As they have in the ACC Tournament so far, Carolina’s baseball team jumped out to an early lead. Unfortunately, for the first time this tournament, they couldn’t sustain it. The Tar Heels were unable to capitalize on offensive opportunities, and their impressive bullpen struggled in a loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament championship.
Carolina got on the board in the second inning when Tyler Lynn crushed his seventh home run of the season to make it 1-0 Heels. Zack Gahagan reached on a single and came around to score on a double by Michael Busch. A double-error mishap by the Florida State first baseman, Drew Mendoza, allowed Brian Miller to reach and Busch to score from second to give the Tar Heels a 3-0 lead.
Starter Tyler Baum cruised through the first two innings, needing only ten pitches to finish the first and 11 to finish the second. The first two batters reached against Baum in the third via a walk and a single, and the dreaded lead off walk would end up haunting the Heels.
Taylor Sugg came on in relief of Baum with the bases loaded and one out. He allowed one of Baum’s runners to score on a fielder’s choice that was just shy of being a double play. Sugg got out of the tough jam with just one allowed, preserving Carolina’s lead.
UNC had their best chance to add to their lead in the fourth inning when Lynn led off the inning with a walk. Gahagan was hit by a pitch and Busch walked to load the bases with no outs. Florida State held tough, getting three straight strike outs to erase the threat. That would end up being a very costly wasted opportunity for the Heels.
The Seminoles got outstanding relief pitching from Drew Parish, striking out five batters in 2.2 innings. Carolina would nearly go the remaining distance without a hit until Lynn singled in the eighth.
Freshman closer Josh Hiatt had been very good out of the Carolina bullpen all season, but he hadn’t worked in the tournament because of his team’s big leads. Coach Fox needed to get him stretched out for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and that resulted in Hiatt wearing one in his worst outing of the year.
Mendoza did a good job of making up for his errors earlier in the game by tagging Hiatt for two home runs, including a back-breaking three-run shot that made it 7-3. Hiatt briefly lost all control of his standout changeup, throwing two wild pitches that allowed Florida State to tie the game.
It’s tough for Hiatt to walk away from the tournament having given up six runs in the championship game, but the lesson was more important than the result. Carolina’s NCAA fate was already decided. Fox needed him to work through a tough situation. Hopefully he shakes it off and is ready for work in the regional.
Carolina threatened with two consecutive hits to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Unfortunately that was followed by a line out and a double play to end the threat. Certainly not the ending the Tar Heels wanted, but there are more important games to be played.
One major thing to keep in mind here is that the Tar Heels were playing their semi-final game at 11:30 pm last night. They already earned the right to host games up until the College World Series if they can make it there. Another ACC Tournament championship would have been nice, but this team has the ability to make a deep run at the NCAA title.
This team looked incredibly impressive in the tournament outside of this game and it wasn’t even close. If the Carolina team that destroyed Boston College and NC State shows up later in the week, everything will be just fine. Go Heels!