NC State fans may try to convince you this game was meaningless. Maybe they’re right. But the Diamond Heels attacked last night’s final pool-play game with the urgency it required, their NCAA Tournament hopes likely needing one last squeeze of juice. With the 9-6 win over #16 NC State, UNC finishes the season with a (barely) winning record of 27-25, and adds a quality win over the Wolfpack, a team they failed to beat in three meetings during ACC play.
The game began as well as the Carolina faithful could hope. In the top of the first, the Heels touched up NCSU starting pitcher Andrew Tillery to the tune of three hits (including a Mac Horvath grand-slam upon replay examination), five runs, two hit-by-pitches, and a walk. Tillery left the game in disgrace, failing to record a single out.
Carolina starter Austin Love began the game hot, striking out five of the first seven batters he faced. Love’s control was outstanding. All five batters he fanned faced 0-2 counts before they were sat down.
In the bottom of the third, Love’s control escaped him, and he let NCSU back into the game. The Wolfpack scored three runs and kept the Heels defense under constant pressure with dink hits that kept runners in scoring position. When NC State loaded the bases, Love abandoned pitching out of the stretch in order to try and regain some of the control he showed in the first two innings. He struck out Luca Tresh on a full count for out #2, and popped up Devonte Brown to escape further damage, up somewhat comfortably 8-3 after three innings.
Both teams settled into a less explosive routine through the fifth inning. Leading 9-4 in the bottom of the sixth, Austin Love popped and grounded out the first two batters he faced with one pitch each, extremely efficient work, as his pitch count climbed. Unfortunately, Love let the next two batters on base, and was replaced by Shawn Rapp to close the inning out unscathed.
The bottom of the eighth was Maalox-time. The Diamond Heels were clinging to a 9-4 lead. Gage Gillian had replaced Rapp on the mound, and he only recorded one out and allowed two runs and let Caden O’Brien inherit runners on second and third. No matter, O’Brien was up to the task, striking out the next two batters he faced, both on pitchers’ counts.
O’Brien gave up a single to Jose Torres to start the bottom of the ninth, but wasn’t overly bothered, getting outs against the next three batters faced, including two strike-outs.
Great team win— Carolina Baseball (@DiamondHeels) May 29, 2021
Highlights from tonight's win ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/fwRKaHs3gP
Carolina finds itself in the unfamiliar position of watching NC State play for higher stakes than them as the Wolfpack face Georgia Tech today at 5pm. With the ACC Tournament out of reach, the Heels will return to Chapel Hill and nervously wait for their names to be called out during the NCAA Tournament selection show, Monday (May 31) at noon on ESPN2.