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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 15 UNC baseball falls to No. 11 East Carolina, 7-4

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The UNC baseball team looks towards fans during the Feb. 23, 2024 game in Boshamer Stadium against ECU.

Unable to produce anything off of ECU starter Zach Root, No. 15 UNC baseball (5-1) fell to No. 11 ECU (4-2) Saturday, 7-4, in Fayetteville, N.C. Root shut down an offense that is tied for ninth in the country in runs scored, pitching seven innings and allowing UNC to amount just three hits.

Senior pitcher Ben Peterson found trouble early in the top of the first inning. After retiring the leadoff hitter routinely, ECU worked runners on first and second base with two roped singles into left field. Peterson fell behind the next batter 2-0 but managed to work the count back even and induced a 4-6-3 double play, ending the frame.

After retiring five straight Pirate batters, Peterson faced another ECU threat in the third inning. First-year catcher Luke Stevenson threw the ball away on an ECU steal, allowing the runner to advance to third. The next batter doubled down the left field line to drive in the first run of the game. The two-out rally for ECU continued with an RBI single through the left side of the infield, giving the Pirates an early 2-0 lead.

One time through the batting order, the Tar Heel bats were quiet. Root was perfect through three innings, allowing no base runners and striking out four.

“[Root] had all the pitches working tonight,” senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna said. “He was laying off-speed for strikes, getting the heater where he needed it to, and just made it tough on us.”

Peterson was pulled for sophomore pitcher Cameron Padgett in the fourth inning. He inherited runners on first and second with one out, but ECU quickly worked the bases loaded with a bloop single into center field. Yet again, the middle infield came up big for UNC as it turned another 4-6-3 double play to keep UNC's deficit at two.

The Pirates doubled their lead in the fifth. With Padgett still on the mound and two runners in scoring position, ECU right fielder Jacob Jenkins-Cowart singled home both runs down the left field line. Redshirt sophomore left fielder Casey Cook managed to prevent any further damage by throwing Jenkins-Cowart, who was trying to stretch the single into a double, out at second.

The Tar Heels’ offense finally woke up in the bottom of the sixth. Two singles to lead off the inning from Osuna and graduate second baseman Alex Madera gave UNC runners on first and second with no outs. The Tar Heels squandered the opportunity, though, as the next three batters were retired in order and ECU maintained its 4-0 lead.

The Pirates responded by blowing the doors open on the game in the seventh. Bases loaded, no outs, and the ECU faithful on its feet, sophomore pitcher Kyle Percival walked in a run on four pitches. Two sacrifice flies extended ECU’s lead to seven and put the game away for the Pirates. 

The eighth inning proved to be fruitful for UNC as a solo shot from Osuna and a two-run blast from Honeycutt cut the deficit to four. Osuna drove in another run in the ninth with a two-out single, and the Tar Heels managed to bring up the tying run at the plate down 7-4. The comeback effort ended there, though, as ECU capped off the win with a lineout from Madera.

“We’re never going to stop playing,” head coach Scott Forbes said. “We're going to play 27 outs every time from start to finish.”

The rubber match between the two top-15 teams will take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday in Greenville, N.C.

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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