Results Last Week: Lost at ECU 2-3, defeated Liberty 3-1, swept Virginia Tech 3-2, 6-4, 5-4
Record Last Week: 4-1
Record This Season: 27-18, 13-11 ACC
Schedule This Week: 4/29 vs East Carolina
More of less, UNC did what it need to do during the past week with the only bump in the road being a 3-2 loss at East Carolina on Tuesday. The Heels simply couldn't muster enough offense leaving 11 runners on base and failing to capitalize on nine hits and three walks.
The Heels followed up on Wednesday with a 3-1 win over Liberty which was a slight boost to the overall RPI. Liberty is a top 20 RPI team and the win was much needed if the Tar Heels are to find a way into the NCAA Tournament. UNC scored a run in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings to stake a two run lead. From there a combination of Spencer Trayner, Trevor Kelley and Reilly Hovis held the Flames to two hits over the final six innings.
On Friday, the Heels took advantage of Virginia Tech fielding miscues to take a 3-2 win in the series opener. All three Tar Heel runs came as a result of Hokie mistakes in the infield, including a pair of blow double plays. Trent Thornton pitched six innings and got a no decision. Kelley and Hovis combined to pitch three scoreless innings to close out the game.
In the second game of the series, Benton Moss pitched seven innings for his third win of the years. Parks Jordan and Landon Lassiter each had a pair of RBIs to give the Heels a 6-4 win and clinch the series. With UNC trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth, UNC plated three runs to take the lead for good and added an insurance run in the eighth. As was the case on Friday, Kelley and Hovis shut the door on the Hokies.
The Sunday series finale saw UNC rally from an early 2-0 deficit to sweep the Hokies 5-4. Zac Gallen had an uneven outing causing Mike Fox to lean on the bullpen which included more Kelley and Hovis with some help from Spencer Trayner. UNC's offense benefited from a bases loaded walk in third to take a 3-2 lead only to give it back in the 5th. Tyler Ramirez hit his second home run in the sixth to make it 4-3. The Hokies rallied to tie it at four and eventually load the bases. Trayner entered the game with no outs and got two shallow flyouts to hold the runners then a third fly out to end the inning. Trayner loaded the bases in the ninth leading to Hovis' third late inning appearance of the weekend. The sophomore record two outs to end the inning.
In the bottom of the frame, Michael Russell, who has hit safely in 17 straight games, singled to get on base then stole second. After an intentional walk to Skye Bolt, a sac fly from Landon Lassiter to Russell to third with the winning run. Following another intentional walk to load the bases with one out, Tyler Ramirez popped up to shallow center field. Russell tagged anyway and slid in just ahead of the tag to give the Heels a much needed sweep.
Needless to say, Mike Fox used both Hovis and Kelley quite a bit in one week. The fact UNC plays just once over the next eight days probably figured into that decision. Hovis' five innings of work earned him three saves, a win and ACC co-pitcher of the week honors. It also help UNC move closer to an ACC Tournament berth while not hurting the RPI picture.
The Heels are now in fifth place in the ACC. Making it to the ACC Tournament is a safe bet at this point but now the Heels are looking at finishing in the top six since the 7-10 seeded teams will need to play a playoff game to reduce the field to eight participants. Playing in that game would likely mean wasting Trent Thornton just to stick around Greensboro for pool play. In an ideal world, UNC would rather start pool play outright and maybe snag a win with Thornton.
As for the NCAA Tournament, UNC is 43rd in the RPI according to Warren Nolan. The Heels' best shot at improving that number comes after the exam break when FSU comes to town on May 9-11. UNC then faces Miami in Coral Gables the following weekend. A series win against one of those teams would be nice and even finishing 3-3 in ACC play and above .500. In addition to that, UNC handling the midweek non-conference slate is an absolute necessity.