UNC claims ACC title with 4-1 win over Virginia Tech
Posted May 26, 2013
Durham, N.C. — With tired arms mounting for North Carolina, head coach Mike Fox turned to freshman Taylore Cherry Sunday in the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech. Making his first collegiate start, he responded with five solid innings that paved the way for the Tar Heels’ first conference title since 2007.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels offense provided just enough support for the young starter and weary bullpen as they scored early to calm things down, then added some insurance late in a 4-1 win.
The conference title is the first in six years for UNC and their sixth as a program.
"This tournament is extremely difficult with all the great teams we have in our league," said UNC head coach Mike Fox. "It's a great accomplishment to navigate your way through this tournament and come out on top.
Following a 20-pitch first inning, the 6-foot-8 righty settled in by simply throwing strikes and pitching to contact. Cherry, who had thrown just 3.1 innings all year, did not record a strikeout on the afternoon, but walked just two and threw more pitches Sunday (90) than in all his previous five outings combined (73).
"The story was that he was prepared," said Fox. "You never know when your moment is going to be and when your time is gong to be. He's a great teammate and I couldn't be happier for him to get an opportunity to do what he did."
Cherry estimated that he only threw 10-or-so off-speed pitches all game, opting to stick with his fastball.
"In the end, I'm just trying to throw strikes and get outs," Cherry said. "(The fastball) was about all that was working for me so you might as well keep going back to it."
Saturday night’s table-setter, Landon Lassiter, again provided the spark for the UNC offense. He came around to score in the first inning after a one-out single then doubled in the third inning before being escorted home on a groundball by Skye Bolt. Lassiter later reached to lead off the eighth inning and scored his third run of the day on a throwing error after Bolt dropped a sacrifice bunt.
"Landon has had an unbelievable year for us," Fox said. "It didn't surprise me that he came out and had a great game for us."
Bolt went hitless on the afternoon but reached three times and claimed two RBIs. Lassiter went 2-for-3, was hit by a pitch and reached four times.
Virginia Tech’s offense amassed six hits on the day and challenged the Tar Heels in the middle innings.
Their lone run came in the sixth inning after a leadoff double by Tyler Horan. That was the last batter Cherry faced. Trevor Kelley, making his team-leading 28th appearance, gave up a single and hit a batter before inducing a double play that allowed Horan to score.
The Hokies also loaded the bases in the fifth inning with two outs, but Cherry won a nine-pitch battle against three-hole hitter Chad Pinder.
"I was just thinking about beating him," Cherry said of the at bat.
"I didn't come up clutch in certain situations that I have in the past," Pinder said. "It was a shame, but it's baseball. If you are not getting those clutch hits against a team like North Carolina it's hard to get a win."
Cherry earned the win his first ever collegiate decision while Kelley notched the four-inning save. The Tar Heels bullpen closed the tournament with 22.2 consecutive scoreless innings.
"Our bullpen certainly was the story," Fox said. "They've been goo for us all year. They were fresh and ready and they were verr aggressive attacking the strike zone and trusting their pitches."
First baseman Cody Stubbs was named the tournament MVP.
Sunday’s game was played in front of 8,697 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park – a new ACC Tournament record.
UNC, hoping for the nation’s top seed in the NCAA tournament, will learn their fate Monday. The ACC as a conference is expected to get at least three of the eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament.