North Carolina Defeats Virginia Tech to Advance to Pool Play

Gallen, Kelley combine to stifle Hokies’ scoring threats, send UNC into pool play

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DURHAM, N.C. (theACC.com) – After struggling through the final two weeks of the regular season, eighth-seeded North Carolina hoped to turn things back around during the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Championship.

The Tar Heels took a step in that direction on Tuesday, and now have at least three more tournament games to try to make it happen.

UNC used a solid starting outing by Zac Gallen and strong relief work by Trevor Kelley to turn back ninth-seeded Virginia Tech, 5-3, in Tuesday’s second play-in game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The Tar Heels (33-22) snapped a three-game losing streak and will enter the round-robin portion of Pool A play in the Championship. UNC faces top-seeded and second-ranked Louisville (42-14) in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game. The loss eliminated Virginia Tech (27-27).

Gallen (4-3), a sophomore right-hander, allowed eight hits and two runs in 6.2 innings while walking two and striking out seven. Kelly pitched the final 2.1 innings to earn his fourth save of the season, yielding two hits, striking out five and allowing one run that was unearned.

Kit Scheetz (3-4) started on the mound and pitched the first four innings for the Hokies in taking the loss, but four of UNC’s five runs were unearned.

Alex Raburn went 3-for-5 at the plate, and Skye Bolt drove in two runs for UNC. Leadoff hitter Sage Jenco had five hits and an RBI to lead Virginia Tech. The teams combined for 22 hits, but both fell victim to missed opportunities. The Hokies left 10 runners stranded, and UNC left nine men on base.

Virginia Tech got on the board first in the top of the second. Max Ponzurick led off by beating out a grounder up the middle for an infield single, moved up on two walks and scored on Jenco’s two-out base hit to left.

The Tar Heels struck for three runs in the bottom of the fourth. A three-base error by Jenco in center field on Landon Lassiter’s leadoff fly ball opened the door. Bolt’s sacrifice fly plated UNC’s first run, Adam Pate doubled and successive singles by the bottom three hitters in the order – Logan Warmoth, Joe Dudek and Zack Gahagan – brought home two more.

UNC made it 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth. Raburn led off with a single and took second when the ball got past Hokies leftfielder Erik Payne. Raburn took third on a wild pitch and scored on Bolt’s grounder to second.

Gallan departed in the seventh after giving up a two-out double to Jenco and an RBI single by Alex Perez that brought the Hokies within 4-2. Kelley came on and struck out Payne swinging on a 3-2 pitch to end the half-inning.

Virginia Tech parlayed a pair of errors by Raburn at third base into an unearned run in the top of the eighth, cutting the deficit to 4-3. The Hokies had runners on the corners with one out after getting the run home, but Kelley struck out Andrew Moog and pinch-hitter Phil Sciretta to avert further damage.

The Tar Heels got the run back in the bottom of the eighth, with Elijah Sutherland squeezing Korey Dunbar home from third with a bunt for the final 5-3 margin.

The game was held up for  39 minutes prior to the bottom of the seventh due to what began as a lightning delay and evolved to a full scale thunderstorm with heavy rains and high winds.