CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—For some hitters, it’s a sign of disrespect.
For North Carolina right fielder Skye Bolt, it was a gift.
Tied in the ninth inning of Saturday’s Chapel Hill Super Regional opener, South Carolina closer Tyler Webb intentionally walked Colin Moran to get to a slumping Bolt with two outs and a runner on second.
Bolt said he relished the opportunity to come to the plate, that it was a situation he lived to be put in. With two strikes, the freshman shortened his swing and poked a ball through the right side.
It was just enough.
Parks Jordan came wheeling around third to score, and after beating Florida Atlantic in 13 innings Monday, the Tar Heels came away with yet another walk-off win, 6-5.
This time, though, it took only nine innings.
“More than anything, I think it’s irritated us,” Bolt said of his team’s propensity to play into extras. “We don’t want to continue to put ourselves in such a situation. We know that we can do it, but who wants to play 14 innings when you can play nine innings and get the victory?
“It’s something that you could sense in the dugout. We wanted to get it done.”
Like most of the games UNC has played so far in the postseason, Saturday’s matchup was a seesaw affair.
The Gamecocks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning off UNC ace Kent Emanuel. And they continued to pound the lefthander for seven hits and four runs in just 2 1/3 innings–the shortest start of the season for Emanuel, who struggled to locate his offspeed pitches.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox said Emanuel’s 51-pitch relief appearance Monday had no bearing on his performance. But the Tar Heels faced an early hole nonetheless, and with a few defensive lapses, the Gamecocks gave the Tar Heels plenty of opportunities to climb out of it.
After Moran doubled in a run off of starter Nolan Belcher in the bottom of the first, Gamecock left fielder Graham Saiko dropped a Cody Stubbs fly ball, allowing Moran to come home and tie the game. Then, with South Carolina up 4-2 in the third, Moran came home again on a Stubbs’ double as right fielder Connor Bright’s throw missed its mark.
Meanwhile, the UNC bullpen kept South Carolina scoreless until closer Trent Thornton coughed up his first earned run of the NCAA tournament on an eighth-inning, game-tying RBI single to Saiko.
“We had our opportunities to win the game,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “We can’t drop fly balls and miss cutoff men in the outfield . . . The game was there for us to win.”
In the ninth, the Gamecocks gave Bolt an opportunity, and that proved to be the costliest of them all.
Bolt hasn’t been the same hitter since returning from a broken foot May 14. He was 4-for-16 in the Chapel Hill Regional, and he had just moved back to the cleanup spot after being demoted to seventh Monday against FAU.
But he said none of that was in his mind as he stepped to the plate in the ninth.
“It’s no pressure,” Bolt said. “It’s no statement. It’s just a way to win the ballgame.”
His only thought?