Bullpen Locked In


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On a night when head coach Mike Fox needed a standout performance to secure a much-needed victory against a RPI Top-25 opponent in Liberty, it was his bullpen that delivered.

Freshman starter A.J. Bogucki (1-0, 2.08 ERA) had good numbers through three innings (one hit, one run, four K's), but control issues (walk, wild pitch) and a high pitch count (51) had Fox calling to the bullpen for freshman Spencer Trayner (3-2, 1.96 ERA).

Even though he was coming in a huge spot, the young reliever knew that his coaches and teammates were counting on him to produce.

"It's been fun, when you can go in the game at any point, and try and do your best when you're in there," Trayner said following the 3-1 victory. "I knew I had to lock in… I don't want anyone to score at all, so it doesn't really matter what the score is to me, I'm going do my best to not let anyone score."

After junior shortstop Michael Russell added an insurance run to finalize the scoring in the bottom of the fourth inning, Trayner continued to hold the fort. In the sixth - his final inning of work - Trayner had two strikeouts that ended with high-80s fastballs that left the Liberty hitters grasping.

Overall, Trayner pitched three innings allowing just one hit, throwing two strikeouts, and most importantly, surrendering zero runs. What's just as impressive is that the precocious right-hander needed only 44 pitches (31 of which were strikes) to pick up his third win of this season.

After the game Trayner stressed how important it was for each of the UNC relievers to do their jobs.

"It was a close game, and the bullpen's job was to keep it close and fill up the strike zone," Trayner said. "We knew our fastballs could beat their hitters, and that's exactly what we did. Just try and throw as many strikes as possible… The situation today was a close game and I knew the whole bullpen had to lock in, and I thought we did a good job of that."

Trayner, along with Trevor Kelley and the dominant Reilly Hovis, combined to toss six innings of shutout baseball as the trio fanned six Liberty hitters, while giving up just three hits in total.

Hovis, who has been superb in taking over the closer's role for the injured Chris McCue, sealed the victory for UNC. The Gastonia, N.C. native came into the game at the start of the eighth inning, and despite some control issues of his own, proved to be too much for Liberty's best hitters to handle.

The righty struck out four opposing hitters, including three of the hitters he faced in the ninth inning. Liberty's hitters knew what was coming - a heavy dose of low 90's fastballs - and yet none of them could manage to get a whiff of contact.

Given the importance of this game, a six-out save (his fourth of the season) was exactly what this team needed from Hovis.

"Reilly has taken over for Chris McCue in the closer role," Trayner said. "We all need to come in and pick our starters up… and keep putting up zeroes, and Reilly is a big part of that."

After a discouraging loss to ECU on Tuesday, Trayner also highlighted how important this win was for building momentum towards the team's weekend home series against Virginia Tech.

"Every game is a must-win game honestly, but right now especially with the state we're in, we need to win every game possible," he said. "Get on a little roll here and I think we're going to do that."

The Hokies currently occupy last place in the ACC's Costal Division (7-14 conference record), and given that the Heels are right on the NCAA tournament bubble with an RPI of 47, this series is vital for their postseason aspirations.

More bullpen performances like Wednesday will go a long way in keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.


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