UNC (46-7, 20-6 ACC) hoped to clinch its second-straight ACC Coastal Division title with a win over Virginia (44-8, 21-7 ACC). The Cavaliers, however, remained in contention for the crown by scoring the most runs by a UNC opponent this season.
“That’s as good as an offensive team we’ve played this season so far,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said.
Emanuel’s night began in uneasy fashion with Virginia’s Mike Papi launching a deep fly ball to the right field wall that Skye Bolt couldn’t corral for a double to open the game.
“I talked to [Emanuel] last week after Georgia Tech,” pitching coach Scott Forbes said following the loss. “He had good velocity last week but he was up in the zone. He was up in the zone again tonight so he got hit.”
In his five innings on the mound, Emanuel struck out six batters, walked two and allowed four earned runs.
“He’s always going to give you a chance to win,” Forbes said. “Today was one of those days I just thought he didn’t pitch well.”
Virginia was consistent and relentless with their offensive prowess as they continued to add up runs. They tallied two-run frames in the second, fourth, fifth and eighth innings. The Cavaliers also added runs in the sixth and ninth.
Virginia’s approach against Emanuel was based in respect and patience.
“I think when you go up against a guy like that you can’t try to make things happen and you can’t try to do too much,” Virginia catcher Nate Irving explained. “You have to let the game come to you and I think we did that in a couple of key situations today.”
One particular stretch in the contest that exemplified the struggles of Emanuel came in the top of the fifth inning with the game knotted at 4-4. After an error to start the inning by third baseman Colin Moran, the Georgia junior was unable to shut down the Cavs’ bats.
After back-to-back hits delivered the go-ahead run, Emanuel responded with a pick-off at first and a strikeout to seemingly regain control, but another RBI single increased Virginia’s cushion.
“We didn’t make a couple of plays tonight that really hurt us,” Fox said. “Very typical of a really good team, if you open the door with walks and errors then they are going to hurt you.”
Emanuel’s usual plethora of pitches weren’t doing their usual damage. He rolled his curve ball in and up in the zone, according to Forbes, and his changeup seemed to be floating up as well. These are not characteristic of Emanuel’s strengths, which are proper location and keeping the ball low in the zone.
“It was just a bad day at the office,” Emanuel said. “I think everything was just up. It’s as simple as that.”
Virginia head coach Brian O’ Connor knew that facing Emanuel would be a tall order.
“To beat someone like Emanuel on the road, you have to have some good fortune and do things the right way,” O’Connor said. “I think we did that from an offensive standpoint.”
Despite Emanuel losing back-to-back starts for the first time in his career, the Tar Heels have responded with victories twice this season in ACC play following a loss by their ace (Miami, at Georgia Tech). UNC only needs one win over the Cavs to clinch the Coastal Division title.
“It’s just one game, so you can throw it all out after tonight and let’s start over tomorrow if we can,” Fox said.
As far as Emanuel is concerned, his pitching coach is not too worried about Thursday’s performance.
“Kent works,” Forbes said. “He’ll be ready. Like any pitcher he’s human. He had bad back-to-back outings but I have no doubt he’ll have a good outing his next time out.”
The Tar Heels and Cavaliers will play the second stint of the series on Friday night at Boshamer Stadium (7pm).