seeing guys in front of you have quality at-bats and get on base without having to get a hit — that’s always nice as a hitter, to know that getting a hit or stringing hits together isn’t your only way to score runs.”
The visitors did get two runs back in the top of the sixth, but even then the result never felt doubtful. Reliever Rodney Hutchison Jr. calmly struck out the final batter of the inning with two men on base, before making a nice play on a ground ball the very next inning to prevent another run.
In what was the most dangerous situation in the game for the Tar Heels, the Catamounts loaded the bases with one out in the top of the eighth. UNC head coach Mike Fox went to his bullpen once again, calling on reliever Brett Daniels to get the team out of the jam. Daniels delivered, striking out two consecutive batters to end the inning.
A double steal by UNC in the bottom of the eighth made it an 8-2 game, with Freeman taking second and Datres sliding into home, and reliever Bo Weiss had no problem closing out the game in the ninth.
When it was all said and done, UNC had used seven pitchers who combined for 13 strikeouts. Not a bad day’s work for the pitching staff.
“That was obviously by design,” Fox said. “It was a Wednesday game, and we’ve got a big series coming up. It went kind of how we wanted, but we would’ve liked for some of those guys to throw a few more strikes.”
The “big series” Fox was referring to takes place this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Raleigh against No. 3 N.C. State, which has already defeated UNC once in a non-conference game last Tuesday in Durham.
Time will tell whether his decision to rotate his pitchers will pay off.
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