Pinch-hit heroics lift UNC baseball to crucial series win

Pinch-hit heroics lift UNC baseball to crucial series win

Saturday did not look good for the North Carolina baseball team.

After scoring the first two runs of the game, the UNC offense was stagnant, falling behind 6-2 — courtesy of two Georgia Tech home runs. The Tar Heels had seen multiple rallies fall just short, leaving men stranded all over the base paths of Boshamer Stadium.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, UNC was in danger of doing just that yet again.  So with the bases loaded and two out, head coach Mike Fox pointed down the bench to junior Jackson Hesterlee.

Known for his massive power, Hesterlee has not gotten too many chances to show it in games this year — under 30 at-bats coming into Saturday. But Hesterlee grabbed a bat, stared down the pitcher and stepped into the box. He, and everyone else in the ballpark, knew what he was up there to do.

Pitch one was fouled off. Hesterlee was in a hole. Pitch two in for a strike as well. The outlook was just about as bleak as it could’ve been.

But Hesterlee had other plans.

On an 0-2 pitch, the junior blasted his first home run of the season — a pinch-hit grand slam to right field — to tie the game at six.

This heroic moment carried UNC into extra innings. Momentum was on the Tar Heels’ side until Yellow Jacket star Joey Bart came through with a two-run single in the tenth to push Georgia Tech ahead, 8-6.

With their backs against the wall yet again, the Tar Heels turned to another pinch-hitter in the bottom of the tenth inning. This time it was a freshman who got the nod with a runner on base in a clutch spot.

Down 8-7 — a Brandon Martorano double earlier in the inning brought UNC within a run — Ben Casparius got his number called.

He worked the count to 3-2, before lacing a triple into right field to tie the game at eight all.

With the swinging pendulum of momentum now on UNC side, the final run was just a formality. A sac fly from Dallas Tessar brought home the winning run, and UNC escaped with a 9-8 victory.

This win — along with a 9-3 victory on Friday and a 10-3 on Sunday — helped UNC to a sweep of the Yellow Jackets. This was the Tar Heels' first sweep of Georgia Tech since 1996, and it pushed UNC to the top spot in the Coastal Division.

It was another huge win for North Carolina (27-13, 15-6 ACC), which started the season 14-10 and was trending even further downward after a series loss to Florida State in late March. Since then, the Tar Heels have won 13 of their past 16 games, including four straight series wins.

UNC has two midweek games against Western Carolina and Coastal Carolina before heading into a crucial series against Atlantic-leading N.C. State in Raleigh next weekend, just under two weeks after the Wolfpack bettered the Tar Heels at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on April 17.

@WillDBryant

Photo courtesy UNC Athletic Communications (Joe Bray)