Love-ly Effort Keeps North Carolina Alive
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — On Saturday, North Carolina reliever Austin Love struggled, helping fuel Auburn’s late-inning comeback. On Sunday, with the Tar Heels' season on the line, Love was helping keep North Carolina alive.
After allowing two runs in one inning of relief in the Game 1 of the best-of-three series, Love was dominant in the second game, allowing only two hits while tying a career high six strikeouts to finish the game. After control troubles on Saturday, Love threw 41 strikes and only nine balls on Sunday, helping North Carolina hold on to a 2-0 win to even the series.
“Everybody was really still positive and picking us up, " Love said. "They just told me I had to come back knowing I still had the good stuff in there, we just need to see it tomorrow."
Love threw a first-pitch strike to 12 of the 15 batters he faced. He didn’t allow a baserunner until his third inning of work, and even then the runner was quickly erased by a double play. A single from Auburn's Stephen Williams meant the Tigers brought the tying run to the plate, but Love picked up a strikeout and a groundout to end the game.
North Carolina starter Austin Bergner allowed four hits in 4.1 scoreless innings before handing the ball over to Love. The Tar Heels got all the runs they needed—and all the runs they would get—in the top of the first inning.
North Carolina leadoff hitter Michael Busch started things off with a hard-hit single into right field and DH Aaron Sabato worked his first walk of the day, before Tar Heels third baseman Ike Freeman followed with a one out, two-RBI single. After North Carolina's quick start, the scoreboard filled up with zeros the rest of the way, as both teams matched one another in an intense pitchers' duel.
“This team has been one of the easiest that I’ve been fortunate enough to coach, they have a maturity and bond about them," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "They’re all individually such high-character and team-oriented kids.. I think that’s why we’re still fighting and still playing."
Auburn redshirt sophomore Bailey Horn, who had been battling a stomach illness the day before, got the starting nod for the Tigers, but after three innings of work he was replaced by junior Ryan Watson. Watson and Auburn closer Elliot Anderson combined to hold the Tar Heels at bay for the remainder of the game, forcing fly outs and getting timely strikeouts, but it wasn't enough to match the performance of Bergner and Love.
On Monday, the two teams will play for one ticket to Omaha and the College World Series.
“(For) 280 teams, their seasons are completed, so we look forward to coming out here tomorrow and getting to play this game again,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said.