The UNC baseball team (7-4, 3-3 ACC) narrowly fell to Liberty (7-5), by a score of 8-7 in a close midweek matchup.
Liberty opened up the scoring after collecting three hits off of UNC's sophomore pitcher, Will Sandy. After the first half-inning, the Flames led 1-0.
In the bottom of the first, UNC sophomore Justice Thompson walked and Caleb Roberts doubled to left field, bringing Thompson to third. The next batter, Max Troiani, hit a sacrifice fly that drove in Thompson to tie the score.
The Flames fought back in the top of second. The second batter of the frame, Trey McDyre, hit a single to the shortstop. Then, an error by sophomore Danny Serretti allowed the next batter to reach base. Sandy walked the next batter, and was then relieved by freshman Nick James. With the bases loaded, James gave up two walks, which brought in two more runs. Sophomore Nik Pry then relieved James to stop the bleeding, and Liberty led 3-1.
In the bottom of the third, the Tar Heels would strike back. Redshirt sophomore Angel Zarate slammed the ball over the center field fence, giving him his first career home run. Immediately after, Thompson followed up with a home run of his own, which tied the score at 3.
Pry returned to the mound in the top of the fourth, but a Will Wagner RBI single broke the tie. Pry allowed another double before being relieved by Davis Palermo. With runners on second and third, Logan Mathieu homered to right, which drove in three more runs for the Flames.
UNC would answer once again in the bottom of the fourth, when junior Clemente Inclan swatted a home run to left field to narrow the score to 7-4. The Tar Heels would continue their comeback in the bottom of the sixth, when first-year Eric Grintz doubled and Will Stewart walked. Zarate followed with a single up the middle, bringing in Grintz to plate another run.
In the top of the seventh, UNC pitcher Caden O’Brien gave up another run, which gave Liberty an 8-6 lead. The Tar Heels responded with a run in the bottom half of the inning, when redshirt junior Jake Holtzapple singled to drive in two runs. With two innings to play, Liberty held a small 8-7 lead.
In the end, UNC did not have enough to extinguish the Liberty Flames, and ultimately fell, 8-7.
Who stood out?
Both Zarate and Inclan belted their first career home runs in the game. Thompson continued his hot start to the season with another home run, placing him into a tie for the team lead with four.
“I think the main thing we emphasized [after last weekend] was just competing and not making it easy on the pitcher,” Zarate said. “It’s a battle out there.”
On the mound, O’Brien turned in a solid outing, striking out five and giving up only one hit in 2.1 innings.
When was it decided?
Starting in the first inning, Liberty jumped out to leads and forced UNC to come from behind on a number of occasions. The Tar Heels struggled with pitching early in the game, bringing in two pitchers from the bullpen in just the first two innings.
After the Flames scored four crucial runs in the fourth inning, North Carolina’s offense tried to catch back up, but every run they earned was matched by the opponent. Once UNC came within one run of Liberty, the game was not decided until the last pitch, when a fly out to left field ended the Tar Heels' comeback aspirations.
Why does it matter?
After losing two out of three games against a formidable Virginia Tech team this past weekend, the Tar Heels were hoping to bounce back at a sunny Boshamer Stadium. UNC suffered its first loss to a non-conference opponent this season, and now the team's record is 7-4.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will return to Boshamer Stadium this Friday at 6 p.m., when they will host Clemson in the opener of a three-game series. After the weekend slate, UNC will look to avenge its loss to Liberty on the road next Wednesday.
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