In a low-scoring, stinging defeat, the North Carolina baseball team (33-21, 14-14) lost to the No. 7 Clemson Tigers (39-17, 20-10), 3-1, in South Carolina at Doug Kingsmore Stadium as the Tigers swept the Diamond Heels.
In rhythm with the entire series, the Tigers struck first in a loud manner when Clemson pitcher Caden Grice crushed a two-run homer over the right field fence to give the Tar Heels their first deficit of the game.
The inning prior, however, redshirt first year Casey Cook extended his on-base streak to 42 games.
Going into the fifth inning, both teams were struggling offensively, with UNC having one hit and Clemson having three. The slow moving pitchers’ duel was headlined by Grice for Clemson whereas UNC trotted out multiple arms after the exit of sophomore starter Dalton Pence.
Junior outfielder Patrick Alvarez continued to be influential with a single in the top of the fifth, the second hit for the Diamond Heels, while junior shortstop Colby Wilkerson followed it up with an infield single. With two men on base, the Tar Heels were looking for a two-out rally that would not come as Grice notched his eighth strikeout of the game on a breaking ball to Cook.
With the entrance of UNC first-year pitcher Kyle Percival, the Tigers were able to load the bases with one out and looked poised to run up the score. Junior Connor Bovair came in to pitch the Tar Heels out of that jam with a strikeout. Alvarez, however, was the hero of the inning, as the 5 '7” outfielder robbed Grice of what would’ve been a grand slam for the final out of the inning.
With momentum re-established, junior outfielder Mac Horvath notched his first hit of the game, a double, and advanced to third on a passed ball. With Horvath’s double, he became the only ACC ballplayer to have at least 20 doubles, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a single season since Marshall McDougall at Florida State in 1999. Junior catcher Tomas Frick picked up the RBI with a sacrifice line out to left field giving the Tar Heels their first run of the game.
Clemson attempted to shut down Tar Heel hopes of avoiding a sweep on an RBI double by Riley Bertram, adding an insurance run for the Tigers.
Who stood out?
While Horvath struggled at the plate, he etched his name in UNC baseball history as the first player to have over 20 doubles, 20 stolen bases and 20 home runs in a single season. The slugger had a double and the only Tar Heel run.
Bovair came out of the bullpen for the Tar Heels and dealt, unlike his previous outings, going 3.2 innings allowing one run on four hits and striking out four.
When was it decided?
The Tigers took an early lead in the bottom of the first as pitcher Caden Grice went yard on UNC’s Dalton Pence to give Clemson a two-run lead. While The Tar Heels did notch a run, the lackluster performance led the Tigers to steamroll the series over the Tar Heels.
Why does it matter?
With the loss the Tar Heels will end ACC play at an even .500, and it will be the second time they’ve been swept by an ACC opponent. The loss of momentum is a detriment to the Tar Heels who will have to contend with playing Virginia and Virginia Tech in tournament pool play. Not only were both the bats unable to perform for the Tar Heels, but consistent pitching as well was hard to come by — both things that will need to be worked on going into the postseason.
When do they play next?
The Diamond Heels have concluded their regular season and will begin the ACC tournament on Tuesday. The Tar Heels will play in a pool with Virginia and Virginia Tech, with the schedule to be announced Sunday morning.
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