The University of North Carolina (41-12, 18-10) baseball team was back in action on the diamond at Boshamer Stadium, and what a beautiful night it was. The No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (45-7, 22-6) are in town to wrap up the final series of the 2011 regular season, and there were 2,017 spectators on a pretty spring evening to take it all in Thursday.
Strong pitching is expected all weekend during the series, and SP Patrick Johnson certainly didn’t disappoint during his time in the limelight in the opener. Johnson ended up tossing a complete game shutout against the top-ranked team in the nation, dealing Virginia just its seventh setback of the season. It was the first time a Carolina pitcher had a complete game shutout since MLB first-round draft pick SP Alex White back in 2009.
Johnson allowed a total of just four hits with no walks and nine strikeouts, baffling Virginia hitters all evening long. With 280 strikeouts for his career, Johnson also moved into fifth place on the all-time list at North Carolina. It was truly a memorable night for Johnson. He’ll definitely need a trip to the cold pool tonight, however, as he racked up 136 pitches in the outing.
For a while, it looked like one run would win the game. Virginia’s Cody Winiarski was matching Johnson pitch for pitch, as the donuts kept piling up on the scoreboard. It wasn’t until the sixth inning when we saw the game’s first score. Freshman 3B Colin Moran lined a hot shot to center field on a sacrifice fly, plating OF Chaz Frank, to put Carolina ahead 1-0. Later in the same inning, the sacks were jammed for 2B Tommy Coyle, who hit a Baltimore chop down towards third base. 3B Steve Proscia wasn’t able to handle it cleanly, and it trickled into the grass for two more runs. The Heels were able to post five runs in the inning, which was more than enough support for Johnson.
In the eighth inning, C Jacob Stallings tacked on another run with a towering fly ball which carried out over the left field wall for the only homer of the game. He ended up 2-for-4, one of four UNC players with two or more hits. SS Levi Michael was 2-for-3 with an HBP, while Coyle was 2-for-4 with the two RBIs and 1B Jesse Wierzbicki had a three-hit night at the plate.
On a personal note, my wife and I brought soon-to-be three-year-old son William and nine-month baby Joe out for an evening of baseball. It is fan appreciation weekend, so if you get an opportunity to get out to the stadium, definitely do so. William was also lucky enough to get a baseball to take home, thanks to freshman P Andrew Smith in the Carolina bullpen. We’ll keep that on top of his dresser with all of the other memorable souveneirs.
Carolina now leads the all-time series 172-100-4, including 109 victories in Chapel Hill.
Freshman Kent Emanuel (6-1, 2.94 ERA) will toe the slab in the middle game of the series Friday night, and he’ll be opposed by Danny Hultzen (9-2, 1.42 ERA). If that name sounds familiar, it should. He served as the designated hitter Thursday, and he finished 1-for-3.