Bolt returns in midweek game for Tar Heels

The No. 4 Tar Heels beat the Mountaineers 2-0 Tuesday on the night of Skye Bolt's return to action

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The No. 4 North Carolina baseball team welcomed switch-hitting outfielder Skye Bolt back from injury Tuesday in its 2-0 win against Appalachian State.

But it was the defensive pitching that secured the win for the Tar Heels, not the return of one of UNC’s most effective offensive players to the batting lineup.

“It was all about pitching tonight and just us giving up one hit,” coach Mike Fox said. “Between Reilly (Hovis), Chris (McCue) and Chris Munnelly, we did just enough.

“(We) made some big pitches and got out of a couple jams. We needed it.”

Freshman right-hander Hovis claimed his second win of the season with the mid-week win and senior right-hander Munnelly got the save.

Fox attributes the freshman’s growth this season to the mentor role Munnelly has played since Hovis got to UNC.

“(Hovis) has gotten better and better, and he works,” Fox said. “He got that figured out, he got a chance to pitch and he gained some confidence, and here you go.”

For the starter, the win was about being able to help North Carolina move on from its first series loss before the last conference series of the season against Virginia and the conference tournament next week.

“I was just glad to get us back on track,” Hovis said. “We have one of the best defenses in the nation so it’s fun pitching in front of them to have the confidence to be able to throw strikes.”

In five innings, Hovis struck out three batters before McCue came out of the bullpen to blank five. Munnelly would then close the game striking out two in the ninth inning.

Although Appalachian State’s southpaw Jeffrey Springs held the Tar Heel offense to four hits in the pitchers’ duel, Fox doesn’t discredit the return of one of the season’s best hitters. He recognized that the return from injury will have more impact over time.

“It’s the first live pitching (Bolt)‘s seen since Virginia Tech. It’s a lot different taking batting practice and hitting live, so it’s going to take him some more time,” Fox said. “His learning curve is pretty short though, so he’ll get all the way back in it pretty quickly.”

The night was a return to the familiar on the field for Bolt, and the time off, he said, gave him opportunity to shake bad habits.

“It feels good to be back. I’m a little bit slower, (I) feel comfortable at the plate though and that’s pretty much how I imagined my first game coming back,” Bolt said. “That was a good stepping stone.

“I like the time off, all habits are out the window. You revert back to what you were taught and what feels natural to you.”

Against Appalachian State, Bolt was able to get the natural feel of the game back quickly when the first Mountaineer batter sent the ball straight into Bolt’s territory.

“Once that first ball’s hit to you, you kinda go back to instinct,” he said. “It was kind of a sigh of relief, good to get it off my shoulders, good to get the ball moving and get the game going, get me in the game and get me involved real quick and it put me back to the basics.”

But as the outfielder bolts back to the freshness of early-season basics, UNC seeks to claim the outright ACC Coastal Division title with a win over Virginia in its last regular-season home series starting Thursday.

“Every game from here on out now is big, but we’re right where we wanna be,” Fox said. “If someone would’ve told me we can go into the last division series and have the chance to be the Coastal Division champion and the No. 1 seed in the (ACC) tournament with just one win, I’d say ‘We’ll take it.’”

Contact the sports editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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