UNC (49-8) improved to 15-6 against left-handed pitching by chasing Andrew Suarez in 5 1/3 innings with seven earned runs and 11 hits. The sophomore was dominant against the Tar Heels in a 4-1 loss on Mar. 17, allowing one earned run and five hits in 6 2/3 innings.
The Tar Heels tallied five singles in the first inning – four by left-handed hitters – to score three runs. Cody Stubbs (4-5, 3 RBI) singled in two more runs in the third to increase UNC’s lead to 5-0.
UNC has outscored opponents 180-39 in the first three innings through 57 games, good for a 2.5-run scoring differential.
UNC’s left-handed bats accounted for all nine RBIs and 12 hits against the Hurricanes, who ran out a pair of right-handed arms – Eric Whaley and Vince Kossak – to close out the game. The Tar Heels’ 18 hits are the fourth-most on the season (high of 21 vs. Virginia Tech) and their 10 runs are the most since scoring 13 against the Citadel on May 1.
“I didn’t really get ahead in the count and they were really aggressive,” Suarez said when asked about UNC’s left-handed batters scattering six hits against him.
Stubbs attributed the success at the plate to proper preparation.
“If you have the right approach, and have trust in [assistant] coach [Scott] Jackson and what he tells you to do, then you’ll have a good day,” Stubbs said. “If we fade away from that, then yeah, we might have a bad game against a left hander, but we definitely had the right approach today.”
It also helps that Skye Bolt is back in the lineup after missing roughly a month with a broken foot. The freshman outfielder delivered three hits in his sixth game since being cleared to play 11 days ago.
Bolt’s return – and with it his switch-hitting ability at the plate – is a welcome addition for the Tar Heels against left-handed pitching. Prior to Thursday’s ACC Tournament opener, UNC was hitting .310 on the season against lefties, although that average plummeted to .264 during Bolt’s 17-game absence.
The Hurricanes (35-22) had no such luck against UNC’s standout left-hander on the mound. Kent Emanuel, the ACC’s Pitcher of the Year, threw a complete-game shutout, allowing just four hits.
Parks Jordan (1-1, 2 RBI) added a two-run single up the middle in the sixth and Brian Holberton (3-4, 3 RBI) doubled two more runs in during the seventh. A pair of lefties – Mike Zolk and Chaz Frank – had opportunities to apply the mercy rule in the seventh, but fly outs kept the margin at 9-0.
Stubbs took advantage in the eighth, however, doubling into left field to score Colin Moran (2-4, RBI) for the walk-off win.
When asked if he was aware of the mercy rule opportunity stepping up to the plate, Stubbs replied, “Oh, I knew, I was well aware.”
UNC returns to action at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Friday for a 7pm tilt against No. 5 seed Clemson.