Freshman pitcher Gallen excels in debut

As he pulled his navy North Carolina jersey over his shoulders and delicately placed his hat on top of his head, freshman Zac Gallen paused for a moment to take it all in.

It was the New Jersey pitcher’s childhood dream, and after years of waiting, the day had finally come. Gallen was slated to compete for the first time as a Tar Heel Monday afternoon in a scrimmage against the Ontario Blue Jays, one of Canada’s top amateur baseball programs. North Carolina later took the win 11-4.

“I committed (to UNC) October of my senior year — the first week of October,” he said.

“I’ve wanted to come here since I was 11 so this has been my front runner the whole time.”

He finished getting dressed, began to prepare for the upcoming game and then asked pitching coach Scott Forbes a simple question — a question he thought he knew the answer to.

“‘Coach, am I coming out of the pen?’” he asked.

“No,” Forbes responded. “You got the start.”

A rush of adrenaline overcame an emotional Gallen, and with that he headed out to the mound for his debut as a collegiate pitcher.

Against the Blue Jays, Gallen tossed for five innings, allowing five hits and just a single unearned run. He notched four strikeouts as he utilized his fastball, slider and changeup.

“All the pitches felt good today,” he said. “Coach didn’t call any curveballs, but everything else felt pretty good.”

Sophomore catcher Korey Dunbar, who caught for Gallen for the first time Monday said he and the freshman are still getting to know each other, but that catching for him was natural and comfortable.

“It’ll get easier and easier when I get to know him even more and how to kind of control him,” Dunbar said.

“(I’m) kind of being a psychologist back there as a catcher. It’ll be a challenge but I’m up for it and I want him to be the best. I’m going to try to get him there — that’s my job.”

Coach Mike Fox was equally impressed with Gallen, one of six pitchers on the mound for the Tar Heels Monday, and said that as his more experienced pitchers rested Wednesday to prepare for Scout Day today Gallen showcased his strengths.

“Zac’s had some good starts for us and he’s a strike thrower, so he seemed to be the logical choice,” Fox said.

“I think we were at 75 to 80 pitches with him and we were hoping he could throw five innings with those 75 and 80 pitches.”

He did, prompting Fox to praise his consistency.

“Other than the two back-to-back walks, Zac’s a strike thrower and those guys always — they always — get in the mix when they throw strikes,” he said.

“He can hold runners, field his position and he’s got three above average pitches. He gives us a chance because he doesn’t walk people.

“We like Zac.”

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