BASEBALL: North Carolina 10, Florida Gulf Coast 1

Tyler Baum's strong day on the mound keeps UNC alive in NCAA Tournament

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North Carolina's Tyler Baum pitches against Florida Gulf Coast in an NCAA regional game on May 4. The Tar Heels won, 10-1.

With his team’s season in the balance, North Carolina baseball head coach Mike Fox once again put the ball in the hands of a first-year and trusted a young pitcher to keep the Tar Heels’ season alive.

It worked against Michigan on Saturday, as Gianluca Dalatri stymied the Wolverines for seven innings.

On Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast, it was Tyler Baum’s time to shine.

He ran out to the mound at the start of the game and made the most of the opportunity. And 5.1 innings later, he exited to a standing ovation from the crowd at Boshamer Stadium in what ended up being a 10-1 win for the Tar Heels.

With the victory, UNC (49-13, 23-7) will once again face Davidson on Sunday evening. Fox announced sophomore Taylor Sugg will start that game on the mound.

But if it wasn’t for Baum, there may not be a game for Sugg to pitch in.

His offense helped for sure — 10 runs will help earn most pitchers a win — but Baum’s stat line was all Fox needed to explain his approval of the right-hander’s outing.

“Five and one third, three hits, one run, one earned run,” Fox read aloud from a printed box score. “Probably four walks too many. I’d liked to have seem him get out of the sixth there, and I probably left him out there one batter too long because I thought he was teetering a little bit in the fifth.”

A highly-rated recruit out of Ocoee, Fla., Baum was being groomed over the course of the season by UNC for situations like this.

His 14 starts and 2.65 ERA before Sunday said as much. But most of those appearances came in non-conference midweek games, which weren’t exactly the most pressure-filled situations.

The same couldn’t be said of Sunday afternoon’s game. The circumstances surrounding the contest would produce feelings of nervousness or fear for many pitchers — had UNC lost against the Eagles, its extremely successful season would’ve ended on a sourly premature note.

But Baum looked more excited than afraid.

Early in the first inning, he was visibly amped up when he quickly got two strikes against FGCU slugger Nick Rivera.

“I didn’t think he would be scared at all, and he didn’t didn’t look scared," Fox said. "And that’s half the battle going out there because it gives you a chance to perform at your ability."

A man of few words in his post-game press conference, Baum explained that he went into Sunday’s start like any other, but even he knew things would be slightly different.

“I just tried to treat like any other game, though and not put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “But obviously it’s a bigger game than the rest of them I’ve pitched in.”

Against a Florida Gulf Coast lineup that scored 10 runs on Friday against Michigan, Baum was economical and effective.

His relatively low pitch count – just 84 pitches – allowed for him to come within two outs of tying his career-high on a day where the UNC bullpen was certainly willing to take whatever type of rest it could get.

The Eagles at times looked too eager at the plate against Baum, often swinging early in counts at pitches that resulted in many fly outs, as Baum was more than willing to pitch to contact.

“We have a great defense,” he said. “I just try to throw the ball over the plate and let our defense work for us.”

That turned out to be a winning recipe, which is all UNC could’ve asked for at this point in the season.

@brennan_doherty

sports@dailytarheel.com

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