Trent Thornton demanded a chance at redemption.
With the North Carolina baseball team on the precipice of its first sweep against Clemson since 1997 — following 5-2 and 5-4 losses on Friday and Saturday, respectively — the junior closer watched Sunday as his teammates threatened to squander a four-run lead.
And after four hits and three walks cut their lead to one, the No. 26 Tar Heels turned to their top bullpen arm to close out the 8-7 game, a score that would stand as final.
But Thornton is no stranger to the blown save.
Just one week prior against another conference foe, North Carolina (18-13, 7-8 ACC) twice relied on their primary reliever to close outMiami — and twice he failed.
On Saturday, Thornton took the mound once again, this time with a two-run lead. But after two walks and a wild pitch, the Tigers (16-15, 7-8 ACC) capitalized on a botched throw from first to give the UNC closer his third loss of the season.
“I’ve struggled a little bit this year to kind of get in a groove,” said Thornton, who leads the team in walks and wild pitches. “I wanted to get back out there and prove to coach and the team that I was the right guy.”
So after the Tar Heels burned through three relievers in the eighth, Thornton was ready.
“When a situation like this came today, it’s exactly what I wanted,” he said. “I’ve told (Coach Mike Fox), ‘I’m going to flush that, I’ll be ready next time.’
“’Get me the ball, I want the ball.’”
With no outs and the bases loaded, Thornton struck out the first batter and coaxed a double play at third and home, escaping the inning unscathed.
And despite letting two on base in the ninth, the junior struck out the final two of the frame to earn his fifth save of the year.
“Trent pitched great,” said sophomore Tyler Ramirez, who finished with a team-high 5 RBI in Sunday’s win. “He made a lot of clutch pitches. It helped get the confidence going.”
Ramirez seemingly put the game out of reach in the seventh with a three-run slam, putting the Tar Heels up by four.
But then the bullpen fell apart.
“It felt like it was happening again,” Ramirez said. “But at the end of the day you always have confidence in the guys that you put out there.”
And when Clemson knocked in three runs to tighten the gap, Thornton cleaned up the mess.
“It’s never panic mode for our team,” he said. “If one guy’s not getting the job done, the next guy needs to step up and take care of it.
“Fortunately, I was able to come through today.”
Despite the disappointing series result, Thornton is confident that the Tar Heels' talent will shine through in the coming weeks.
“Realistically, we probably should have definitely won the series but we even could have swept them,” he said. “We had a few things that didn’t go our way, a couple pitches that needed to be made that weren’t made.
“When we get everything going on all cylinders, this team is going to be pretty dangerous.”
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