Virginia Holds Off Tar Heels, 3-2

Photo by Lynn Hey for theACC.com

Cavaliers’ Win Sends Terps To Championship Final; Virginia edges UNC; Maryland to face Duke or Georgia Tech in title game

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Virginia regained its winning form on Friday night, and rival Maryland reaped the benefits.

Derek Fisher’s tie-breaking single in the top of the eighth inning proved the difference as the third-seeded Cavaliers edged seventh-seeded North Carolina, 3-2, in ACC Baseball Championship round-robin action at NewBridge Bank Park.

The Virginia victory guaranteed that Maryland – seeking its first ACC title since 1971 – will play in Sunday’s 1 p.m. final regardless of the outcome of its Saturday afternoon game against UNC. The sixth-seeded Terps will be paired against fourth-seeded Duke or ninth-seeded Georgia Tech.

All of the above was a mere subplot to Virginia (44-12), seeking to get back on track heading into next week’s NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers entered Friday night’s contest having lost two straight games for the first time all season and had dropped three of four dating back to last weekend’s regular season-ending series against Wake Forest.

“I'm just proud of our team,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said.  “We had a discussion before batting practice today that they're mature men, and they understood coming to the ballpark today that we didn't have a chance to compete for the championship.  Our opportunity for our championship would be tonight and tomorrow night (versus Florida State).”

Pitchers Brandon Waddell, Whit Mayberry and Nick Howard yielded nine hits against the Tar Heels (33-25), but combined to strike out 12 batters while walking four and allowed just one earned run.

“Almost every inning, I think, except one, we had a big strikeout in the inning – a lot of times with people in scoring position, and that's something you can't do,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “That's a great credit to their pitching.  That's why they are as good as they are.” 

Howard – who struck out Landon Lassiter and retired Skye Bolt on a fly ball for the final two outs after UNC put the potential tying run on second base in the ninth – earned his 18th save of the season to tie the Virginia school record and move within one of the ACC record set by UNC’s Michael Morin in 2012.

UNC freshman Wood Myers finished 4-for-5 at the plate and sent a 1-1 pitch from Mayberry over the wall in right for a game-tying two-run home run in the seventh inning. Lassiter followed with a double one out later, but was left stranded at second.

That typified a frustrating night in which the two teams combined to leave 21 runners on base, but the Cavaliers manufactured what proved to be the winning run in the top of the eighth. 
Leadoff hitter Joe McCarthy stole second after being hit by a pitch from UNC reliever Zach Rice. One out later, Fisher slapped a 3-2 pitch from Spencer Trayner that just eluded the grasp of Myers at second base and ricocheted into shallow center field for a base hit. McCarthy raced to make it 3-2.

“The pitch I left up in the zone … I wish I could take it back,” Mayberry said of his home run throw to Myers.  “I'm proud of the way my teammates picked me up in the next half inning, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. “

Mayberry (6-1) picked up the win for Virginia, while Rice (2-3) took the loss. UNC starter Benton Moss picked up a no decision after working 6 2/3 innings. Moss yielded four hits and struck out eight batters while walking none. He left the game trailing 2-0, but both Cavalier runs were unearned.

Myers’ home run was his first of the season. He was the only Tar Heel batter with multiple hits, and Branden Cogswell went 3-for-5 at the plate to account for half of Virginia’s six hits.

“I thought Benton (Moss) was sensational tonight, and he certainly pitched well enough to put ourselves in a position to win,” UNC’s Fox said. “That small margin of error … and Virginia is so good at taking advantage of our mistakes and getting some big hits. Tough loss for us.  We just didn't do enough.”