The Tar Heels (43-13) won their 14th consecutive game in much the same way they won their previous 13 – with surgically precise pitching, solid fielding and timely hitting.
UNC lumped four of its nine hits together in the third inning for four runs and tacked on additional runs in the fourth and eighth innings, not that the Tar Heels needed the added insurance. Six different North Carolina pitchers combined to allow four hits, all singles spread out in four different innings.
Tate Parrish picked up his first win of the season, while Wake Forest’s Tim Cooney fell to 6-7 after giving up five earned runs and nine hits in 7.2 innings.
North Carolina will play No. 6 seed Miami on Thursday at 3pm at NewBridge Bank Park. The Hurricanes lost 3-2 to No. 3 seed N.C. State on Wednesday afternoon after walking in the winning run.
INSIDE THE GAME
Tale of an Inning
The third inning provided a lesson in the importance of defense in baseball. Taylor struggled to find his rhythm early and walked leadoff hitter Pat Blair in the third frame. Conor Keniry moved to Blair to second with a sacrifice bunt, setting up Mac Williamson and his 17 homeruns for a chance at the game’s first score.
Williamson delivered with a single to centerfield, but Chaz Frank fired a rope to home plate to pick off Blair and keep the Demon Deacons off the scoreboard.
“It was a huge play,” UNC head coach Mike Fox told reporters following the game. “You obviously don’t know how the game is going to play out after that, but the first team that scores, the momentum is in their dugout. That’s the momentum you hear about in baseball, but it can be short-lived. They get it with a base hit and we take it away with a great throw to the plate. So I do think that was a big part of the game even though it was early.”
Taylor walked the next batter to give Wake Forest runners at first and second with two outs, but forced a groundout to end the threat.
Cooney, on the other hand, entered the third inning with four strikeouts and no hits to his credit. That changed quickly as Brian Holberton doubled to open the inning and Parks Jordan moved him to third with a single through the right side.
Cooney appeared to catch a break when Chaz Frank hit a chopper to first base, but Carlos Lopez committed a horrendous mental error by failing to step on the bag before firing home despite no force out in play.
After Moran struck out for the second out of the inning, Stallings and Stubbs combined to knock in three Tar Heel runs.
Routine Staff Day
Fox and pitching coach Scott Forbes had no intention to disrupt their rotation due to the midweek start of the ACC Tournament. As such, Fox didn’t want to throw ace Kent Emanuel in the opener and then possibly have nine days in between starters. Weekend starters Benton Moss and Hobbs Johnson were not available to pitch on Wednesday due to a lack of rest days, forcing what amounted to a staff day.
Even so, North Carolina’s staff day proved too difficult for Wake Forest to overcome.
“Give credit to their pitching staff,” Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter said. “That’s why they have the best pitching staff in the league. We knew it would be tough to get runs off their bullpen, so we felt like we needed to score off Taylor early.”
It looked as though that strategy might work. Taylor earned his third start of the season against the Deacons, but walked four batters and hit another as he struggled with his command. Despite those struggles, the sophomore allowed no runs and just three hits in 4.1 innings.
Tate Parrish struck out the only batter he faced, while Luis Paula notched the victory by forcing a groundout by his second and final batter to end the fifth inning. R.C. Orlan took over for the next 3.2 innings, striking out six batters and allowing only one hit.
Orlan, however, didn’t feel as though he had his best stuff on Wednesday.
“My fastball was a little inconsistent today and I didn’t locate my slider as well as I wanted to,” Orlan said. “But I made some big pitches when I was behind in the count and kept my walks down.”
Cody Penny proved to be the lone Tar Heel pitcher not hitting his mark. The junior righthander entered the game with two outs in the top of the ninth with a runner on first and promptly walked two batters to load the bases. Chris O’Brien closed the door by striking out Keniry.
With its victory on Wednesday, North Carolina won just its second ACC Tournament opener since 2003. UNC defeated Duke as a two-seed on the first day of the 2009 championship.
The Tar Heels entered the 2012 ACC Tournament with a 3-6 record in their previous three appearances since winning the 2007 title, the program’s lone championship since 1990.
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