Current Date: Sun, 09 Mar 2014 06:13:09 -0400
North Carolina catcher Jacob Stallings has taken a beating behind the plate in the past few weeks, catching ball after ball from UNC’s loaded and ever-cycling arsenal of pitchers.
That tiring style of play wasn’t helped on Sunday in UNC’s series-clinching walk-off win, when Stallings took a tackle at home plate in the top of the first inning from a Demon Deacon runner attempting to score.
But Stallings did what he’s done so well lately and stepped up to overcome adversity.
The Brentwood, Tenn. native held onto the ball for dear life and ended the inning and Wake Forest’s scoring threat on that play, in yet another moment of his notable leadership of late.
“He’s a warrior,” coach Mike Fox said. “We wouldn’t be where we were if that boy had not come back to school. … Jacob’s a winner. He’s just a winner.”
Stallings certainly got the job done offensively this weekend, as he notched a career-high three doubles in Saturday’s 7-3 win. His three doubles were just one shy of the school record for the most in a single game.
“I felt like I had really good timing (Saturday),” Stallings said. “(Sunday) I didn’t feel my best — my body was a little worn down — but those are the days you have to just grind it out. But I feel good. I feel like I’m getting my foot down and I have really good timing and am seeing the ball well.”
His timing within the season itself couldn’t be better, either.
With UNC’s offensive leader Colin Moran recovering for three more weeks after breaking his own hand, Stallings has stepped up in more ways than one for UNC, starting with his leadership.
“He’s our spiritual leader. He’s the emotional leader of our team,” Fox said. “He’s most definitely the leader on our team who everybody looks for when things maybe aren’t going well.”
He’s especially important as a leader for the pitching staff.
Pitching coach Scott Forbes has so much faith in his catcher of the last four years that he now has a sign that means, “Hey Jake, this one’s on you,” Fox said.
“It’s never been a question who our leader is,” closer Michael Morin said. “He’s a great defensive catcher, and he knows what to do. Coach Forbes trusts him, too — he doesn’t call all the pitches. He trusts Jake. And I trust Jake.”
And the offense has been trusting him just as much lately, too.
Although Stallings is the first to admit that Moran is irreplaceable, UNC’s catcher stepped into Moran’s usual spot in the three-hole Saturday and Sunday and hit 5-for-10 for four doubles in the three-game series.
“It always helps and validates when your leader is producing on the field,” Fox said. “That gives him even more credibility — not that Jacob needs any more credibility — but it certainly helps in that regard.”
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