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UNC Baseball: #17 Carolina beats Kentucky 3-1 on Opening Day

The Tar Heels kick off their 2017 season with a win behind J.B. Bukauskas

NCAA Men's College World Series Championship Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

J.B. Bukauskas threw six scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and Zack Gahagan made the cleanup spot his own with a pair of RBI singles as the #17 Diamond Heels started the season with an opening day win over Kentucky at home. The strong performance against a quality SEC opponent marked a positive start for a team looking to rebound from two disappointing seasons of missing the NCAA tournament.

The win for the Heels started on the mound. Junior starter J.B. Bukauskas played like a pre-season all-American and team USA star as he mowed through the Kentucky lineup. Bukauskas was able to get his fastball and breaking ball in the zone for strikes and he generated swings and misses throughout the Wildcat’s order. The Heels also saw a strong performance from their bullpen as Rodney Hutchinson relieved Bukauskas with 1.2 scoreless innings of his own.

This was Hutchinson’s first time pitching in a weekend series with anything at stake and the nerves showed as he hit the first batter he faced. But after that, Hutchinson was the picture of calm on the mound retiring the next five batters mixing in a good number of pitches to confound Kentucky’s hitters. Redshirt freshman Josh Hiatt came in for his first college appearance and got the four out save. Hiatt got the Heels out of trouble in the top of the 8th by getting a groundout to first to end the inning.

In the ninth inning Hiatt had to pitch himself out of trouble. An error and a bloop single to right put runners on first and second with two outs before Zach Reks hit an RBI single to give Kentucky their only run of the day. Hiatt got pinch hitter Kole Cottam to strikeout and end the game and earn Hiatt a save in his first college appearance.

On offense the Heels were led by Juniors Zack Gahagan and Logan Warmoth. Gahagan had two RBI singles. In the first inning his RBI scored Brian Miller and third the inning he hit his other RBI single to plate the Heels’ second run. Warmoth hit an RBI single of his own in the fourth and also hit a double in the third which led to him scoring the Heels’ second run. Brandon Riley had three hits for the Heels and Miller had two to pace the Carolina offense.

The win brought Coach Fox’s opening day record to 18-1 with the Heels.