By a narrow margin, the North Carolina baseball team (33-20, 14-13) lost to the No. 7 Clemson Tigers (38-17, 19-10), 5-4, in South Carolina at Doug Kingsmore Stadium as the Tigers walked it off on a single in the bottom of the ninth.
Unlike the previous game, the Tar Heels struck first as outfielder Patrick Alvarez smashed a ball 361 feet over the right field fence on a fastball to plate three runs. The Charlotte native got his first start today since an injury during the Miami series, and showed how valuable his bat is by scoring catcher Tomas Frick who singled and third baseman Johnny Castagnozzi who walked earlier in the inning.
UNC starter Jake Knapp retired all three of the batters he faced in the second frame, showing stability and a solid fastball.
Clemson struck back quickly, plating three runs of their own in the third frame on a hit by pitch and a single to right-center.
Despite the dynamite start by the Tar Heels, the Tigers captured the lead as Cam Cannerella hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score infielder Blake Wright and give Clemson a one run advantage over UNC.
Pitcher Ben Peterson relieved Knapp to get the final out of the fourth, and led the Tar Heels until the eighth inning.
The bullpen also produced for the Tigers, with freshman Tristian Smith striking out all three Tar Heel hitters in the sixth as UNC did not have any answers for his electric fastball.
However, the Tar Heels found a semblance of offensive movement in the seventh as Alvarez drew a walk, Casey Cook singled — and continued his historic on base streak — as well as second baseman Jackson Van De Brake, whose walk loaded the bases. Outfielder Mac Horvath flew out to the warning track to end the inning with the Tar Heels coming up empty-handed.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Van De Brake made his presence known after struggling at the plate earlier in the game by hitting a double up the middle to score Colby Wilkerson and tie the ball game. Although the winning runs were on the basepaths in Van De Brake and Horvath, who was intentionally walked, the Diamond Heels were not able to plate either, giving the Tigers a chance to walkoff the game.
Unlike the Diamond Heels, the Tigers capitalized in the ninth, walking off the game as Wright singled to left scoring Caden Grice.
Who stood out?
Alvarez returned to the starting lineup after injuring and undergoing surgery on his hamate bone and immediately made a powerful impression, going yard for the third time this season and giving the Tar Heels three much-needed runs. The junior went 1-2 at the plate, drawing two walks and contributing three out of the Diamond Heels four runs scored.
Peterson took over for the Diamond Heels after starter Jake Knapp’s exit and shutdown the Clemson offense letting up three hits, surrendering no runs and striking out three.
When was it decided?
While the Tar Heels jumped out to an early lead in the second with a three-run homer by Alvarez, Clemson quickly equalized and chipped in a single run in the fourth to take the lead. While the Diamond Heels had a multitude of chances, stranding seven, and having various scenarios of multiple men on base, the Tar Heels could not overcome the Tigers.
Why does it matter?
With a loss the Diamond Heels’ postseason future is uncertain, with a strong showing in the ACC championship necessary to push UNC out of the fringe when it comes to the NCAA tournament. The absence of Vance Honeycutt and the constant reworking of the pitching rotation are both shaky spots when it comes to the Tar Heels approach at the plate and on the mound.
When do they play next?
The Diamond Heels will conclude the regular season today against Clemson at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.
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