When North Carolina and Florida State get together on the diamond, there is a good chance you'll see a close, hard-fought game. One-run games just seem to have a way of happening.
And so it went Friday night at Boshamer Stadium, with fifth-ranked FSU scoring two runs each in the eighth and ninth innings to win 4-3 over the No. 24 Tar Heels in the opener of a three-game ACC series.
"You might routinely say we were lucky." Florida State coach Mike Martin said. "There’s no two ways about it. We were very lucky tonight. I know exactly how they feel because we had a five-run lead in the ninth inning (and lost to Virginia 9-8). So I know how they feel."
Friday night's nail-biter was the 14th time in their past 27 meetings that North Carolina and Florida State have played a game settled by a run. Florida State holds a decided edge in those meeting. They won both one-run games at Tallahassee last season against the Heels, who went on to make a trip to their fourth straight College World Series. And the Noles have gone 11-3 in those 14 one-run contests.
"They have got the best of those," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "I like playing [FSU]. There is no mouth. We just play the game. We have a mutual respect for each other. There have been some close games, we’ve got to start winning our share of them"
The Tar Heels had a golden opportunity to win the opener, but left too many runners on base and failed to capitalize on a sizzling start by junior right-hander Matt Harvey, who pitched seven shutout innings and match his season high with 11 strikeouts.
"He was outstanding tonight," Fox said. "After the first two walks [in the first inning], he settled in. I hate that one went to waste."
Martin also was impressed with the hard-throwing right-hander, who owned the outside corner Friday night. Mixing in a slider and curve with his low- to mid-90s fastball, Harvey was in command after walking two in the first inning. He allowed only two hits and two more walks the rest of the way.
"You might say he deserved to win," Martin said. "And that’s the silly thing about this game. We’ve got a freshman comes in and pitches one inning and gets the win. It’s the greatest game in the world."
The Noles (14-3, 2-2 ACC) rallied against the Tar Heels' bullpen, which Fox described as a work in progress.
Jimmy Messer came on in the eighth and was charged with two runs, one earned, and Greg Holt pitched an inning and took the loss. The Noles scored the tying run on a one-out double by Jayce Boyd in the ninth. Justin Gonzalez scored from first, but would have been out at the plate if UNC catcher Jacob Stallings had held on to the relay throw. After the bases were loaded on a walk and hit batter, freshman Michael Morin came on.
His first pitch sailed to the backstop and Boyd scored the go-ahead run.
"We’re playing a team that has accomplished more in the last four years than any team in the nation," Martin said. "That’s a very good baseball team over there and we just happened to get some breaks tonight."
For Fox, it was a difficult loss but one that can be an example of how tough the ACC is. After having veteran teams for four straight years in his unprecedented string of four straight CWS appearances, Fox is breaking in more young players that usual this season.
The Heels (14-5, 1-3 ACC) are still very talented, but may take some lumps until the youngsters get a little experience.
"I like our team." Fox said. "I like our good young players. They keep playing hard. Our young guys saw how hard it is to win in this league. They
saw the thing you can’t do. This will be a good lesson for our young guys."
And another one-run game between to two of college baseball's perrennial powers.