Wake Forest starter Tim Cooney struck out 10 UNC batters in just over 7 innings, but a four-run third inning was all the Heels needed to defeat the at times anemic Deacon offense.
The Deacs will face off against N.C. State tonight at 7 (barring any bad weather). The Wolfpack defeated Miami yesterday in a thrilling 3-2 manner that concluded with an N.C. State walkoff walk in the bottom of the 9th. The Deacs obviously now must win tonight and tomorrow night against Miami if they want to have any chance to make the ACC Tournament Championship Game on Sunday at 12.
UNC squares off against Miami today at 3, and if the Heels win that game then Wake will already have been eliminated by the time they take the field tonight at 7. That is really secondary right now for the Deacs though. A win or two over the next two days would go a long way in helping Wake Forest attempt to qualify for the NCAA Baseball Tournament. An 0-3 record this week could prove to be lethal to their hopes.
Click through the jump for a rundown and brief analysis of the game last night.
The Deacs started off the game by getting a baserunner on in each of the first three innings, but were unable to capitalize on runners in scoring position, and that would be a frustrating trend throughout the game.
Cooney was also dominant in the first two innings, showing outstanding power and placement on his pitches, especially his fastball.
The third inning was the turning point in the game for both teams. The Deacons Pat Blair led off with a walk and advanced to second on a sac bunt by second baseman Connor Keniry. Blair was then waived home on a single by power hitter Mac Williamson, but due to perhaps some shoddy baserunning (and an interesting call to wave him home), was thrown out at home on a cannon throw by UNC centerfielder Chaz Frank.
Williamson advanced to second on the play, but the Deacs were unable to bring him or Lopez home after a walk.
The bottom of the third was as frustrating to me as the top. After the Deacs failed to capitalize on their own baserunners, UNC led off the inning with a double, and advanced Holbertson to third on a single. The next batter for UNC hit one right to Carlos Lopez, who instead of stepping on first and then throwing home to try to gun down Holbertson (Lopez was two steps away at the most), threw it home, which allowed all runners to reach safely and load the bases.
With the bases loaded and no outs, UNC hit a sharp grounder to Mark Rhine at third base, who stepped on the base for the out and threw to first base. He got the force at third, but I thought had plenty of time to get Holbertson at home, but instead opted to go to first base, where the throw was not in time.
UNC wound up with four runs overall, and that was pretty much all she wrote as the UNC relief pitchers (along with starting pitcher Shane Taylor) were able to hold Wake Forest scoreless. The Deacs had their chances with 13 baserunners in the game, but were unable to push across a run (a very difficult feat I might add).
If the tone so far hasn't been clear in the recap, I was pretty frustrated with the lack of execution by our team last night. Before I break it down a little bit I want to be clear that I am really proud of the boys for their effort and upward climb back to respectability in the ACC this year. I plan on attending the last two games tonight and tomorrow as well and have been to a lot of the games at home this year. So I'm not so much just jumping on when the team has a bad outing as I am being critical of a game that I thought we could have had a much better chance to win if we had converted.
First of all, it's really, really hard not to score when you get 13 baserunners throughout the course of a game. Granted we only had four hits, but Taylor was having a really hard time finding the strike zone with a lot of his pitches, and that led to a lot of walks, especially of the leadoff variety. I was really pleased with our plate discipline and actually thought we might have kept the bat on our shoulders a little too much at times last night.
We had a great chance in the early part of the game to get some runs on the board, and against a team like UNC that has now won 14 straight games and is in the top 10 in the country, those runs have to be scored. It seemed like we had RISP all night and we just couldn't ever get the timely hit necessary to push across a run or two.
The most frustrating inning of the night was without a doubt the third inning. With Blair on second base with one out and Mac Williamson and Carlos Lopez up, the two strongest power hitters on the team and probably two of the most reliable players overall, there is no excuse not to get at least one run across.
I definitely understand why Coach Walter sent Blair home after Mac singled to Frank in centerfield, but I vehemently disagree with it. That signaled to me that we were trying to small ball our way to a 1-0 or 2-1 victory. Cooney was certainly on up to that point, but UNC was definitely going to get their runs (especially since they have won 13 games in a row).
With that being said, I understand why Coach Walter did it, and I have an immense amount of respect for him as a coach and a human being so I can let it pass.
The baserunning by Blair was almost inexcusably bad though. Pat is a pretty fast kid and ranks second in stolen bases in the ACC this year, so there is no doubt that he has the speed to make it home from second on a routine single. The problem was that he went WAY wide at third, making it a longer path from second to home than usual. It also proved to be a bit unlucky because the throw from Frank was pretty high and far outside. Stallings grabbed it about two feet down the third base line and easily tagged Blair out.
The replay indicates that Blair clearly saw where Stallings was standing, and had he simply moved to the inside of the base path could have avoided the play entirely and scored the first run of the game. This somewhat simplistic play can make all the difference, especially for a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations.
The bottom of the inning was more of the same as far as mental errors go. The leadoff double is fine and that happens from time to time. The play by Lopez not to step on first to get the out when he could have easily stepped on it and then thrown home hurt us, as did the play by Rhine not to go home after stepping on third when Holbertson was at most halfway down the third baseline.
These are things that happen over the course of the year and I understand it, but against a team as good as UNC, opponents must be on their A game. Last night I saw a team in Wake Forest that can compete with the big boys, but when put on the big stage against them didn't hold their own when push came to shove. That is the most frustrating part to me about the whole thing.
Bygones are bygones at this point, and the Deacs have to regroup and get a win either tonight or tomorrow to really feel good about their chances for the NCAA Tournament.
Wake Forest is throwing Jack Fischer (4-4, 2.77 ERA), a College Baseball 360 Primetime Performer last week. Based on everything that I have read it appears that N.C. State might throw Carlos Rodon at us (9-0, 1.59 ERA). This is a bit of unfortunate turn of events, but State is playing to win the whole thing and throwing Rodon today would allow him to be rested for Sunday if they need him.
Either way, the Deacs need to just play their game and limit the mental mistakes. If they can do that then they will be there with a chance to beat some pretty good teams. If anybody plans on making the trip to Greensboro tonight then just comment! I'll be behind the Wake dugout with a couple of Wake friends. Hopefully we will help balance out what will prove to be a Pro-Wolfpack crowd.
Comments are always welcome and GO DEACS!