Against Georgia Tech, UNC had the same result with a similar offensive explosion. The Tar Heels scored 28 runs in the sweep, but needed an extra-inning comeback to win one of the contests.
Starting pitcher Cooper Criswell had a great outing in that series finale, striking out five batters and allowing just one run over seven innings.
The junior college transfer has seen his role grow steadily since the start of the season. The impressive performance against the Yellow Jackets in just his third start was all head coach Mike Fox needed to see before making him the series opening starter the past three weeks, becoming the third Friday starter for UNC this season.
Sophomore Gianluca Dalatri, who returned to the mound on Saturday and threw four shutout innings, started the season as the staff ace but only made two starts before suffering an elbow injury on Feb. 23 and had not pitched since.
In his extended absence, Tyler Baum inherited the Friday role, but struggled, allowing 21 runs in 39 innings of work.
Criswell has pitched better in the ace role and his emergence as a starter has helped stabilize a rotation that has experienced its fair share of turbulence and struggles this year. Adding Dalatri back into the mix gives UNC three very capable starters — Criswell, Dalatri and Austin Bergner, who is tied for the team lead with six victories.
With the inconsistent starting pitching, the Tar Heel bullpen has often been called upon to clean up the mess, and done so adamantly. Brett Daniels has had an outstanding senior year and boasts a perfect 6-0 record.
First-year Caden O’Brien has blossomed over the long season and his 2.37 earned run average ranks best on the team among qualified players. It doesn’t hurt that closer Josh Hiatt has 17 saves in two seasons at UNC. He’s also one of three pitchers to own an ERA under three.
But strong hitting has led the way for the Tar Heels and carried the team to a 23-7 mark over its last 30 games.
Busch is the driving force behind the offense that averages 6.9 runs a game and scored a league high 210 runs in conference play — but he's had some help.
Third baseman Kyle Datres leads the team with a .344 batting average, a mark that ranks fourth in the ACC.
Shortstop Ike Freeman, who struggled to begin the season, has hit .311 in league games and his 30 RBIs are tied for second among ACC hitters.
And don't forget about center fielder Brandon Riley, who has hit an absurd 22-44 in his last 11 games of the season. His 26 RBIs in conference play rank second on the team, behind Freeman.
UNC is expected to make a deep run in ACC tournament play and could very well do so. And while the hitting should lead the way, it is the starting pitching that should provide fans with the most hope and intrigue.
With the return of Dalatri to go along with Bergner and Criswell, the rotation is the strongest it's been all season.
And so the Tar Heels should approach the ACC Championship with some added swagger as the team closes in on the ultimate goal — a return to the College World Series for the first time since 2013.
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