It’s been two years since North Carolina and N.C. State met on the baseball diamond. On Friday night the Tar Heels felt it was worth the wait.
Zac Gallen pitched a six-hitter and Skye Bolt crushed a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning, lifting UNC to a 2-1 victory against N.C. State in the opener of a key three-game ACC series at Boshamer Stadium.
“It couldn’t be more opportune of a time to face these guys,” Bolt said of the win over the Wolfpack. “It’s Carolina baseball, for the state of North Carolina. It’s like the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.”
The Triangle rivals didn’t meet in the ACC’s unbalanced schedule a year ago, and their “nonconference” game was rained out.
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Bolt’s homer, his fifth of the season, came with two outs off reliever Joe O’Donnell (4-2) and gave the win to Gallen (2-2). The sophomore right-hander scattered six hits with five strikeouts and one walk while recording the first complete game for the Tar Heels (21-13, 8-8 ACC) since Trent Thornton beat Boston College 7-0 on April 4 last season.
“Coach (Scott) Forbes is always saying to me every week, ‘You’re gonna throw a CG (complete game),’” Gallen said of the Tar Heels’ pitching coach. “This week he didn’t say anything about it. It’s kind of ironic.”
There was nothing ironic about Gallen’s effort on the mound. The Wolfpack (19-12, 7-7) managed only one run off him, and that was unearned because of a two-out throwing error.
“Early on my cutter wasn’t on,” Gallen said. “I knew if I manipulated my fastball, I could get some guys out.”
He said he used the same approach he did in an 8-1 victory against Duke a month ago. “They like to go away (with the pitch),” Gallen said, “so I tried to go in, in, in.”
“Obviously the story for us is Zac Gallen,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “It’s mind-boggling to me that we had him pitching in relief the first few weeks of the season.”
Gallen threw 112 pitches, 76 for strikes. “That’s pretty efficient for nine innings,” Fox said.
Wolfpack starter Cory Wilder went 5 2/3 innings and yielded only two hits but struggled with his control, walking six to go with seven strikeouts.
It cost him a run in the third, when he walked the first two batters, Brian Miller and Bolt. After a strikeout, Tyler Ramirez sliced an RBI single into left field to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.
The Wolfpack broke through in the sixth, when Logan Ratledge lined a leadoff single to left. Preston Palmeiro followed with a pop fly to shallow center that dropped in for a hit, and Andrew Knizner sacrificed them ahead.
Jake Armstrong popped to short for the second out, but Ryne Willard reached on a throwing error by UNC third baseman Zack Gahagan that brought home the tying run. Willard initially was called out when UNC first baseman Adrian Chacon caught the wide throw and tagged him, but the ball popped loose and Willard was ruled safe.
That set the stage for Bolt’s heroics in the seventh. He drove a 2-1 pitch from O’Donnell over the right-center field fence.
“I didn’t know if it was going out,” Bolt said. “I knew I got a good swing on it.”
“I thought it was a good pitch from O’Donnell,” Fox said, “a ball down. But Skye just flipped his wrists. I’m giving him credit, but he hit it out to the shortest point. He’s swinging the bat better than he has in a while.”
N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said the Wolfpack wasted too many opportunities. Four times they got the leadoff batter on base without scoring, including a leadoff double in the third by shortstop Joel McKeithan.
“We couldn’t get a bunt down,” Avent said. “We’ve got to get better.”
He said Wilder battled his way out of jams that were often of his own creation. “He made pitches,” Avent said. “You can’t say you’re happy with the way he pitched; we walked eight. But he made pitches. It shows how good he can be.”
The starters in Saturday’s 6 p.m. contest will be two freshmen, left-hander Brian Brown (3-2, 2.88 ERA) for N.C. State and right-hander J.B. Bukauskas (3-1, 2.66) for UNC.