Louisville treated its transition into the ACC – one of the best college baseball conferences in the nation – as a routine, break-no-sweat kind of thing, like a distance runner adding another quarter mile to a warm-up jog.
The Cardinals treated their comeback against North Carolina that way, too, on Wednesday night during Louisville’s 7-4 victory on the first day of pool play in the ACC baseball tournament. UNC began the game with a home run in its first at-bat and at one point led 4-0 before it all came apart.
The Cardinals, the tournament No. 1 seed after going 22-5 in the ACC during the regular season, scored twice in the fourth inning and once more in the fifth before scoring four times in the sixth. In the process they chased UNC starter Benton Moss, who left in the sixth after allowing five hits.
Moss pitched well early but the Cardinals, who will play Clemson on Thursday, tied the game on an error at shortstop and took the lead, for good, on Sutton Whiting's two-RBI single with two out. Then came another RBI single moments later.
That was the difference, as it so often has been, for UNC, which struggled to bring runners home. Even amid a promising start the Tar Heels, who play Florida State on Thursday night, stranded five runners in the first two innings – three of them left in scoring position.
UNC scored all of its runs off of Sean Leland, a freshman who was starting for the fourth time. He left without recording an out in the third inning and Lincoln Henzman, a right-hander who relieved Leland, allowed three hits before he left after the eighth inning.
Star of the game
Henzman, a freshman, has been one of Louisville’s best relief pitchers. He was more of a starter on Wednesday, though, and pitched a season-high six innings. He entered with UNC leading 4-0 and so Henzman had little margin for error. He hasn't allowed an earned run in his past seven appearances and, most important, he preserved the Cardinals' pitching staff for the rest of pool play.
▪ Tyler Ramirez, the Tar Heels’ lead-off hitter, began the game with a home run to right field but first base umpire Troy Fullwood originally ruled the ball had remained in play. A review confirmed that it was in fact a home run.
▪ Even amid that promising start UNC wasted prime scoring chances in the first and second innings. In the first, UNC loaded the bases with no outs after Ramirez's home run, but it didn't score the rest of the inning. The inning ended with a strikeout and two pop-outs. In the second inning, UNC had runners on first and second with one out before failing to score.