CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Kyle Crockett, arguably the nation’s most dominant reliever, came on for No. 7 Virginia with two outs in the seventh inning of its Friday night game with No. 2 North Carolina.
Clinging to a 4-2 lead, Crockett got UNC’s Colin Moran, arguably the nation’s top power hitter, to harmlessly ground out to first base.
At the time, it seemed like Crockett would cruise to his 11th save and UVa would be one win away from capturing the ACC Coastal Division title.
But, boy, the Tar Heels weren’t going down that easy.
North Carolina responded to a 5-2 deficit by hammering Crockett for six runs in the eighth to give the Heels an 8-5 win before a sellout crowd of 4,100 at Boshamer Stadium.
“Tonight was a tough loss,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor. “We felt really confident coming into the game. I thought we did a nice job against their starting pitcher. And Scott Silverstein had a tremendous outing for us.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t close it with out bullpen.”
Today’s 2 p.m. series finale now isn’t a winner-take-Coastal situation. UNC has the crown.
Virginia dropped to 44-9 and 21-8 in the ACC. Carolina improved to 47-7 and 21-6 in the league.
Crockett (4-1) took his first loss of the season.
North Carolina’s eighth inning rally started when Brian Holberton, with one out, reached on a Nick Howard fielding error. From there, the Heels showed why they’re regarded as having one of the top lineups in the nation.
North Carolina had two triples and a pair of run-scoring singles before UVa recorded its second out of the inning.
The Cavaliers couldn’t stage a comeback in the ninth, giving them their first defeat in six games.
It took away from another solid start from Silverstein and more offensive brilliance from Mike Papi and Derek Fisher.
With a leadoff double to the right field wall, Papi kick-started Thursday’s 10-4 rout. Twenty-four hours later, the sophomore was in the same mashing mode. Papi went 2-for-4 with two RBI, including a solo home run in the third inning. The league’s top hitter upped his batting average to near-.420.
Fisher was Papi-esque, running his hit streak to 12 games with a 4-for-4 performance that included a pair of doubles.
Silverstein followed in Brandon Waddell’s Thursday footsteps with a controlling effort against a lineup that collectively bats .310.
The senior left-hander went six innings, scattering two runs on seven hits. His final out was recorded when North Carolina’s Mike Zolt took a 2-0 fastball to the edge of the warning track in right field, pushing Joe McCarthy up against the wall to make the grab.
It was foreshadowing for the eighth inning Tar Heel push.
Carolina, which got four RBI from Zolt and four hits from Michael Russell, has its first regular season ACC title since 1990.
Virginia will throw Whit Mayberry in Saturday's series finale.
“These games are incredible,” Fisher said. “These games are so fun to play. Again, two very even-keel teams, two pitchers going at it, two offenses and defenses going at it.
“I think these are the two most even teams in the country.”