CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After a two-run first inning gave the Tar Heels the early lead, the Duke baseball team had its chances but No. 1 North Carolina came away with the 4-1 victory over the Blue Devils in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Boshamer Stadium.
A Jordan Betts’ home run cut the lead to 2-1 in the second and Duke was able to move runners into scoring position in three of the next four innings, including runners at the corners with no one out in the sixth. However, the Blue Devils could not come any closer as the Tar Heels plated an unearned run in the sixth and a fourth run in the seventh to secure the victory.
“Give a tremendous amount of credit to North Carolina’s pitching staff,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “[Benton] Moss did a good job of throwing his breaking ball for strikes. [I’m] disappointed because I felt like we pitched well enough to win.”
A leadoff double sparked a two-run first for the Tar Heels. Centerfielder Chaz Frank began the frame with his ninth double of the season and North Carolina loaded the bases after Landon Lassiter singled and Colin Moran was hit by a pitch. Duke starter Trent Swart limited the damage with back-to-back groundouts, each scoring a run, before ending the frame with a grounder to third.
Swart (4-3) settled down after the first and put up four scoreless innings before yielding an unearned run in the sixth. The left-hander suffered the loss despite scattering five hits and striking out three over six innings of work.
“[Swart] gives up two hits to the first three guys that come to the plate and it looks like they’ve got him on the ropes with the bases loaded," Pollard said. "He battles his way out of it then goes out and puts four zeroes on the board to keep us right there, to give us a chance. I’m disappointed for Trent because I thought he pitched well enough to win the ball game.”
For the second time in as many games, Betts sent a solo home run to left as the Duke third baseman cut the North Carolina lead to 2-1 in the second. The homer was Betts’ seventh of the season and 12th for his career. The Wilmington, N.C., native was 2-for-4 on the night, adding a single in the sixth.
Down just one run, Duke had a runner in scoring position in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings but was unable push the tying run across. The Blue Devils best chance to tie the game at 2-2 came in the sixth as back-to-back singles by Grant McCabe and Betts placed runners at the corners with no outs. UNC starter Benton Moss (7-0) was able to emerge unscathed with a popup on a bunt attempt, a strikeout and a popup to shortstop to end the inning.
“The big difference in the ball game was the fact that when we’ve got runners at first and third with nobody out, we don’t execute a safety squeeze. Then we come up with a strikeout and a popup behind it. We’re right there within striking distance. When we get our opportunity there in the sixth, we have to take advantage of it. Against a team that pitches as well as Carolina does, you’re not going to get that many opportunities. When you do, you have to be ready to take advantage of them.”
Shortstop Matt Russell reached on an error to start the bottom of the sixth and would ultimately score on a Parks Jordan RBI single. Lassiter scored from third on a balk call after belting a leadoff double in the seventh, extending North Carolina’s lead to 4-1.
Moss earned the win, allowing just the one run on five hits in 6.2 innings of work. Trent Thornton pitched a perfect ninth for his third save of the season.
Duke and North Carolina will meet in the series finale Sunday at 2 p.m., at Boshamer Stadium.