It’s not often that a college baseball game is interrupted by a dog.
But with two outs in the fifth inning, Remington — a golden retriever that serves as North Carolina’s in-dugout therapy dog — ran out on the field.
That seemingly innocuous moment proved to be a turning point for the Tar Heels’ offense to break through, this breakthrough aided by Michigan pitcher Michael Hendrickson's complete loss of control.
The junior left-hander hit two batters and surrendered two free passes, including a bases-loaded walk, in the fifth frame, allowing the Tar Heels to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish off a two-RBI single from second baseman Ashton McGee.
“(Hendrickson) was smooth sailing, and if I knew (his loss of control) was going to happen, I would’ve warmed up someone sooner,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “But a couple hits, a couple walks, and the rally started.”
North Carolina (48-13 overall, 1-1 postseason) defeated the Wolverines, 8-1, eliminating the Michigan baseball team (42-17, 0-2) from the Chapel Hill Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite surrendering just 8 hits, Wolverine pitchers’ wildness was the culprit behind the lopsided score.
After Hendrickson was pulled in the sixth frame, junior right-hander Ryan Nutof walked another two batters that would score via a Tar Heel double and sacrifice fly. And in the seventh inning, sophomore left-hander William Tribucher gave away another two bases-on-balls and an RBI double, as North Carolina would extend its lead by two runs.
For the contest, Michigan hurlers combined to give away 12 free passes, walking nine and hitting three batters.
“That’s what North Carolina does so well,” Bakich said. “They hold the zone, draw a lot of walks — they have over 300 on the season. They’re a very dangerous club when you put them on base and give them free passes.”
Through four innings, however, Michigan was the better team.
Junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer launched a towering solo homer in the second frame — the team’s second of the regional — to open the scoring. Meanwhile, Hendrickson was effective in forcing soft contact, inducing two double plays to erase early Tar Heel threats.
But while the Wolverines’ pitching became wild, Tar Heel right-hander Luca Dalatri maintained his control deep into Saturday’s ball game, striking out six batters.
Michigan was held hitless after the fifth inning.
“(Dalatri) attacked the zone with the fast ball — he’s a good pitcher,” said senior shortstop Michael Brdar. “Sometimes, the hits don’t fall, but you have to tip your cap to a guy who gave up only one run.”
For a Wolverine squad that showed promise this season, and reached as high as 13th in the national rankings, Michigan’s finish to the season was especially disappointing to Bakich, as his team lost its final four games of the year, and also because the loss marks the end of the careers of the fifth-year coach’s first recruiting class.
“This one stings the most out of the five years our staff has been here because of the kids we have on this team,” Bakich said. “Kids like Michael Brdar and the seniors have made this ride so much fun. They’ve been so consistent all along up until the end.
“You never want it to end when you’re having so much fun.”