CHAPEL HILL. N.C. — A solo home run from sophomore slugger Zack Collins in the top half of the 11th inning proved the difference Saturday afternoon, as No. 15 Miami (Fla.) clinched its series with host No. 22 North Carolina by a final score of 4-3 at Boshamer Stadium.
After losing a 2-1 lead in the ninth and a 3-2 lead in the tenth, the Hurricanes (20-8, 8-3 ACC) put the game away for good on a ball that Collins crushed off the rightfield light tower on a pitch from UNC reliever Spencer Trayner (1-3).
“It was a team effort. Both teams battled really, really hard. For them to come back and for us to get one more run to stay ahead – it was a really good team effort,” head coach Jim Morris said. “I’m excited about the win.”
The home run was the third of the season for Collins, who was named Baseball America’s National Freshman of the Year after clubbing 11 homers in 2014.
“It felt really good, obviously,” Collins said of the home run swing. “I’ve been struggling lately, and it was good to pick my team up.”
Sophomore sidewinder Cooper Hammond entered in the bottom half of the 11th and escaped a two-on, no-out jam with back-to-back strikeouts and a popout in foul territory to give Miami the series victory.
It didn’t come easy, however. Sophomore righthander Bryan Garcia (3-1) picked up the win despite allowing single runs in the bottom of the ninth and bottom of the tenth. The Tar Heels (15-11, 5-6 ACC) put two runners on after back-to-back singles, but could not come up with another tying run.
“It was one of the craziest games I’ve been involved in,” Morris said. “”You score and you think we’re going to win, we have an All-American closer in and you think you’re going to win…the next inning, we score another run.
“You bring in Cooper, who I have great confidence in and who was an All-American closer in high school, and they get it going and guys on base. It was a crazy game.”
Junior George Iskenderian’s go-ahead single in the top of the ninth gave Miami a 2-1 lead, but the Tar Heels struck right back with a run on a flare single from Zack Gahagan to knot it back up at 2-2.
In a battle featuring two of the premier pitchers in the ACC, Miami lefthander Andrew Suarez lasted just three innings after struggling with his command through the brief outing.
Suarez tossed 65 pitches and allowed four walks, including one to Skye Bolt with the bases loaded that forced in a run to give North Carolina a lead in the second inning.
North Carolina starter J.B. Bukauskas was dominant on the hill for the hosts, scattering just two hits and one earned run while striking out three batters in 7.0 innings.
Miami had just one hit through six innings, coming on a single from Johnny Ruiz in the third inning. Bukauskas kept Miami largely off-balance, and worked quickly through the middle innings until the seventh, when the Hurricanes tied the game.
“He has really good stuff, he throws hard,” Morris said of Bukauskas. “We did not do a good job adjusting to that fastball up and getting on top of it.”
The visitors threatened in the third when first baseman Christopher Barr walked and Ruiz — who delivered the gamewinning hit in Friday night’s opener — came up with a single up the middle to put two runners on.
But Bukauskas got Carl Chester on a flyout and struck out Ricky Eusebio to maintain the Tar Heels’ 1-0 lead.
The early departure of Suarez put an onus on senior Daniel Briggi, but the righthander delivered in a pressure situation. Entering the game with the top of the Carolina order due up, Briggi allowed just two hits in 3.0 clean innings of relief to keep his team in the contest.
Briggi threw 43 pitches, and retired the side in the sixth before giving way to Michael Mediavilla in the seventh.
A stretch of eight consecutive batters in a row retired by Bukauskas ended in the seventh, when junior David Thompson extended his hitting streak to 17 straight games with a leadoff single up the middle.
After a walk to Collins put two runners on base, Iskenderian laid down a sacrifice bunt that set up Miami’s first true scoring opportunity of the afternoon.
Senior Garrett Kennedy delivered, cranking a Bukauskas offering to centerfield for a sacrifice fly to tie the game 1-1.
Mediavilla struck out the side swinging in the bottom of the seventh, but ran into trouble in the eighth when he allowed aleadoff walk to Tyler Ramirez. After a successful sacrifice bunt, Mediavilla intentionally walked Adam Pate to force an out at any base.
The Hurricanes escaped any damage when Collins fired to third on an attempted to double steal and got the lead runner, and Mediavilla struck out Elijah Sutherland looking to end the inning.
A sacrifice fly from Ruiz in the top half of the tenth plated pinch runner Jacob Heyward to once again give Miami a lead, but the Tar Heels struck for a run of their own on an RBI single from Landon Lassiter.
Collins’ blast to right finally silenced the Tar Heels in a thrilling game at Boshamer Stadium.
“That builds more character with a club,” Morris said. “It’s great to see us do that. We feel like if we can get ahead, with our bullpen, we’re going to win.”