Ranked in the top five of every national poll, winners of 10 of their last 11 games and 16 of the last 18 contests, it’s fair to say the No. 3 Hurricanes are rolling after dismantling No. 9 North Carolina 10-4 in front of 3,243 fans at Mark Light Field on Friday night. It’s too early to say the team has reached its ceiling though, according to Head Coach Jim Morris.
“We can always improve but bottom line I think our team’s playing pretty solid,” Morris said. “It seems like every weekend, every game we’re playing somebody nationally ranked. You got to play good if you’re going to win in those situations.”
Before beating North Carolina, the Canes went a combined 5-1 against No. 4 Louisville and No. 17 Clemson over the last two weekends.
“It feels great,” junior catcher Zack Collins said of the team’s recent wins against top-ranked teams. “These past three weekends we’ve played three really good teams, and we just got to continue to play hard and play as a team.”
North Carolina took an early 1-0 lead in the first but it wouldn’t last for long. Brian Miller led off the game for UNC reaching first on an error by junior first baseman Chris Barr. Brandon Riley brought in Miller with a screaming one-out double down the right field line. Junior right fielder Willie Abreu held the Tar Heels to just the one run with a double play on a catch followed by a rocket of a throw to third with Riley attempting to tag up.
Miami (21-4, 8-2) tied the game in the bottom of the second on an RBI infield-single by sophomore center fielder Carl Chester that plated junior third baseman Edgar Michelangeli, who reached on a stand-up double to left.
UNC (20-5, 6-4) got its first base runner since the first inning with two outs in the fifth after left-handed starter Thomas Woodrey retired 12 consecutive batters. The Tar Heels worked to load the bases, but the senior escaped the jam without giving up a run.
The Canes had no such problems getting on base against right-handed starter Zac Gallen, who gave up a career-high 11 hits in 4.2 innings – his shortest outing of the season. Miami knocked around Gallen (3-2) in the bottom of the fifth for four runs on six hits to get him out of the game.
We got a lot of hits off [Gallen] … that’s a credit to our players,” Morris said. “We kept getting on base and finally we were able to make some things happen.”
Collins opening the scoring in the fifth by driving in Barr and sophomore designated hitter Peter Crocitto with a deep double to center that went off of center fielder Tyler Ramirez’s glove. Junior left fielder Jacob Heyward followed Collins with a single to left that brought in the junior catcher. Junior second baseman Johnny Ruiz plated Heyward with a single to right after Heyward advanced to second on a wild pitch. Crocitto flew out to right with the bases loaded in his second at-bat of the fifth to end the inning, but the Canes added three more runs to blow the game in the bottom of the sixth.
Miami took advantage of sloppy pitching by North Carolina in the sixth. Three UNC relievers combined to toss three walks, hit a batter, give up a single and throw two wild pitches in the frame. Barr scored the first run on a bases-loaded wild pitch by reliever Taylor Sugg. The right-handed freshman then ceded a two-RBI single to center to senior shortstop Brandon Lopez, giving the Canes a commanding seven-run lead.
The Tar Heels knocked Woodrey (3-2) out of the game after getting a single and a walk to open the eighth inning. Right-handed freshman Keven Pimentel came in and struck out three batters, but also gave up a bases-loaded single to Logan Warmoth that scored two runs. Pimentel pitched the ninth to end the game and gave up one run after the Canes added two more in the eighth on a two-RBI double to left field by Abreu.
Woodrey won his first game since March 4 against Manhattan, allowing three runs on four hits and three walks to go with two strikeouts in 7.0 innings. The South Florida native got off to “a slow start to the season,” but he’s shown improvement in his last two outings.
“I changed a couple of small things in the bullpen, but I would say the biggest part is mental,” Woodrey said. “I have to tell myself that I’m still the pitcher I was last year. A couple of tweaks in the bullpen only go so far.”
Miami is now 18-3 at home and Collins has reached base in 20 consecutive games. The Canes next play North Carolina at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Mark Light Field.