After losing their final regular season series against Georgia Tech last weekend, the Tar Heels (26-25, 18-18 ACC) dropped a heartbreaker in game one of the ACC Tournament to the Pittsburgh Panthers (23-19, 16-17 ACC) Tuesday night, 5-3.
After both teams were held silent in the first, Pittsburgh opened up the scoring off of a fielder's choice RBI from sophomore Brock Franks in the top of the second to give the Panthers an early 1-0 lead. After the Panthers grabbed the early lead, the score remained steady at 1-0 until the top of the fifth, when Pittsburgh scored two more runs off of a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly from junior Ron Washington Jr. to extend the Panther lead to three.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Tar Heels responded with their first runs of the night off of a key two-RBI single from sophomore Caleb Roberts to cut the lead to one run. The score remained 3-2 until Pittsburgh struck again in the top of the eighth, grabbing another pair of runs off of a long home run to left field from Washington to give the Panthers a three-run advantage.
Heading into the bottom of the eighth, with two more opportunities for a comeback, the Tar Heels were able to grab one more run off of an RBI groundout from first-year Tomas Frick that scored Roberts from third. Tar Heel lefty Shawn Rapp was able to retire the Panthers in order in the top of the ninth to give his team an opportunity to tie it up in the bottom of the inning, but the Tar Heels failed to deliver — leaving the tying run on-base.
Who stood out?
Roberts came up big for the Tar Heels Tuesday night, driving in two of the team’s three runs, to go along with a big run-saving double play in the top of the sixth. Redshirt sophomore Angel Zarate also provided a spark for the Tar Heels Tuesday night, registering two hits and two walks to go along with a big double in the top of the seventh.
Washington Jr. led the way for the Panthers at the plate, registering three RBI’s off of a sacrifice fly and a pivotal two-run homer in the top of the eighth, which gave the Panthers the cushion they needed to escape from Charlotte with the victory. On the mound, the Panthers received solid work from senior Jordan McCrum, and juniors Mitch Myers and Chase Smith. The Panther pitching staff allowed just three earned runs as a group and struck out nine Tar Heel batters along the way.
When was it decided?
The game was decided in the top of the eighth when Washington hit a long two-run homer to extend the Panther lead to 5-2. The Tar Heels were able to respond with one run in the bottom of the inning, but were held scoreless in the ninth by McCrum.
Why does it matter?
With their season on the line heading into the ACC tournament, the Tuesday loss makes things tougher for the Tar Heels who are looking for a spot in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. With this loss having eliminated them from making the ACC Tournament semifinals, UNC can only hope to play spoiler against NC State on Friday.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will be back in action Friday for their second game of the ACC Tournament against the Wolfpack. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.