Brian Holberton provides versatility in UNC baseball's lineup

Brian Holberton isn’t just a utility man.

Yes, he’s plugged whatever hole the No. 1 North Carolina baseball team has needed to fill this season — including playing catcher in an extra-inning game in which the Tar Heels burned their top two players at the position.

But a utility man doesn’t just jump into the most important spots in the batting order.

“He’s been the key to our team,” coach Mike Fox said. “That kid’ll play anywhere, hit anywhere in the lineup. He’s having a sensational year.”

Twice this year, important Tar Heel bats have gone down — first Chaz Frank, UNC’s leadoff hitter, with a hamstring injury, then Skye Bolt, the cleanup hitter, with a broken foot.

And twice this year, Holberton has stepped up. The junior outfielder batted leadoff in every game Frank missed, and he’s hitting cleanup now that Bolt’s out of the lineup.

“I’ve done it my whole life, really — high school, middle school — I’ve been in every position,” Holberton said. “Here, it’s second nature, I guess.”

In UNC’s sweep of Duke this weekend, Holberton went 5-for-12, homered twice and drove in six runs.

The first home run, a solo shot to dead center field in the series opener, was the Tar Heels’ first run-scoring hit of the weekend. They had scored three runs earlier in the game on a hit batsman, a wild pitch and a passed ball.

The second, a three-run homer to right, was the game-winning hit of the series finale. It came in the first inning, but the three runs were more than enough for UNC in a 10-1 blowout.

Wherever he bats, Holberton produces. In his six games as the leadoff man, he went 13-for-27, batting nearly .500. And as the four-hitter, he’s batted .345 in seven games so far.

More importantly, he’s adapted to the responsibilities of the different positions. A leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base and score runs, and at the top of the order, Holberton scored 12 times — an average of twice per game.

Frank said Holberton has been instrumental in keeping the team’s 14-game winning streak alive.

“I’ve been leading off for this team for three years, and I’ve never missed a game until this year,” Frank said. “And for Holbie to step in and be that catalyst for the team was huge for our stretch that we’ve had of late.”

A cleanup hitter has to hit for power and drive runs in, and Holberton has homered three times and driven in nine runs in his seven games in the four-hole.

“When I was hitting leadoff, I would hit singles,” Holberton said. “And I’m taking the same swing, and I’m in the four-hole, and now I’m hitting doubles. So it may be something mental, and I don’t know about it, but it’s just crazy.”

Frank and Bolt both have big shoes to fill. Frank sparks the North Carolina offense, and Bolt was having an all-star season before he got hurt.

Luckily for UNC, Holberton has some big feet.

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