The North Carolina baseball team took the field for the 61st time this season on Saturday. The warm summer sun and home crowd at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill provided a relaxed setting for a college baseball game.
But this game wasn’t like the first 60, and whatever comfort the setting provided for the team was overshadowed by the stakes. With one loss already in the double elimination bracket of the NCAA Regional, one more loss would force UNC to witness the end of its season.
Still, the Tar Heels still entered the game confidently.
“When I woke up this morning, I was like, ‘Today doesn’t feel like the last day I’m going to play,’” senior Tyler Lynn said.
His gut feeling was right. North Carolina beat Michigan, 8-1, in its second game of the NCAA Tournament and thus extended its season by one more day. This Tar Heel team didn’t let the pressure impact it.
“We were all still loose,” Lynn said. “We come in, the music is blaring. Adam (Pate)’s acting like an idiot and the locker room’s loose. We played two ball before the game just like it’s any other day. And that’s just the way this team is.”
The turning point of the ball game was the fifth inning. Before then, North Carolina had not scored a run and negotiated just one hit and three walks. Then, the bats came alive. The Tar Heels scored eight runs on seven hits and six walks, allowing for a stress-free final few frames.
First-year starting pitcher Gianluca Dalatri was excellent Saturday, going seven innings while striking out six and allowing only one earned run off a home run in the second inning.
“From the beginning, I just felt like I had command of all four pitches for strikes and that really enabled me to be able to work (the counts) and keep them off balance,” Dalatri said. “For all seven I feel like I did a decent job of just keeping them off balance and it worked out for us.”
Dalatri also did a good job as an innings eater, going deep into the ballgame with 121 pitches to not tax the Tar Heel bullpen for the rest of the weekend. Head coach Mike Fox said Tyler Baum was likely to start the early game on Sunday, but that he had all pitchers but two — Bukauskas and Dalatri, the last two starters — available if needed.
North Carolina will have to play the loser between Davidson and Florida Gulf Coast at 1 p.m. on Sunday. It's the first of the three games the Tar Heels must win over two days to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals — a tough task for even a great ball club. But Fox is hopeful his team can put together another complete performance with their backs against the wall.
“I just want to keep coaching these kids,” Fox said. “They are a fun group to be around and they are going to fight until the very end.”
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