UNC head coach Mike Fox stressed the importance of his team doing a better job of competing following Wednesday's loss to Florida State and his players responded with a gritty performance against one of the country's top teams at NewBridge Bank Park.
"It was a tough loss for us," Fox told reporters following the game. "We just didn't do enough."
The fourth inning provided some foreshadowing into how the game would ultimately play out. UVa second baseman Branden Cogswell ran out of the third base path in a rundown, buying cleanup hitter Nick Howard enough time to advance to second on the fielder's choice.
On the next play, Howard scored the game's first run on a throwing error by Landon Lassiter with two outs. Lassiter, playing shortstop in place of Michael Russell (back), misfired to first on a routine ground ball play.
In the bottom half of the frame, Korey Dunbar's double down the right field line hopped over the fence, forcing Adrian Chacon to hold up at third base.
"I don't know if Adrian Chacon would have scored on that or not, but I sure would have been waving him," Fox said.
The breaks would continue in that manner; in favor of the Cavs and not so much for the Tar Heels.
Benton Moss (4 hits, 2 runs, 0 ER in 6.2 IP) turned in an efficiently lethal start for the second time in eight days. The junior righty allowed just one batter to notch hits –Cogswell (triple, two singles) - through the first six innings.
Moss is 0-1 against Virginia this season despite allowing three earned runs, seven hits and three walks against 14 strikeouts in 14.1 innings pitched.
"I thought Benton was sensational tonight," Fox said. "We certainly pitched well enough to put ourselves in a position to win."
UNC's bats, however, were unable to provide any run support for Moss while a pair of fielding errors set up Virginia's first two runs.
"Virginia was just so good at taking advantage our mistakes," Fox said.
A fielding error by Alex Raburn on a potential double play ball in the seventh gave Virginia a pair of baserunners with no outs. After a sac bunt moved the runners to second and third, Nate Irving's safety squeeze scored J La Prise to give UVa a 2-0 lead.
Moss chalked up the miscues behind him in the field to the nature of the sport.
"It goes back to what Coach Fox says – execution is key," Moss said. "Virginia was very good at taking advantage of them. It's just baseball."
Wood Myers attempted to negate his team's miscues by capitalizing on a Cavaliers' throwing error with a two-run bomb – the first of his career - over the right field wall to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh.
Virginia quickly regained the lead, however, in the eighth after Zach Rice hit Joe McCarthy to put the leadoff man on and Derek Fisher scored him following a stolen base on a grounder that slipped by Myers up the middle.
With the tying run on second base and one down in the bottom of the ninth, Landon Lassiter struck out looking and Skye Bolt flied out to right field to end UNC's ACC Tournament hopes.
"It's one of those situations where we just don't execute when we need to," Fox said. "We got a bunt down and we got the guys up there we want, we just can't get a big hit. That's the pitcher versus the hitter and the pitcher won more than not tonight; against us, anyway."
The Tar Heels stranded 11 baserunners and were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
"I thought almost every inning, except one, we had a big strikeout in the inning," Fox said. "A lot of times with people in scoring position. That's something you can't do."
UNC got its leadoff hitter on base six times, yet failed to capitalize on any of those opportunities.
"We swing at a 3-2 pitch over our head and get caught stealing," Fox said. "That's ball four. We swing at ball four in the dirt. Those are the reasons you don't score when you get the leadoff guy on."
UNC will complete Pool B play against Maryland on Saturday (3pm). The Terps have already secured a spot in Sunday's championship game.
The Tar Heels (33-25) have one last chance to build its resume before the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Monday. UNC dropped to No. 45 in the RPI following Friday's loss and is currently 7-12 against the RPI Top-50 and 13-20 against the Top-100.