The Tar Heels extinguished The Flames, 3-1, advancing their record to 24-18, a far cry from their 31-2 record when they defeated Liberty around this time last April.
The stakes were decidedly different Wednesday. There’s no wiggle room for the Tar Heels now. They can’t afford to drop games like Tuesday’s bout with the Pirates, and they couldn’t afford to drop a second straight game on Wednesday.
“I just think we get to these midweek games, and we just think we can relax a little bit, and we can’t,” Dunbar said after Wednesday’s win.
“That’s not this type of team. Maybe last year, maybe. But this year we can’t. We can’t do that. We just have to be consistent with our level of play.”
That sense of import was apparent early Wednesday night — especially in UNC’s coaching decisions.
When second baseman Wood Myers missed a sign in his first at-bat, causing shortsop Michael Russell to be picked off at first, Myers was immediately pulled for sophomore Alex Raburn.
When freshman right-handed starter A.J. Bogucki showed just the tiniest cracks, he was pulled after three innings, giving way to Trayner, Trevor Kelley and, finally, Hovis in relief.
“We needed to use those guys,” coach Mike Fox said. “Because this was a game we needed to win.”
Needed to win.
That phrase, a year ago, when UNC didn’t suffer a single losing streak, was rarely uttered around Boshamer Stadium — certainly not in reference to midweek non-conference games.
“It’s just where we are,” Fox said.
“We have to win. We just have to win. There’s no sense in me sugarcoating.”
The coach has noticed a pattern in his team, a sense of comfort that dissolves in the final innings, when UNC’s back is against the wall, and when — like Tuesday night against ECU — it’s too late to come back.
On Wednesday, UNC got on the board early, scoring in the second inning on an RBI single from Adrian Chacon. As far as Fox sees it, UNC can’t waste time.
“We don’t have that luxury,” he said. “That has to start with the first pitch now with every game we play. It’s just the position that we’re in. We gotta understand that.”
Based on Tuesday night’s bus ride, the Tar Heels understand.