South Carolina wouldn't go down easy, though. The Gamecocks opened the second inning with three straight hits — including a two-run home run from leading hitter L.T. Tolbert — to cut the deficit in half. But the Tar Heels answered with two more runs in the bottom of the inning, courtesy of a Logan Warmoth double down the left-field line.
After first-year righty Tyler Baum ceded the mound to junior Jason Morgan in the top of the third inning, South Carolina sophomore Jacob Olson — tied with fellow sophomore Tolbert for the team lead in hits — stopped the bleeding with an RBI single. But six more North Carolina runs in the fourth inning pushed its lead to 12-3 and sucked the life from South Carolina.
The final five frames were a mere formality. The Gamecocks scratched across a run in the fifth before UNC answered with a run in the sixth and seven more in the seventh en route to a convincing 20-5 win. It wasn't as complete as last season's 15-0 drubbing of South Carolina, but the Tar Heels continued their recent offensive explosion to secure their ninth straight win.
Who stood out?
There's something about Charlotte that brings the best out of Kyle Datres.
As a first-year last season, the third baseman recorded the first triple of his career in the ninth inning of UNC's 15-0 win over South Carolina. And on Tuesday, he knocked in his first triple of the season to clear the bases — putting UNC on the scoreboard and pushing his team-leading RBI total to 30.
He coaxed a bases-loaded walk in the fourth inning to fuel the onslaught, but his first-inning heroics all but sealed the deal.
When was it decided?
For South Carolina, it was over after the first at-bat.
After threatening in the top of the first frame, the Gamecocks put UNC's leadoff hitter on the base paths after two pitches. Logan Warmoth singled on the next pitch, and Ashton McGee worked a full count before slashing a single to left field.
Then, Kyle Datres went to work.
The sophomore third baseman crushed the fifth pitch of the at-bat to left center to clear the bases and give UNC a 3-0 advantage before South Carolina could recover. The Gamecocks never got within a run of the Tar Heels, who tacked on 17 more after the Datres triple.
It was a sequence reminiscent of last season, when a fourth-inning double from Eli Sutherland brought home three Tar Heel runners in the first edition of these teams' Charlotte series. But North Carolina wasted no time this year, taking a four-run lead in the first inning to dispel any threat of a South Carolina vengeance game.
And the fourth and seventh innings — which saw a combined 13 runs from UNC — ensured there would be no comeback.
Why does it matter?
Almost exactly a year ago, the Tar Heels walloped then-No. 7 South Carolina, 15-0, in this same ballpark to push their season record to 24-9. It looked like a turning point for then-No. 13 North Carolina — but the team dropped 12 of its final 22 games and missed the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
Tuesday's win puts UNC three games ahead of its 2016 pace with 22 games to go. Nothing is certain with this team — the past two seasons are evidence enough — but after scoring 68 combined runs in their previous four games, the Tar Heels look like a lock for their first tournament appearance since 2014.
Where do they play next?
North Carolina returns to Boshamer Stadium for a three-game home series with rival N.C. State, starting on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
The Wolfpack hammered UNC in the 2016 regular-season finale before falling to eventual champion Coastal Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. But N.C. State has struggled this season, while the Tar Heels are riding a nine-game winning streak — which started two weeks ago with a 7-6 home win over Coastal Carolina.