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Tuesday March 21st

Ashton McGee, Brandon Martorano break out of slumps in UNC series sweep over Liberty

<p>The UNC baseball team hosted the 2017 Chapel Hill Regional last summer, its first time hosting NCAA Tournament games since 2013.</p>
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The UNC baseball team hosted the 2017 Chapel Hill Regional last summer, its first time hosting NCAA Tournament games since 2013.

After being held to six runs in three games last weekend, the North Carolina baseball team needed to get more production from the bottom of its lineup.

Those hitters came through as the No. 19 Tar Heels scored 36 runs in a series sweep against Liberty this weekend.

Sophomores Ashton McGee and Brandon Martorano broke out of their early season slumps, both playing a central role in UNC’s three wins over the Flames.

McGee entered the season coming off a first-year campaign in which he won the 2017 ACC Freshman of the Year with a .327 batting average, seven home runs and 46 RBIs. So far, he hasn’t been able to pick up where he left off. He entered the series against Liberty batting .130 with only three hits through seven games.

“It’s been his approach,” head coach Mike Fox said. “He’s been pulling off the ball. He’s not been tracking the ball. He’s getting pitched away a lot. He kind of knew that, and when other teams keep pitching you away and keep throwing you changeups, you got to adjust. And he was just a little bit slow to adjust.”

McGee looked like a different player against the Flames. On Friday, he recorded two hits and two walks, including an RBI double that came on an 0-2 count. McGee also came around to score two runs in a 17-2 victory.

After an 0-for-3 game on Saturday, he put together another big game on Sunday. He had a three-hit, three-RBI game, including another two-run double off the wall. McGee led his team in both hits and RBIs in a 13-8 win.

The sophomore outfielder changed his game plan at the plate against Liberty, and it paid dividends.

“(I'm) trying to be more aggressive earlier in the count,” McGee said about his breakout game. “In the video of games before, I was taking a lot of good pitches to swing at, and I just changed my approach to swing at strikes earlier in the count.”

Fox noticed the the difference in McGee’s performance, and he hinted that the sophomore is showing signs of returning to last season’s form.

“Slow start for him,” Fox said. “But he hit a ball to the left-center gap today which he hadn’t done, which he did a lot last year. That tells you he’s staying on the pitch a little bit more. Got a pitch he could get the head of the bat on, and he hit a double down the right field line. It’s more of where he hit the ball. That shows he’s kind of getting back to where he was last year, so we certainly hope so. We need him to get going.”

While the Tar Heels (7-5) are certainly hoping that McGee continues to heat up, Brandon Martorano proved he is the player Fox recruited him to be. 

The New Jersey native had three hits in 44 plate appearances in 2017. He has already tripled that number through ten less at-bats in 2018. In the series against Liberty, Martorano had three hits in ten at-bats while hitting home runs in back to back games.

“Brandon Martorano, he’s obviously been swinging pretty good for us,” Fox said. “B. Mart. had a lot of potential last year, just never got going. Lost his confidence. And I think you’re seeing a confident player, and he’s got a lot of power, which we know.”

Even with Martorano's power surge, including a team-leading four home runs, he insists that he hasn't changed his approach at the plate.

“Sometimes you hit the ball hard, and it doesn’t translate into hits,” Martorano said. “You don’t really try to hit any home runs or hit for power. You just go up there and try to put a good swing on it, and that’s all you can do.”


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