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May 24, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – You never can be sure where momentum will come from during a baseball game.
Wake Forest almost had it in the third inning against North Carolina Wednesday night, but the Tar Heels took it away with a terrific defensive play. Center fielder Chaz Frank threw out a runner at home plate and UNC ultimately went on to a 6-0 victory on the first day of the ACC Baseball Championship at NewBridge Bank Park.
The Tar Heels (43-13) will play again today at 3 p.m. against Miami, a team that swept them during the regular season. Wake Forest (32-23) will meet NC State at 7 p.m.
Frank’s play was early but significant.
“It was kind of a bang-bang play at the plate that went against us and it was a big momentum swing,” said Wake coach Tom Walter.
North Carolina’s Mike Fox agreed it was a huge play.
“The first team that scores, the momentum is in their dugout and all of a sudden we’re playing from behind,” he said. “In baseball momentum can be short-lived. They get it with a base hit and we take it away with a great throw to the plate. I do think that was a big part of the game even though it was early.”
With Deacon runner Pat Blair on second base and one out of a scoreless game in the top of the third inning, Wake’s Mac Williamson singled to center and Walter waved Blair around third.
Frank charged the ball, picked it up and uncorked a strong throw to catcher Jacob Stallings that arrived on the fly, slightly up the third base line. Stallings had time to make the catch and apply the tag for the second out. After a walk, Tar Heel pitcher Shane Taylor got a groundout to end the inning.
“Off the bat it was a blooper and I saw Blair hesitate just a little bit,” Frank said, “so I knew if I picked the ball up and fired as quickly as I could we had a chance. Jacob did a great job of (faking) Blair and we were able to get him.”
Stallings said he thought the placement of the throw was crucial.
“The throw was up the third base line a little bit,” he said, “and I think that kind of surprised (Blair) because I jumped at the last second and I guess cut off his lane to the plate because he slid right into me. I don’t know if I really blocked the plate as much as he slid right into me. Chaz put it right on the money and I didn’t have to do that much.”
Walter had no second thoughts about the decision to send the runner and thought Blair would have been safe with a little better slide to the inside.
“Give Frank credit for making a great throw, an accurate throw, and give Stallings credit for blocking the plate, he does a really good job of that,” Walter said. “I felt like it was the right decision to go. (Blair) had already reached third base as Frank was getting the ball and he’s a good runner so I liked our chances of scoring there.”
The Tar Heels seized control of the game in the bottom of the inning by scoring four runs. Stallings delivered a two-out double off Wake starter Tim Cooney that drove in two of them.
“I was just trying to be aggressive that at-bat,” Stallings said. “With two outs and a runner in scoring position the pitcher’s going to try to get ahead. It was a 1-0 count and I was figuring he might throw a fastball and I was able to get the bat head out a little bit and hit it down in the corner.”
The Deacons didn’t help themselves in the inning by missing first base on a play that would have gotten an out and failing to complete a double play on a throw across the diamond. Although those didn’t show up as errors in the box score, they extended the inning and gave the Tar Heels the chances they needed.
Michael Russell and Cody Stubbs picked up RBIs for UNC and Frank drove in a run and stole two bases.
North Carolina has won 14 straight games.
“It’s been our pitching, starting pitching and relieving,” Fox said. “We’ve played really well defensively and we’ve gotten probably more two-out hits in this stretch the last couple weeks than we have all year long. Our bullpen has been probably the key to our season.”
Fox called on five relief pitchers during the game with R.C. Orlan doing the bulk of the work. Orlan pitched 3 2/3 innings and struck out six batters. Fox was able to avoid using his closer, Michael Morin, who will be available today if needed. Kent Emanuel (8-3) will start for the Tar Heels.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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