In a low-momentum showing, the North Carolina baseball team (33-19, 14-12) lost to the No. 7 Clemson Tigers (37-17, 18-10), 14-7, in South Carolina at Doug Kingsmore Stadium as the Tar Heels dropped the first game of their final ACC series.
The Tigers clawed their way into the lead early, with Caden Grice taking junior pitcher Max Carlson yard on a changeup over the outer front of the plate giving Clemson a two-run lead.
Carlson let up four in the second inning on six hits, in his first Thursday start since the Boston College loss. Coming into the day, Carlson has shown to be less than stellar when facing batters with runners on base, with the opposition’s batting average sitting at .290, something that is proving detrimental when it comes to pitching consistency.
The Tigers continued their offensive onslaught in the second, scoring four runs — all with two outs — with the Tar Heel defense struggling, notching two errors in the inning. Carlson also struggled, allowing six hits, four of them RBIs, which gave the Tigers a very early leg up.
Junior third baseman Johnny Castagnozzi took matters into his own hands in an effort to keep the Tar Heels in the ball game with a two-run homer to center field in the fourth. The New York native plated another run for the Tar Heels in the following frame on an RBI single, scoring junior second baseman Jackson Van De Brake.
Clemson kept the bats hot as designated hitter Billy Amick crushed a ball to left center field off Tar Heel first-year pitcher Kyle Percival — who came in the previous inning to relieve Carlson — and increased the Tiger lead to four runs. First-year pitcher Matthew Matthijs came in as relief, striking out two and getting the Tar Heels out of a dangerous two-men-on-base situation.
The Tigers added more insurance runs in the sixth on the Tar Heels' third error of the game. But, the Tigers shut the door on the Tar Heels on a slider over the outside of the plate that Clemson third baseman Blake Wright smashed over the center field wall, plating three runs and giving Clemson a 12-3 edge.
In the top of the ninth, the Tar Heels attempted to cut down the deficit, plating four additional runs on singles by first-year outfielder Carter French and junior outfielder Patrick Alvarez and a Clemson error. In the final frame alone, UNC chipped in an additional five hits.
The Tar Heels were not only unable to capitalize at the plate, leaving 17 baserunners stranded, but also defensively stale as the team equaled their season high of errors — four — in their 14-7 loss to the Tigers.
Who stood out?
Castagnozzi had a hand in all three of the Tar Heel runs until the ninth inning, with a two-run homer in the fourth and an RBI single in the fifth. The junior went 3-for-4 at the plate and had his most successful day since his grand slam at Notre Dame.
When was it decided?
The Tigers took hold of the lead early, having an offensive explosion in the second frame plating four runs on six hits and two Tar Heel errors. The Tigers, despite innings where the Tar Heels were able to put runners on the base paths, held the lead for the entire game adding a scattering of runs, including a three-run homer, in the later innings.
Why does it matter?
After dropping to 25 in the RPI, the Tar Heels are looking for a road series win against the red-hot Tigers in an effort to keep their chances of an NCAA tournament berth alive, thus the Tar Heels will have to positively produce in the following two games.
Success in South Carolina would not only give the Tar Heels positive momentum going into the ACC tournament — and their first win at Clemson since 2015 — but also increase their postseason stock with a victory over a top-10 ranked team.
When do they play next?
The Diamond Heels will continue their stint in South Carolina as they take on Clemson tomorrow at 6 p.m.
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