North Carolina earlier this week arrived at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park hoping to generate new life – especially offensively – during the ACC baseball tournament.
Its performance during an 8-4 loss against Florida State, though, provided more evidence of the Tar Heels' primary problem during what might be its most difficult season in 14 years.
UNC found itself trailing early – the Seminoles scored in each of the first three innings – but what most doomed the Tar Heels was their lack of hitting and run production. Again. That has been issue throughout the season but especially during the past two weeks during UNC's late-season slump.
It took the Tar Heels one time through the batting order to muster their first hit, and they trailed 5-0 before their first runs came in the sixth inning. UNC didn't fold but it didn't necessarily threaten, either, after falling behind early. After the Seminoles scored three times in the eighth inning, UNC scored twice with two outs in the ninth.
Before this year the last time the ACC tournament was held at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, in 2013, UNC departed as the conference champion. The Tar Heels ended that year in Omaha, in the College World Series.
They will play another tournament game here on Friday against Clemson but that will be inconsequential for UNC – at least for its purposes in the ACC tournament. The loss on Thursday eliminated the Tar Heels from contention for the championship game.
UNC has now lost eight of its past nine games, and it's still searching for that sense of rejuvenation it hoped to discover after ending the regular season with a six-game conference losing streak.
Star of the game:
Mike Compton, the Seminoles' junior right-hander, entered Thursday night allowing about one hit per inning on average this season. He retired UNC's first 11 batters, struck out six and left with two outs in the sixth inning after surrendering just two hits.
--As a freshman, Trent Thornton was one of UNC's most feared pitchers during that run to the College World Series in 2013. In 23 appearances that season opponents hit .185 off of him and he finished with a 1.29 ERA. Thornton, who started for UNC on Thursday night, hasn't been as effective during his junior season. He struggled early on Thursday and left with one out in the sixth inning after allowing nine hits and five runs – four of them earned. His ERA is now 5.08.
--As difficult a time as UNC has had generating runs against good competition, the Tar Heels' pitching – considered the strong point – has had its share of problems lately, too. The UNC bullpen on Thursday allowed three runs – extinguishing just about any hope of a comeback – and it was the fourth time in five games that UNC allowed at least seven runs.