UNC struggled to deliver clutch hits in losses this week to Florida State and Virginia. Entering Saturday's pool play finale, the Tar Heels had stranded 24 runners on base, including 11 against the Cavaliers that proved to be the difference in a 3-2 loss on Friday.
"We talk about not letting anything break our spirit," UNC head coach Mike Fox said after the game. "We talk about having kids that are mentally tough and resilient… It's easy to say and it's harder to do. You just need to keep playing."
On Saturday, however, the offense was able to take advantage of the weaker part of Maryland's bullpen. Nine UNC players had hits (five of whom had multi-hit games) and eight drove in runs as the Tar Heels posted their season-high run total against an ACC opponent this season (previous high was 12).
With Michael Russell back at the top of the lineup and playing through back spasms, the offense finally sprung to life against a Maryland team that, until this afternoon, had yet to lose a game in the month of May.
UNC scored three runs on five hits in the first two innings, as Skye Bolt (3-of-5, 2 RBI) and Landon Lassiter (2-of-5, RBI) - both of whom struggled against Virginia - came through with RBI singles that built an early 3-0 lead.
"I think it was about situational hitting," Bolt said. "The glaring point of yesterday was hitting with runners in scoring position. You need to set the tone for the rest of the guys, and confidence is contagious."
In the bottom of the fifth, UNC finally got the lucky bounce that had eluded the Tar Heels against Virginia when a Maryland error allowed two baserunners to score. Zach Daly (1-of-2, 2 RBI) added two more runs with a line drive single to complete a four-run inning.
"We took advantage of that error, which doesn't happen very often," Fox said. "You make mistakes in this league and other teams can really punish you. We were on the right side of that today."
On the season, UNC had an 18-2 record when leading by six or more runs. In a surprising series of events, starter Zac Gallen and ace Trent Thornton (on in relief) combined to surrender five earned runs in the seventh as Maryland tied it up at 7-7.
In the bottom half of the eighth, with runners on first and second with one out, Wood Myers lined a ball to center that barely made it under the glove of a diving Charlie White. Once the ball hit the ground, pinch runner Michael Massardo came charging around from second and barely beat the throw home on an incredibly close play at the plate.
"We do an awful lot of base running and reads, but that was an almost impossible read to make," Fox said. "You have to send him and I know it was close, but we caught a little bit of a break there."
Following the controversial call at home, the floodgates opened up as the Heels hammered the back end of Maryland's bullpen to the tune of six runs.
Entering Saturday's contest, Maryland had won eleven straight, the last two of which came over RPI No. 5 FSU and RPI No. 2 UVa. UNC's ability to lean on its bats to pick up another victory against a RPI Top-25 team – currently 8-12 vs. Top-50 - should provide some breathing room ahead of Monday's selection show.
"I have no idea what this win means for Monday," Fox said. "We've done what we've done. We'll just wait and see what our fate is on Monday."
The Tar Heels are currently ranked No. 40 in the RPI.