No. 6 seed Miami never led against the second-seeded Tar Heels (43-14), grabbing a 1-0 edge in the bottom of the first inning on Chantz Mack’s RBI groundout that scored Stephen Perez.
UNC tied the game in the third when Chaz Frank singled to left field, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored and an error by the first baseman. Brad Fieger answered for Miami in the fourth inning a RBI double and Perez added another run in the fifth on a Colin Moran throwing error to first base.
Grayson Atwood tied the game 3-3 with his first career homerun on a towering two-run shot to left field in the seventh, but Dale Carey delivered a two-run homer of his own in the bottom half of the inning to give Miami a 5-3 lead.
Miami’s Steven Ewing (7-2) allowed two earned runs and eight hits in 8.0 innings, while UNC’s Kent Emanuel (8-4) gave up four earned runs and six hits despite striking out nine batters.
Due to the quirkiness of the ACC Tournament format, Saturday’s grudge match with N.C. State could possibly end up as a meaningless game for the Tar Heels. With Wake Forest's victory over N.C. State on Thursday night, a Miami victory over the Demon Deacons on Friday would eliminate UNC from contention.
A Wake Forest win over Miami would put North Carolina back in control of its destiny, needing a win over N.C. State to play for the conference title on Sunday.
INSIDE THE GAME
Failure to Capitalize
North Carolina’s 14-game winning streak entering Thursday’s game was fueled by dominant pitching and timely hitting, but the latter failed to make an appearance against the Hurricanes.
UNC got leadoff hits in four of the first six innings – including a triple and a pair of doubles – and failed to score any of the runners. The Tar Heels had five at-bats with a runner on third and could only muster two strikeouts, two fly outs and a ground out.
“That’s a recipe on how not to win a game against a really good team,” UNC head coach Mike Fox told reporters following the game. “… Those things come back to get you in the course of a nine-inning game and that was exactly the case. If we had punched one or two of those across, it would have been a little bit different game.”
Given the difficulties of finding a clutch hit throughout the day, North Carolina’s final stand was tragically fitting. Moran stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the ninth, but took a seemingly-low third strike to end the game.
Moran is 1-for-10 with four strikeouts in ACC Tournament play this week.
North Carolina’s 3-6 record in its previous three ACC Tournament appearances prompted questions regarding how much emphasis Fox actually placed on the conference championship. After all, the Tar Heels played in the College World Series of each of those three seasons.
Those questions seemed to be answered following Moran’s called third strike to end the game. Fox argued the call and was issued a post-participation ejection.
When asked about the ejection, Fox replied: "You’ll have to ask [the umpires]. They think there’s no emotion involved here after the game apparently. You’re not supposed to say anything. It’s hard to play this game without emotion. Sometimes you got to let things go.”
Fox remained fired up about the call during his postgame press conference.
Asked about the third strike called on Moran, this was Fox's reaction:
“You can look at the video,” he said. “You look at it and come back and tell me. The kids should decide the game.”
In accordance with NCAA rules, Fox is suspended for UNC’s next game – Saturday night’s contest against No. 3 seed N.C. State.
"Coach Fox was warned twice following the game for arguing the last pitch,” Crew Chief Bryant Woodall said in a statement. “He continued to engage a member of the crew at which time he was issued a post-participation ejection."
Memorable First Bomb
Grayson Atwood possesses plenty of size (6-foot-4, 209 pounds) and power, but his youth has limited his participation this season. The Mt. Pleasant, N.C. freshman entered UNC’s 57th game of 2012 with four hits in 13 at-bats.
That didn’t stop Fox from inserting Atwood as a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh inning with North Carolina trailing 3-1. He didn’t waste any time, blasting a two-run homerun over the left field wall to tie the game.
“Coach told me to be ready to go in, so I was just trying to stay mentally prepared and my approach was to put a good swing on the first good pitch I see,” Atwood said. “Luckily, I was able to put a good swing on it.”
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