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May 14, 2013CHAPEL HILL--- North Carolina needed a win Tuesday night against Appalachian State coming off this past weekend's series at Georgia Tech---the first series loss of the season so far for the Diamond Heels.
They also needed a boost of confidence heading into this week's critical series in Chapel Hill against Virginia that will determine the ACC Coastal Division regular season championship.
Behind some stellar pitching and timely baserunning, the Tar Heels did what they had to do, prevailing over the visiting Mountaineers, 2-0.
UNC freshman pitcher Reilly Hovis, making just his fourth start of the year, threw five innings of shutout ball, and Chris McCue followed him with a brilliant three innings of work, putting out multiple Appalachian State fires along the way.
"I was just glad to get us back on track. We were coming off two hard losses at Georgia Tech. It was just nice to get the team back on track and get the win," said Hovis shortly after the game. "I'm just glad to take the ball anytime."
"It was all about pitching tonight," added UNC head coach Mike Fox. "Just giving up one hit between Riley, Chris (McCue), and Chris Munnelly. We did just enough. We made some big pitches and got out of some jams. We needed it."
"I think we struck out ten and walked a couple of guys but we pitched out of it, got a big double play. It was a good win."
Carolina scratched together its first scoring rally in the bottom of the third, as Mike Zolk singled and an error by App State second baseman Hector Crespo off the bat of Parks Jordan advanced Zolk to third.
Crespo would get his 100th career steal for the Mountaineers in the eighth, but this third inning error would prove costly.
After Chaz Frank was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Landon Lassiter ripped a line drive deep enough into center field to score Zolk and cross over the game's first run.
App State rallied in the top of the fourth as Hovis lost his control a little and walked back-to-back batters, but he managed to get out of the inning on a double play grounder to second baseman Zolk.
The Mountaineers again rallied in the top of the sixth, as Hovis was forced from the game after a walk, and another bases on balls got the tying run to second.
But McCue shut the door in a brilliant sequence of action, striking out three straight Mountaineers to squash the threat.
In the bottom of the sixth the Diamond Heels tallied a manufactured run, as Cody Stubbs walked, stole second, advanced to third on an excellent sacrifice bunt by Michael Russell, and scored on a high chopper by Brian Holberton just past the pitcher's mound.
McCue was again masterful in the seventh, throwing a hitless frame including another strikeout, and then in the eighth he again held the Mountaineers hitless. Though App State got the tying run to third in the eighth, McCue's fifth strikeout ended the frame.
McCue's stellar line was three innings, no hits, two walks, and five strikeouts.
Cody Munnelly came on for the ninth inning and quickly took care of business, striking out Moutaineers cleanup batter Dillon Dobson and left fielder Michael Pierson after walking William Head.
Munnelly got the last out of the game on a flyout to second base by center fielder Jaylin Davis.
"McCue did a very nice job coming in with the guy on first (in the sixth inning, striking out the side), and Muns also did a good job throwing strikes. That's the key coming out of the bullpen," said Hovis.
The Diamond Heels played yet another error-free game behind its pitchers, allowing UNC to get the win despite stranding eight base runners and producing just four hits.
"We've got one of the best defenses in the nation. It's fun pitching. You know they're going to make the plays behind you, so you've just got to throw strikes," said Hovis about the UNC gloves.
Coach Fox credits Hovis, who improved to 3-2 with the win, for coming in with a mature attitude and getting cozy with Munnelly, a proven veteran who is a fine role model for the freshman hurler.
"He's gotten better and better, and he works," said Fox of Hovis.
"Reilly Hovis latched onto Chris Munnelly, like a smart freshman should. He should look at somebody on the team and go, 'Okay. That guy has been pretty successful. So I think I'm going to follow him,' which we ask them to do. Find somebody on the team that you think has got good character, good work ethic and a good attitude and all that. And I really think that's what Reilly did, to his credit."
"You need a mentor when you come in here, and it can't always be one of us (coaches). Sometimes, most of the time, it has to be a teammate," Fox continued. "Reilly was smart enough to figure that part out and work, and then he got a chance to pitch and he gained some confidence, and then here you go."
"He's going to be really good. Right now he's just a little bit too inconsistent. But that's being young. But he's going to be good for us. I like him."
Carolina returns to action Thursday night at The Bosh against Virginia needing just one win over the three-game set to clinch the ACC Coastal Division title and the No. 1 seed in next week's ACC Tournament in Durham.
Thursday's gametime is scheduled for 6:00 pm.