College baseball teams use their best starting pitchers for weekend games against conference opponents, and nonconference matchups in the middle of the week often are high-scoring affairs dominated by the hitters.
But on Tuesday, North Carolina sophomore right-hander Patrick Johnson delivered a midweek masterpiece.
Making just his third start of the season, Johnson no-hit the potent East Carolina offense for 6 1/3 innings -- striking out a career-high 11 batters and combining with four relievers to limit the Pirates to four hits in a 3-1 victory at UNC's Boshamer Stadium.
The 15th-ranked Pirates (25-6) came into the game ranked eighth nationally with a .361 team batting average, but Johnson kept the Bucs off balance until he left after giving up a line-drive single to Devin Harris with one out in the seventh.
"When I threw that pitch [to Harris] ... I threw it right down the middle and he hit it," Johnson said. "I knew it was a base hit."
Johnson, who improved to 2-0, has a fastball that hits 90 mph and throws a slider and occasional changeup. They were all working on Tuesday.
"People have been talking about how good [ECU] can hit, and they have not liked Carolina," Johnson said. "It just gets you pumped up to pitch against them.
"I felt like I could hit my spots in any count."
The fourth-ranked Tar Heels (25-7), didn't muster much offense against East Carolina either, getting just six hits and no earned runs against Patrick Somers, Bailey Daniels and Kevin Brandt. But the Heels took advantage of four ECU errors to score three unearned runs.
A two-out error by Harris in right field in the third opened the door for the first two UNC runs. The Heels made it 3-0 in the seventh after Garrett Gore led off and reached on an error and scored on an RBI single by Kyle Seager.
Johnson threw 121 pitches in what UNC coach Mike Fox called his best performance as a Tar Heel. Johnson had thrown five no-hit innings in a win over Princeton earlier this season, but was even better on Tuesday.
"PJ had showed glimpses of that last year," Fox said. "This was his best game by far as a Tar Heel. We needed every one of those strikeouts.
"He had good life and made good pitches when he needed to."
It got interesting in the ninth inning when East Carolina loaded the bases with no outs on a pair of walks and a single by Austin Homan. Dustin Harrington singled to center field to drive in a run, but pinch-runner Cameron Freeman was caught between second and third for the first out. UNC's Logan Munson then got Trent Whitehead to hit into a game-ending double play.
East Carolina coach Billy Godwin lauded Johnson's effort, but was disappointed in his team's mistakes.
"I thought [Johnson] was outstanding," Godwin said. "Certainly our guys just didn't become bad hitters overnight. He was very effective, had some deception. That's a credit to him.
"I was proud of the way our guys fought back, but we made too many errors, too many mistakes from and error standpoint and baserunning to beat a team like North Carolina at North Carolina. ... It's disappointing. We've just got to do a better job of executing."
It was a tough start to a challenging week for the Pirates, who face No. 3 Rice at home this weekend after a game at rival UNC-Wilmington tonight.
"We won't have long to sit on this one," Godwin said. "If you look at some of the losses we've had this year and how we've bounced back. We've got a veteran group of guys and I think they way they'll come out and approach this is let's start another streak."
The Pirates had won five straight and 15 of their past 16 games coming in to Tuesday's showdown with the Tar Heels. But Johnson cooled off the hot Pirates with a midweek masterpiece.