The Tar Heels continued their scorching-hot May on the diamond by throttling Clemson Tuesday night 9-2 in their first game of ACC Tournament pool play. In a battle of squads close to the NCAA Bubble, the Tar Heels gave themselves a decisive victory that, in all likelihood, seals their invitation to the tournament.
Max Carlson got the win for Carolina, pitching six strong innings. He gave up only six hits, one earned run, and struck out four as the offense provided him with plenty of run support, as it was 8-1 by the time Gage Gillian took over in the seventh. Davis Palermo pitched the rest of the game to send Clemson seeking a win over the higher seeded Virginia Tech Hokies on Wednesday in order to have any hope of a trip to the tournament.
The Tar Heels opened up the scoring quickly when Angel Zarate led off the game with a double and was driven home by Danny Serretti for a quick 1-0 lead. Clemson evened it up in the second with a sac fly that scored Blake Wright, but the Tar Heels retook the lead in the bottom of the frame thanks to some poor fielding by the Tigers. An error with two outs scored two runs for the Tar Heels which allowed them to take a 3-1 lead, and they never looked back.
After tacking on one more in the third, the Tar Heels put the game away in the fourth, thanks to a bases loaded walk and then a single. By the time the sides switched again the Tar Heels were up 7-1. The Tar Heels scored again in the fifth and eighth innings while the Tar Heels shut down the Tigers offense all the way till the top of the ninth where they were able to score essentially a meaningless run.
Zarate continued his hot month, going 4-4 on the night with that walk, a double, and a run batted in. The redshirt junior is now hitting .358 on the year and has been a major part of the turnaround for Carolina. Mikey Madej had the Tar Heels’ lone homer of the game, and Hunter Stokely was the other Tar Heel to have multiple hits in the game, going two for four with a double.
The Tar Heels now get to relax in Charlotte until Friday night when they play Virginia Tech in the last game of pool play for the ACC Tournament. As Max explained yesterday, in order to advance to the semifinals on Saturday, the Tar Heels have to win, as the tournament places a priority on having every team play twice and using the regular season seeding as the tiebreaker. The Hokies are the top seed in Pool D, so no matter what the Tar Heels can’t finished tied with them if they want to play this weekend.
With two days off, the Tar Heels will have the advantage of being able to use everyone in the bullpen against VT in order to make it to the weekend, and with D1Baseball having Carolina as a two seed in a region, it means a good weekend could result in baseball next weekend in Chapel Hill. We’ll see how seriously the Hokies take Thursday night knowing that the game that matters for them to advance is Friday.