This past weekend saw college baseball at its best when two of the nation’s top teams, Clemson and North Carolina, fought tooth and nail at Chapel Hill’s Boshamer Stadium. Both teams entered the series ranked as high as third in the nation, with Clemson holding a 34-8 record and Carolina standing at 33-9. Both were 16-5 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, making the three-game set as even as could be imagined.
Not surprisingly, a trio of tight contests unfolded. What was surprising is the fact that head coach Mike Fox’s club emerged with the sweep. The Tar Heels put together some late-inning heroics in each of the three games to take a commanding five-game lead over Virginia in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
On Friday, North Carolina scored five times with two outs in the seventh inning to rally past the Tigers, 5-1. Michael Busch’s three-run double helped the Tar Heels overcome a 1-0 deficit and enabled starting pitcher J.B. Bukauskas improve to 8-0 on the year.
A day later, UNC scored four times in the eighth and notched its program-best eighth straight ACC series win in a 5-4 decision over the Tigers. Zack Gahagan’s sacrifice fly scored Brandon Riley for the game-winning run before closer Josh Hiatt worked a perfect ninth inning for his 13th save of the season.
The series finale on Sunday took 10 innings before UNC emerged with the 3-2 win. Tyler Lynn (pictured above) completed an afternoon in which he stroked three hits and drove in all three runs by producing the game winner on an infield single. The Tar Heel bullpen pitched seven shutout frames, with Hiatt working 2 2/3 hitless innings to earn the victory.
Lynn hit .429 over the course of last week and leads Carolina with a .338 batting average in league games. Hiatt was named the ACC Pitcher of the Week after retiring 17 of the 21 Clemson batters he faced. The redshirt freshman struck out four and allowed three hits and no walks.
North Carolina’s 19-5 ACC record is a game better than Louisville’s 17-4 conference mark. The Tar Heels are ranked third in the country by all five major polls this week, while the Cardinals are second in every poll, behind the unanimous number one team, Oregon State.
Head coach Dan McDonnell’s team has the offensive firepower to take on any team in the country. Brendan McKay earned ACC Player of the Week honors after he hit at a .429 clip with six home runs, 12 RBIs and a 1.286 slugging percentage. On April 25 he tied a school record by going deep four times while establishing a career-high with nine RBIs in a 14-4 win at Eastern Kentucky. McKay capped the week by connecting for two homers and three RBIs in Sunday’s 17-2 victory against Toledo.
McKay is equally effective on the mound. The lefthander, who was named by Baseball America and Perfect Game as the midseason player of the year, notched 12 strikeouts in eight innings to earn the victory over Toledo on Friday night. For the season he is hitting .394 with 13 home runs, 42 RBIs, a .514 on-base percentage and a .739 slugging percentage.
As dominant as McKay has been in all facets of the game, he has received assistance in the Louisville lineup from Drew Ellis. The corner infielder ranks 14th in the nation with a .403 batting average, fifth with a .753 slugging percentage and 11th with a .497 on-base percentage. He also has contributed 13 home runs and 44 RBIs. Ellis and McKay have combined for 26 of Louisville’s 47 home runs on the season.
The Cardinals also are the ACC’s best-balanced team, ranking third in the conference with a .298 batting average and second with a 2.72 ERA.
Rounding the Bases
* Oregon junior lefthander David Peterson ended the Ducks’ five-game losing streak by striking out 20 batters in a four-hit shutout over Arizona State last Friday night. Peterson, who was named the National Pitcher of the Week by the NCBWA, allowed only four hits and one walk. His 20 strikeouts established the program record and matched The Citadel’s J.P. Sears for the most whiffs by a pitcher in college baseball this season. Peterson, who improved to 9-2 on the season, said after the game, “I felt like I had it. I felt like I could throw any pitch at any time.”
* Texas Tech scored runs in every inning en route to a 21-3 victory over TCU in seven innings on Sunday. The Red Raiders won the series, two games to one, but the Horned Frogs departed Lubbock with a one-game lead in the Big 12 standings. TCU allowed 20 or more runs in a game for only the third time under the guidance of head coach Jim Schlossnagle.
* Texas Tech senior infielder Hunter Hargrove was named the National Hitter of the Week by the NCBWA after he hit .500 in five games last week. Hargrove was 9-for-18 with five walks, six RBIs and six runs scored. He also extended his conference-leading hit total to 66 and total bases to 104.
* Furman earned its third straight sweep and extended its league winning streak to nine games by defeating The Citadel, 13-1, in a run-rule victory on Sunday. Jabari Richards hit a pair of home runs and Brandon Elmy drove in five runs to push the Paladins above the break-even mark at 22-21 on the season, including a 10-8 mark in the Southern Conference.
* On Tuesday, May 2, following the matchup of Oregon at Oregon State, a special 30-minute show about the 2016-17 Beaver baseball team will debut on the Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Oregon. The show, “The Diamond: A Season with Oregon State Baseball,” was produced by the OSU athletics department’s production team and features behind-the-scenes footage of the team’s start of the season, including a look back on the club’s school-record 23-game winning streak earlier this year.