Sweep Builds Confidence

(Matt Clements/IC)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina secured a much-needed three-game sweep over Virginia Tech this weekend to move into fifth place in the ACC. UNC came from behind to win all three games, as this series marked the first time the Tar Heels had swept an ACC opponent this season.

With Sunday's 5-4 win, head coach Mike Fox's squad (27-18) moves into fourth place in the Costal Division at 13-11 and fifth place in the ACC overall. Despite a tough remaining schedule – a series at home against FSU (No. 5 RPI) and one away at Miami (RPI No. 18) - UNC's recent play offers optimism for the final month of the regular season.

The Tar Heels have won four straight and five of their last six, including wins over top-ranked Virginia (No. 1 RPI) and Liberty (No. 22 RPI). Overall this team should have good momentum for both the ACC tournament, and allow them to further solidify their place as an at-large NCAA tournament team.

On the surface, UNC's sweep of Virginia Tech wasn't all that pretty. On Friday, ace Trent Thornton allowed two earned runs in six innings and the Tar Heels barely managed to scrape out a hit in the first five innings. Even the runs they scored came as a result of dropped balls and missed throws.

Saturday was a step in the right direction. The Heels got major contributions from Parks Jordan, Alex Raburn, playing in place of the injured Wood Myers, and starting pitcher Benton Moss, who ate up seven valuable innings that saved some of the arms in the bullpen.

UNC may not have played their best baseball, but it did have two ingredients that are essential to winning baseball games on any level: a clutch bullpen and timely hitting.

Time and time again, the Tar Heels got great pitching performances from the likes of Trevor Kelley, Spencer Trayner and especially closer Reilly Hovis, a player who has steadily become the most important arm out of the bullpen.

The gradual awakening of the bats was equally as important. Whether it was Skye Bolt putting the ball in play, Raburn knocking in an insurance run or Mike Russell getting on base at practically every opportunity, the Heels got the hits and runs when they needed to.

On Sunday, these Coastal Division rivals saved the best game of this series for last. UNC once again came from behind to earn the walk-off win on a play at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Offensively, the Tar Heels were led by shortstop Michael Russell, who ended his day with three hits, two runs (including the game winner) and a stolen base. In the bottom of the ninth, with the game on the line, the junior was confident tagging up on such a short fly ball to center.

"I planned on going, they need to make a perfect throw in that situation, so you need to take a chance there," Russell said.

In terms of what this sweep means for this team moving forward?

"Big sweep; we've been playing really well as of late, so getting the first ACC sweep of the year is really big," Russell said. "It hopefully gives us a little bit of momentum heading into the series with FSU and Miami."

UNC also got a big game out of Tyler Ramirez, who put Carolina ahead 4-3 in the sixth with a solo homerun, and who also provided the game-winning RBI with a sacrifice fly to centerfield.

"I was just hoping to hit it deep enough to score; thankfully it was," Ramirez said. "It was a good RBI for the team and a good win. I was happy to get it done. I was just trying to put the first pitch I could hit in play."

From a pitching perspective, the Heels got two outstanding performances from their bullpen. The first came from Trayner, who came in with the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the seventh. Trayner got three straight short fly outs to keep the score tied late in the game.

"It was huge coming in with no outs and bases loaded, (he) got three straight pop outs and no runs," Russell said. "It's unbelievable. In that spot you usually expect at least one run there, but he came in and shut them down."

The second performance came from Hovis, who came on to nail down his third save in as many days. When asked about the outing, Fox stressed how critical his closer was in that spot.

"We have a ton of confidence in Reilly," Fox said. "We felt like we had a chance to score in the ninth. So that was the game right here. We needed to bring in our best guy, and Reilly just continues to do it."

In terms of what the win and the series meant for his team and the future, Fox didn't want his guys to look too far ahead.

"You have to be a little lucky and a little good," Fox said. "I thought Virginia Tech. played great all weekend. It just shows you how great our league is top to bottom… We got it done."

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