With the boys of summer fittingly battling in a humid matinee rubber match of No. 1 and No. 2, the difference happened to be a matter of 90 feet.
Staging an improbable comeback after falling behind 12-4 in the fifth inning, No. 1 Miami (43-8, 23-5) stranded the tying run at third against North Carolina (45-10, 22-7) when junior right fielder Dennis Raben struck out to end the game, series and regular season in a tough 12-11 decision at Mark Light Field Saturday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd.
UNC’s designated hitter Tim Federowicz, who had 3 RBI, recorded the final out with runners on the corners and earned his first save as pitcher.
“I thought Raben was going to hit a home run to be honest with you,” said junior first baseman Yonder Alonso. “It shows a lot about what we are. We battle, battle, battle and we never give up. I’m sure we’re not going to give up now.”
Reliever Colin Bates (6-0) earned the victory after starter Matt Harvey was pulled by allowing four runs in one and two third innings. Sophomore right fielder Tim Fedroff went 2-for-5 with a run and 5 RBI while senior left fielder Kyle Shelton finished 4-for-5 with two RBI and three runs scored.
After scoring a run in the ninth to make it a 12-11 ballgame off an Alonso single, the Canes were unable to complete the comeback.
UM starter Enrique Garcia took the loss to send his record to 5-2 by giving up six runs- four earned- in three innings of work.
In game two, North Carolina got off to an early lead and held on late for a 10-6 defeat to tie up the series.
Sophomore lefty Eric Erickson (7-1) was knocked for seven runs on 10 hits over five innings while UNC righty Adam Warren (8-1) kept Miami hitless for five innings to improve his career record to 21-1.
Warren faced trouble in the sixth after the Tar Heels extended their lead to 9-0 when he gave up a grand slam to Sobolewski, the second grand slam of the series for the Hurricanes. Alonso had two RBI, a solo homer and a bases-loaded walk in the ninth.
First baseman Dustin Ackley, Fedroff and second baseman Kyle Seager each had three hits apiece to fuel North Carolina’s offense.
Thursday night, the Canes clinched the ACC Coastal Division with a 12-2 win.
Freshman lefthander Chris Hernandez pitched seven and two third innings of two-run ball and seven strikeouts to earn his 10th victory of the season. Alonso notched his 2nd career grand slam- both against second-ranked teams this season- on an opposite field shot that put the Hurricanes on the scoreboard in the third inning after trailing 1-0 to take a 4-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
DiNatale also homered to left field for a two-run homer to increase the cushion for Hernandez at 6-2 and finished the game 2-for-4.
North Carolina pitchers walked a season-high 11 batters as starter Alex White fell to 8-3 and issued five walks.
The Canes broke the game open in the seventh inning by scoring six runs when three UNC relief pitchers walked five batters, including a period of four in a row.
“North Carolina has an outstanding club,’ head coach Jim Morris said. “They can swing the bat, they can pitch and they have some great prospects. They came into our house and beat us two out of three. It’s a credit to them.”
Despite the series loss, Miami scored a combined 29 runs against the nation’s top starting rotation and will look to capture the ACC Championship in Jacksonville, which starts on Wednesday.
“It was a great year, but it’s all over now,” Alonso said. “We really can’t worry about what we did this whole year. It’s a new season and I just can’t wait to get started.”
Christina De Nicola may be contacted at email@example.com.