The North Carolina baseball team (15-13, 9-10 ACC) lost to Duke (13-13, 6-10 ACC), 4-2, in the opening game of its series on Saturday.
Austin Love, UNC’s starting pitcher, retired the first two Duke batters in the top of the first, but a ground ball single from Duke’s Erikson Nichols set up an RBI double by Peter Matt. Matt’s deep fly ball to right field soared over the head of UNC’s Caleb Roberts and bounced off the wall, allowing Nichols to score from first base to put Duke up 1-0.
Duke doubled its lead in the second inning, when junior Ethan Murray advanced to first on a walk, then reached home plate on a subsequent single from sophomore Chad Knight and a sacrifice bunt from redshirt junior Will Hoyle.
A weather delay forced the game to pick back up at noon Saturday, and sophomore Will Sandy took the mound for UNC. Fifth-year player Brad Centracchio gave the Tar Heels their first hit with a hard-hit double down the first-base line, but UNC couldn’t capitalize, as he was stranded at third base to end the frame.
In the fifth inning, Matt struck again for the Blue Devils with a two-run homer that gave Duke a 4-0 lead.
The Tar Heels were finally able to put a run on the board in the bottom of the eighth, as an RBI single from first-year catcher Tomas Frick drove in sophomore outfielder Justice Thompson to trim the deficit to 4-1.
In the bottom of the ninth, UNC had one last chance to make a comeback. A leadoff single from Jake Holtzapple got things started, and his pinch runner, Mikey Madej, scored on a Duke throwing error. Thompson stepped into the batter’s box representing the tying run, but struck out swinging to end the game.
Who stood out?
After allowing a home run in the fifth, UNC reliever Connor Ollio settled into the game and gave the Tar Heels a chance to win. He tossed 4.2 innings while allowing only three hits and notching six strikeouts, which marked a career-high.
Senior Dallas Tessar had a highlight defensive play in the second inning, laying out to snag a fly ball that otherwise would have been an extra-base hit. Tessar was replacing sophomore Angel Zarate in left field, who was put in COVID-19 protocol prior to the start of the series.
Matt put together a stellar hitting performance for Duke, going 3-4 and recording 3 RBIs with his double and home run.
When was it decided?
The game hung in the balance until the final pitch. Despite being in a hole for much of the game, the Tar Heels stirred up some excitement with their comeback bid in the bottom of the ninth. However, the attempt came up short once Thompson struck out.
Why does it matter?
UNC has struggled against ACC opponents the past two weeks, dropping its previous two series to N.C. State and Florida State. The Tar Heels hoped a 3-2 win against No. 9 South Carolina on April 6 would give them momentum heading into the Duke series, but this was not the case in game one.
UNC’s offense felt the absence of Zarate, their usual lead-off hitter. The Tar Heels struggled to capitalize on key scoring chances, as the team went just 1-13 with runners in scoring position.
When do they play next?
The series will continue at Boshamer Stadium at noon Sunday.
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