“He’s such a good player, and he’s handled not playing a little bit really well,” said sophomore Brian Miller of Datres. “He’s ready when his name is called, and he got in there and had some big at-bats late in the game.
“I was confident he was going to find a way to get a hit or walk like he did.”
But early on, it didn’t seem like the Tar Heels would need Datres’ late-game heroics to secure a victory over the Seahawks.
North Carolina (27-15) jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning, and starting pitcher Jason Morgan pitched two hitless innings to open the game. But he ran into trouble in the third.
UNC-Wilmington posted a six-run inning of its own to tie the game at 6 and knocked Morgan out of the contest after only 2 1/3 innings of work.
With his team locked in a back-and-forth affair, Fox knew he’d need to turn to Datres at some point. So he ensured the first-year was prepared.
“He’s one of our toughest players in my opinion — both mentally and physically,” Fox said. “So I called him (into the locker room) and said, ‘Hey, listen, I want you to know you’re not in there because I think you’re better right now off the bench for us.'”
The Tar Heels scored two total runs between the fourth and fifth innings to seize a two-run edge before the Seahawks tied the game at 8 in the bottom of the seventh. An inning later, UNC-Wilmington took its first lead of the game.
Then, Datres made his first plate appearance of the night.
With runners on first and third base with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, the first-year replaced Zack Gahagan in the lineup. And on the fourth pitch of his at-bat, Datres sliced the ball into right field to tie the game at 9.
About 30 minutes later, Datres stepped into the batter’s box with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, looking to seal the win for UNC.
And after watching Seahawk reliever Jared Gesell struggle with his command, Datres remained calm despite the high-stakes scenario.
“With the bases loaded, all of the pressure is on (the pitcher). He’s got to throw it in the zone …” Datres said. “I saw he was struggling to find the zone, so I went up there with a patient approach and made him have to bring one to me.”
But Datres never saw that pitch. After drawing a full count, he watched Gesell’s pitch sail wide of the strike zone, resulting in a walk that scored Miller from third base to win the game.
As Miller rushed toward home plate, Datres jogged to first base before touching the bag and turning around to see his teammates rushing toward him from the dugout to celebrate.
Datres has started 30 games this season. But just like six of UNC’s past nine contests, he opened Tuesday’s game on the bench.
Fox talked to Datres about this recent trend before the Tar Heels took the field on Tuesday, and the infielder applied their discussion to his approach off the bench against the Seahawks.
“I’ve been starting a couple of times, sitting the bench a couple of times,” Datres said. “And (Fox) just said, ‘Stay patient, stay with the process and everything is going to be alright.’ So I’ve been just trying to go along with what he said.
“I waited for my time.”
And for Datres and the Tar Heels, the waiting paid off.