In theory, UNC seemingly hit its stride heading into a crucial series at Notre Dame. The Tar Heels had won 13 of 16 and came off exam break throttling UNC Asheville 11-2 and Elon 14-2 on back-to-back days. UNC sat at 31-16 overall and 13-10 in the ACC needing to post a strong finish to stay in the top six for the league tournament and perhaps finagle a home regional in the NCAA Tournament.
Things did not go exactly as planned with UNC blowing leads of three runs or more in the first and third games of the series against Notre Dame and getting shutdown in the second for an Irish sweep of the Tar Heels. If you are keeping score men's basketball, lacrosse, football, soccer and baseball are 0-8 versus Notre Dame this season. On the women's side lacrosse, volleyball and soccer posted wins over the Irish while basketball lost only meeting.
Game One: Notre Dame 10 UNC 5
In the first game on Saturday which was part of a doubleheader due to rain on Friday, the bullpen fell apart in spectacular fashion. With UNC moved out to a 5-2 lead with Zac Gallen leaving the game in the bottom of the sixth responsible for a runner on base. His day ended with three earned runs surrendered but UNC still up 5-3. Trevor Kelley struggled in relief of Gallen giving up four earned runs. Trent Thornton likewise failed to stop the Irish recording just one out while giving up three earned runs on just 20 pitches.
Game Two: Notre Dame 3 UNC 1
Freshman J.B. Bukauskas gave up three runs in just 3.0 IP but this time the bullpen held it together with six shutout innings. However, UNC's bats were dormant managing just one run off Notre Dame's Brandon Bielak and Ryan Smoyer. The Tar Heels left seven on base and could not capitalize on five walks thanks to a pair of Irish double plays.
Game Three: Notre Dame 8 UNC 7
Early on in this one it looked like UNC would be able to salvage the third game of the series. UNC jumped out to a 7-3 lead after three innings thanks to home runs by Skye Bolt and Tyler Ramirez. Benton Moss got the start but gave up five runs through six inning of work. Trent Thornton game on for a lengthy save opportunity but couldn't nail it down. As the game progressed Notre Dame chipped away at the lead and tied the contest with two runs in the bottom of the 8th. After a scoreless Tar Heel at bat in the ninth, Kyle Richardson's walk off solo home run with two outs gave the Irish the win and sweep.
Being swept at Notre Dame was truly a worst case scenario. UNC, which was clinging ever precariously to a top six ACC finish now finds itself looking at the #7 seed and playing an extra game in the ACC Tournament. Teams seeded 7-10 will play one game to move into pool play. Last season UNC beat NC State in the 8-9 game to advance to pool play. The sweep at the hands of the Irish likely ends any hope of UNC hosting an NCAA Regional. That being said, UNC can repair some of the damage starting Tuesday night against UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks are 36th in the latest official RPI from the NCAA. UNC is presently 22nd.
In addition to playing top 40 UNCW, the Tar Heels will face Virginia, which is currently ranked 30th in the RPI. A 3-1 or 4-0 week would help tremendously and perhaps give UNC a shot to avoid playing next Tuesday in Durham.