North Carolina won’t repeat as ACC baseball champion.
That became a certainty Tuesday night when Caleb Roberts lofted a fly ball that Pitt left-fielder Kyle Hess caught in foul territory, ending a 5-3 Panthers’ upset of the Tar Heels.
But this is no lose-and-go-home situation for the Tar Heels. They have another pool-play game remaining in the ACC Baseball Championship at Truist Field in uptown Charlotte. And that game was the topic of conversation following Tuesday’s loss.
“At the end of the day, we get to play again — on a beautiful field, against a rival,” Tar Heels’ coach Scott Forbes said.
“It’s still a big game,” added Angel Zarate, North Carolina’s sophomore left-fielder.
The Tar Heels’ remaining Pool C game is at 7 p.m. Friday against N.C. State (28-15), the ACC’s third-seeded team.
“We’ll be playing at the (Charlotte) Knights’ stadium, against an in-state rival, with probably a packed house,” Zarate said. “When you see N.C. State red, you play at a higher level.”
In short, the seventh-seeded Tar Heels (26-25) said their loss to No. 10 seed Pitt (23-19) was disappointing but not season-defining.
There are two things motivating the Tar Heels in their Friday night game against the Wolfpack.
One is obvious — the rivalry.
But North Carolina is one of several ACC teams chasing an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Before the conference tournament started, most analysts predicted the Tar Heels would make the field of 64. However, some of the Tar Heels’ ACC brethren — Virginia, Pitt, Duke and Louisville — are also chasing those same at-large berths. The Tar Heels said they know a strong performance Friday would help the cause.
“We all know what’s at stake,” said right-fielder Caleb Roberts, who had a two-run single Tuesday night and threw out a Pitt runner trying to score on a fly ball.
“Every game is like the postseason,” Roberts said. “It’s been that way for two weeks. We know we have to come back Friday.”
The Tar Heels have two days off before that Wolfpack game. Roberts said the layoff wouldn’t hurt his team.
“We won’t let that affect us,” he said. “We’ll just work on the things we need to correct. We’ll be ready.”
Here’s the 2021 ACC baseball tournament schedule and how to watch the games this week
The big plays
After falling behind 3-0, North Carolina closed the gap on Caleb Roberts’ two-run single in the bottom of the fifth.
Pitt’s big hit was a two-run homer in the eighth inning by Ron Washington Jr. It was a 406-foot shot that landed in the back row of the left-field stands. That gave the Panthers a 5-2 lead. The Tar Heels loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth but scored only once. They also got two runners aboard in the ninth.
▪ The game was the first ACC tournament contest for first-year North Carolina coach Scott Forbes.
▪ The Tar Heels are 0-22 this season when trailing after six innings. “Usually, it’s because we’re trying to come back against the other teams’ elite arms,” Forbes said. “But we also haven’t gotten the key hit. We get people on base but can’t get them home.”
▪ Pitt got its lead-off batter on base in six of nine innings. That forced Tar Heel pitchers to work from a hole.
▪ Attendance at the game was listed as 3,235. It was the largest crowd of the day, but most officials expect a larger turnout Friday when the Tar Heels face the Wolfpack.
▪ Pitt’s Ron Washington Jr., who had the game-winning home run, is the son of Ron Washington, who had a decade-long career in the major leagues. He’s now a coach with the Atlanta Braves.
Tuesday’s other games
Louisville 15, Clemson 10: Alex Binelas tied an ACC Baseball Championship record with three home runs, and teammates Ben Metzinger and Henry Davis added two homers apiece as the Cardinals (28-21) won this Pool B slugfest.
Clemson (24-27) had four home runs, including a pair of 400-foot-plus swats by Caden Grice. The 11 home runs by the two teams set an ACC tournament record. Binelas, second in the conference in RBIs, drove in six runs.
Virginia 3, Virginia Tech 2: The Cavaliers (28-22) used five pitchers and won a Pool A squeaker against the Hokies (27-24). Kyle Teel’s two-run homer gave the Cavaliers a 3-0 lead in the third inning. Tanner Schobel smacked a two-run home run for the Hokies in the sixth.
Pool A: Virginia 1-0; Notre Dame 0-0; Virginia Tech 0-1.
Pool B: Louisville 1-0; Georgia Tech 0-0; Clemson 0-1
Pool C: Pitt 1-0; N.C. State 0-0; North Carolina 0-1.
Pool D: Duke 0-0; Florida State 0-0; Miami 0-0.
Wednesday: Florida State vs. Duke, 11 a.m.; Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech, 3; Georgia Tech vs. Clemson, 7.
Thursday: Miami vs. Duke 11 a.m.; Georgia Tech vs. Louisville, 3; N.C. State vs. Pitt, 7.
Friday: Notre Dame vs. Virginia, 11 a.m.; Miami vs. Florida State, 3; North Carolina vs. N.C. State, 7.
Saturday (semifinals): Pool A winner vs. Pool D winner, 1; Pool B winner vs. Pool C winner, 5.
Sunday (finals): Semifinal winners meet, noon.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle