Pitchers excel in series sweep

Coach Mike Fox always says that pitching and defense are the name of the game.

With the No. 21 North Carolina baseball team featuring a much younger lineup than last year’s team, that statement is especially true.

After winning all three games against North Florida over the weekend, the defense might still be a work in progress, but the pitching — especially the starting pitching — is lights out.

This weekend it began with a 7.2 inning shutout from sophomore Trent Thornton, who recently moved into the team’s Friday starter role.

“(Coach Scott) Forbes came up to me early on Monday and was like, ‘You know you’re throwing your bullpen Tuesday,’” Thornton said. “It took me a second and I was like, ‘Wait a minute coach, does that mean I’m pitching Friday?’ and he goes, ‘Yeah you’ve got the Friday role’ and that’s pretty much all that was said.”

“But you know in my mind that’s where I’ve wanted to be ever since I got here.”

Thornton held the Ospreys to just five hits during his outing, and also struck out six batters while walking none.

On Saturday, it was junior Benton Moss’ turn to start for the Tar Heels. He followed up Thornton’s performance with the first complete game of his career and led UNC to a 5-1 win to clinch the series.

Moss allowed the lone run in the first inning of the game and said that it shows how much he’s grown over the years that he was able to settle down and breeze through the remaining eight innings.

“My freshman year I feel like I would’ve been devastated,” he said. “It’s the first inning and, ‘Here I go again giving up another run.’ Two years later I feel like I’m much more emotionally calm.”

“I told myself when I came out of the first inning, ‘You know what, I’ve got to do my job,’ and my job is to throw strikes, put the ball where I want to, and my team was going to feed off of that.”

Fox said Moss’ success came because of the command of his breaking ball and the composure that he has developed.

“I don’t know if Benton could’ve done that a year or two ago,” he said. “I’ll remember this one for a number of reasons, but one is that kid’s so special on what kind of pitcher, what kind of human being he is.”

While hitters are still trying to shake off the rust and defenders are figuring out how to adjust to new positions or the level of college baseball, Moss and Thornton — who can both be relied on to start on Fridays — are already in midseason form.

“I feel like Trent and I can both pitch Fridays, and I think we’ve proven that,” Moss said. “To be honest with you, it gives me a lot of encouragement to see that we have back-to-back guys who can easily take each other’s place in the Friday role.”

“It motivates both of us but it’s all friendly, and we’re a team. I mean, he’s my roommate for goodness sakes.”

Those roommates are calmly carrying a North Carolina baseball team that’s still trying to figure everything out. Thornton is leading the team with 22 strikeouts and a 1.33 ERA, while Moss has thrown 21.2 innings and allowed opposing hitters just a .205 batting average.

In addition to that, freshman Zac Gallen has done a solid job as the team’s No. 3 Sunday starter, striking out 15 batters and walking just three in 19.1 innings of work.

“The freshmen are finally getting those jitters out of the way,” Thornton said. “And hopefully we’re gonna start to hit the ball a little bit better, but everything comes with time.”

Until that time comes, UNC can take solace in the fact that their pitching is already here.

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