Criswell, who entered the game with two outs in the fourth inning, threw 4.1 scoreless innings in relief, striking out four while allowing just two hits.
HIs approach was simple: throw strikes and let his fielders field.
“I just try to get ahead with strikes and let the defense work and get outs,” Criswell said.
His outing was the longest of his young Tar Heel career, which began in February. Before joining the UNC program, the 6-foot-6 right-hander pitched for two seasons at Southern Union State Community College in Alabama.
While he hasn’t been around for long, Criswell has been relied on frequently out of the bullpen. His appearance against the Bulldogs was his ninth of the season, tied with Brett Daniels for the team high.
Initially, Fox was worried about how the righty would fare against Gardner-Webb. Upon entering the game, Criswell struggled to command his fastball but eventually settled down.
“We were thinking we weren’t going to be able to stay with him long, and then he went out the (fourth) inning I guess and looked like a different guy,” Fox said.
Criswell’s performance against Gardner-Webb brought his ERA down to 2.30 for the season, and he’s only surrendered one earned run in his last 11 innings pitched.
Overall, the junior said his transition to UNC (9-8, 1-2 ACC) and the D-I level has been pretty good but he’s definitely noticed an increase in the competition level.
“(Hitters) can just cover all parts of the zone, and you’ve just got to really focus in on your pitch and try to hit your spot with each pitch,” he said.
At times, Criswell has shown that he can be effective thanks to his fastball and his slider, which he said he can throw when either ahead or behind in a count. Fox agrees, but thinks the next step for Criswell is becoming more consistent.
“One outing, he won’t have his breaking ball and then the next day he won’t have that good fastball command,” Fox said. “Today, you saw both of them there for about two innings. When he’s like that, he’s pretty good.”
In addition to Criswell, first-year Caden O’Brien threw 1.1 innings in relief, as he replaced first-year Joey Lancellotti, who gave up the game’s only run in the second inning on a solo home run. Go-to reliever Josh Hiatt also appeared in the ninth and faced the minimum three batters, extending his streak of scoreless outings to eight.
The bullpen’s good day followed an impressive weekend in Louisville. In three games against the Cardinals, UNC relievers pitched 12 innings and were responsible for just one earned run.
“We’ve pitched relatively well, and we’ve played good defense,” Fox said. “So we’re putting ourselves in a position to win pitching and defense wise.”
Third baseman Kyle Datres said the Tar Heels’ hitting woes become even more frustrating on a day like Wednesday when the team’s pitchers handled their business.
“We have the arms that can keep us in any game," he said, "so we’re just gonna have to start pushing some runs across."
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