Tar Heels: UNC limps through the week but stays atop ACC

Mar 14, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; A general view of Petco Park during the game between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Petco Park. Puerto Rico won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 14, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; A general view of Petco Park during the game between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Petco Park. Puerto Rico won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports /

The Diamond Heels are coming down the homestretch of the regular season, but they suffer through their first rough week of the season.

North Carolina had their first off week in some time, but there is no reason to concern. Teams, especially in baseball, which can be a quirky game, sometimes struggle. Even the world champion Chicago Cubs have struggled this year.

But the mark of a true champion is how the team responds to their struggles. This Tar Heel team has the toughest part of their schedule coming up, and will need their best baseball of the season to clinch their side of the ACC.

This Tar Heel team stayed at three in the rankings this week, despite going only 2-2. The ACC also has the Louisville Cardinals in the top three, sitting at number two.

Courtesy of the official twitter of Carolina Baseball, here is a snapshot of the standings with only three ACC series left to play!

This week, the Heels hosted Liberty University, just before heading to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers.

Let’s check out how the team did this week!

Liberty 5, UNC 2

In their first game as the third-ranked team in the country, the Heels struggled to get off the mat against the Flames.

The offense was shut down from the beginning, putting a lot of responsibility on the pitching staff to carry the way. The pitching staff did a decent job, but was not supported by its normal potent offense, leaving the Heels to lose 5-2.

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Tyler Baum started for the Diamond Heels, and he went only 4.0 innings before being pulled.

Baum gave up six hits in the four innings but did not allow any runs to score.

Jason Morgan came in behind him and allowed one run in only .2 innings of work.

Rodney Hutchison, who has been magnificent for the Heels this season, was the pitcher who gave up the most. Hutchison gave up four runs on four hits in his short three innings of work. Brett Daniels and Taylor Sugg followed Hutchison, and combined to shut out the Flames for the final 1.1 innings of the game.

At the plate, it was a mess for the Heels. Only four players recorded a hit, and all of them only had one a piece. Ashton McGee and Tyler Lynn drove in the two runs, but that was not enough to upend Liberty.

Tar Heel stars Brian Miller and Logan Warmoth were a combine 0-for-9 on the day. That was likely a factor in the Heels difficult loss to Liberty.

Game 1: UNC 5, Pittsburgh 2

Following the head-scratcher against Liberty, the Diamond Heels got back on track by getting a huge ACC win against Pitt.

UNC, who had won its previous six ACC series, started off the series right against the Panthers.

It was Tar Heel ace, JB Bukauskas who dazzled on Friday night. Bukauskas pitched a solid 6.2 innings only allowing two runs in that time period. But Bukauskas was not the only Tar Heel pitcher who was great.

Josh Hiatt came in for the seven-out save, and secured it without even giving up a hit. Hiatt has continued to thrive in that closer role, locking up his 11th save of the season.

Right fielder Brandon Riley was a force for the Heels at the plate. Riley went 3-for-5, with no RBI’s, but he scored twice himself. Tyler Lynn was also solid for the Heels. Lynn was 3-for-5 with 3 RBI’s and a run scored.

Six other Heels recorded hits, and it allowed the Heels to move closer to their first winning ACC season since 2013.

The Diamond Heels offense, while not at peak power, was still strong enough to win games. That is something they could have used against Liberty.

Game 2: UNC 3, Pittsburgh 1

If you have not caught onto the theme, the Diamond Heels pitching staff is pretty nasty.

Bukauskas normally grabs all the headlines, but Saturday starter Luca Dalatri is every bit the pitcher that Bukauskas is.

Dalatri, who advanced to 5-2 on the season with a win, almost went the distance. He went 8.2 innings, before exiting for Josh Hiatt to get the last out and save. The two pitchers combined to give up one run, and only three hits all night long.

At the plate, the Heels still struggled. They could only muster up three runs, and three hits total. In what was a real sloppy offensive game, the teams combined for six hits.

Brian Miller, despite being 1-for-4, came up big with two RBI’s in the eighth inning. The Heels never looked back after that inning. Tyler Lynn and Brandon Riley were the only other Heels to pick up hits in the game.

Not much else to talk about in this game, as it was an incredible pitchers duel. Both starting pitchers went 8.0 innings or more, and both only gave up three hits a piece.

All in all, the Heels clinched their seventh straight ACC series with this win!

Game 3: Pittsburgh 11, UNC 9

Both teams offenses came out of their shells on Sunday.

In what was a rather sleepy first two games, both teams outscored their previous two games total, on Sunday alone.

Eight different Heels got a hit on Sunday, and four different guys recorded a RBI.

The Heels jumped out to an early 4-0 start after one inning, but quickly found themselves down 8-4 after the third inning. This is typically rare for a team with such a strong pitching prowess.

Brian Miller was the big man on offense in the loss for the Heels. Miller went 3-for-4, knocking in four RBI’s, and scored twice himself. Miller also walked on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the Diamond Heels pitching staff was the side that had a letdown.

Forced to send out seven pitchers, the Heels never found the right combo of offense and defense. They gave up one of their largest run totals of the entire season. Austin Bergner was the man with the start, and quickly gave up four runs in two innings.

Rodney Hutchison went on to take the loss for the Heels, after having one of his worst outings of the season.

Related Story: Coach Roy Williams flashes the fastball

This week, the Heels will host Elon, Campbell, and Clemson. The Clemson series will be huge in ACC play for the Heels.

Check with Keeping It Heel for the recap of this weeks big series!