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'That's why you play nine innings': UNC collapses late in Super Regional loss

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UNC baseball junior and short stop, Ike Freeman, prepares to catch the ball while a UNCW player sides into third base during the Tar Heel's first game in the regional championship versus UNCW on Friday May 31, 2019. UNC won 7-6.


That’s the word North Carolina head baseball coach Mike Fox used to describe his team’s performance in Game 1 of the Chapel Hill Super Regional on Saturday, in which the Tar Heels allowed nine runs to Auburn in the last two innings.

“We obviously felt good with a 5-2 lead with one out in the eighth,” Fox said. “That’s why you play nine innings.”

Up until that point, nearly everything had gone UNC’s way. The Tar Heels came out ready, scoring three runs in the first inning thanks to an RBI double from first-year Aaron Sabato and an RBI single from junior Ashton McGee.

And aside from allowing a two-run home run in the fifth, junior pitcher Tyler Baum was dominant for the Tar Heels. In 6.1 innings, Baum allowed four hits and two earned runs, registering seven strikeouts on 104 pitches.

“I think I just kinda kept them off balance,” Baum said when asked about the key to his success. “I used my curveball pretty well today, so just kinda mixing it up and not letting them really know what’s going to come.”

Baum, who on Monday was taken 66th overall in the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics, looked in a league of his own.

“It’s been an unbelievable pleasure to coach Tyler Baum, and you can see why,” Fox said. “He saved maybe one of his best outings of his career for the biggest stage.”

When Baum came off the mound in the seventh, the Tar Heels held a 4-2 lead, needing just eight outs from their bullpen to secure the win. Another run in the bottom of the seventh inning gave North Carolina a 5-2 cushion.

“In college baseball, no lead is too big,” Sabato said. “So for us, we always want to put runs on the board.”

But then came the Tigers. As Fox said, “We just didn’t finish the game.”

The wheels came off in the eighth, when Auburn’s Conor Davis hit a double down the left field line to bat in a run. He later scored from third on a wild pitch; then, a double from Rankin Woley allowed three Tigers to score.

Four more Auburn runs came in the ninth, thanks to a sacrifice fly and a three-run shot from Edouard Julien that put the nail in the coffin.

All told, five North Carolina pitchers took the mound after Baum, though none were able to replicate his success.

The Tar Heels manufactured two runs with their backs against the wall, but the two-out rally in the ninth fell short. With the final out, the Tigers claimed a 1-0 lead in the Super Regional.

Though Fox admitted that the loss would be “a tough one to swallow,” he reiterated the importance of having a short memory.

“It’s one game,” Fox said. “This group is pretty good at letting things go. That one’s gonna be tough, but it is what it is. You’ve gotta stay positive.”

Sabato agreed, and said the best-of-three matchup with Auburn is “just like any other series.”

In a lot of ways, it is. And the Tar Heels have been in this position before; Fox pointed to the Virginia series earlier this year, when UNC dropped the first game and won the next two. 

“We’re not in totally uncharted territory,” he said.

Fox continued: “We win as a team, we lose as a team. That’s been our bond. So I won’t have to say a whole lot. 

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“Our guys will be ready tomorrow.”


@DTHSports |