CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Coming off a crushing loss to St. John’s on Saturday night, North Carolina bounced back Sunday behind freshman righthander Benton Moss to beat East Carolina 5-3. The Tar Heels provided just enough offense for Moss, who was extremely efficient in his first appearance of the Chapel Hill Regional. The righthander threw six innings, giving up one run on six hits.
“We knew that we were on the ropes, and I knew we were too,” Moss said. “ECU knows how to put the bat on the ball . . . We had to play defense today, and that we did. Key pitches in key situations with key outs really helped us today.”
The ECU offense put together 10 hits, three of which came from left fielder Tim Younger, but were never able to string enough together to pose a serious threat. Jharel Cotton took the loss for East Carolina. He pitched 5.1 innings, giving up two runs while allowing three hits and walking three.
Tommy Coyle started the fourth inning with a single and eventually came around to score on a sac fly from Cody Stubbs, giving the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead. Brian Holberton would give North Carolina another run in the top of the sixth inning with a two-out RBI single. Ultimately it was North Carolina’s defense that made the difference, as the Tar Heels completed three double plays and had no errors.
“Today was very typical of a lot of our wins," UNC coach Mike Fox said. “We don’t look the best in the batter’s box but we somehow got it done . . . That’s very typical of how we’ve won some games and how we need to win some games.”
After facing the minimum number of batters possible through five innings, Moss finally ran into some trouble with two outs in the sixth. Back to back singles by Mike Ussery and Younger set the stage for Drew Reynolds, who hit another single to bring in the Pirates’ first run of the afternoon.
North Carolina benefitted from sloppy East Carolina pitching and a couple of timely hits in the seventh inning. Pirates relievers combined for four walks and a balk to go with a passed ball in the inning. Jacob Stallings’ sac fly and Mike Zolk’s pinch-hit two-RBI single scored three runs for the Tar Heels.
The Pirates would get one more run back in the eighth inning on Younger’s RBI single. While the score remained close, North Carolina kept East Carolina at bay for much of the contest. Michael Morin completed the save for the Tar Heels in the ninth despite giving up a one-out home run to John Wooten, just one day after giving up a walk-off blast to Danny Bathea of St. John’s. It was Morin’s 19th save of the year, a new single-season North Carolina record.
“I’m disappointed,” East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said after the game. “If you told me before the game that we’re going to come in here and get 10 hits, they’re going to have five, (and) we’re not going to make any errors, you’ve got to like your chances, but it just didn’t happen.”
Eight walks by the East Carolina pitching staff proved costly.
“They took advantage of it,” Godwin said. “You can get away with it sometimes but you don’t do it against a good club at home. It’s very difficult.”
North Carolina lefthander R.C. Orlan came into the game in the seventh inning and threw 1.2 innings of relief for Moss before leaving in the eighth with an injury.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Fox said. “He just said a couple batters before (his arm) started tightening up on him a little bit.”
North Carolina needs to beat the Red Storm in Sunday's second game to force a final game Monday afternoon. St. John’s needs just one win to reach its first super regional.
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