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UNC baseball uses two-run first inning, shutout pitching to tie Super Regional

UNC baseball junior and 1B, Michael Busch (15), swings and misses the ball during the first game of the super regionals versus Auburn on Saturday June 8, 2019. Auburn beat UNC 11-7.

Game 2 of the Chapel Hill Super Regional on Sunday started off much like Game 1 did.

The North Carolina baseball team jumped out again to an early lead against Auburn, bolstered by the 1-2 combo of junior Michael Busch and first-year Aaron Sabato. The Tar Heels again limited the Tigers in the game's early stages, thanks mostly to a stellar performance on the mound from a junior right-handed pitcher.

The ending of Game 2 was different, though. This time, there would be no late collapse, and the early UNC runs would prove enough. This time, with their backs against the wall, the Tar Heels held on for a 2-0 win, doing just enough at the plate and on the mound to even the series and force a decisive Game 3 on Monday.

The only two runs of the day came in the first frame, when the bat of Busch and the eye of Sabato put them both on base. When they advanced to third and second, respectively, on a balk, it was junior Ike Freeman who brought them home with a single to left center.

"Those were huge," Freeman said. "We definitely needed that. But we talk all the time, we don't rely on the offense. Pitching and defense wins game. We put pressure on them – we also left a lot of guys on base – but our pitchers picked us up."

After using six pitchers on Saturday, head coach Mike Fox only needed two on Sunday – starting with Austin Bergner, the aforementioned junior righty, who gave up four hits in 4.1 innings while walking four. 

"He was able to make the pitches that he needed to," Fox said. "It probably wasn't quite his best, as sharp as he was his last outing (against Tennessee last weekend), but he did enough."

Bergner split the pitching burden with Austin Love, who personified the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 for UNC. In 4.2 innings, the redshirt first-year allowed just two hits and no walks, shutting out the Tigers while throwing six strikeouts.

"I felt like Austin was going to be good today," Fox said. "I didn't know he was going to be that good."

Compare that to the previous day, when Love gave up two runs in an inning's time against the Tigers before being pulled.

"Everybody was still positive and everything, picking us up," Love said, speaking for the Tar Heel bullpen. "Obviously we struggled more than normal, but they were just saying 'Come back, we know you still have the good stuff in there. We just need to see it tomorrow.'"

The good stuff came on Sunday.

"I think yesterday, I was just falling behind in the count a lot," Love said. "So today I was trying to make sure every first pitch was a strike. It really helped a lot."

Next, the Tar Heels will look to complete the comeback against Auburn on Monday. If they do, it will mean the team's second straight appearance in the College World Series – but it would be the first appearance for Love, who was busy with summer ball after his redshirt season and is now looking to make his mark.

"I was kind of upset that I didn't get to make the trip out," Love said. "Hoping this year will be the year I make it out there."


@DTHSports |

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