The No. 21 North Carolina baseball team is heating up midway through the 2018 season.
After dropping five of their first eight games, the Tar Heels have now improved their record to 22-11 — continuing their hot streak on Tuesday night with a 4-1 victory over Appalachian State to improve to 15-5 in their past 20 games.
“Obviously, we enjoy winning, and we like the way we’ve been playing,” head coach Mike Fox said. “We’ve been doing parts of the game well that we need to at the right time.”
North Carolina got off to a slow start in its win over the Mountaineers, held scoreless through the first four innings on just three hits.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth, sophomore Ashton McGee kickstarted the Tar Heels’ bats with a leadoff triple into the left-center gap. He came home to tie the game after a groundout by Brandon Martorano. The next two batters drew walks to put runners on first and second to set up junior Kyle Datres at the plate.
Datres scorched a double down the left field line, bringing home Cody Roberts and giving UNC a 2-1 lead. The RBI double was his second hit of the game, coming after he already extended his hit streak to 13 games.
“Kyle Datres is exactly the same everyday,” Fox said. “We could play the New York Yankees tomorrow and he’d be the same.”
Datres' double aided UNC reliever Brett Daniels, setting the stage for him to get his fifth win of the season. Earlier in the inning, Daniels, who was brought in for Rodney Hutchison Jr. in the top of the fifth inning, forced two strikeouts to leave runners stranded on second and third.
Appalachian State would not score the rest of the game and the first would be the only scoring scare Daniels had in 2.1 innings of work. He struck out three and allowed just one hit in the win.
He wouldn't have been in the situation to win without the work of Datres.
The Williamsport, Pa., native has been one of the hottest hitters in college baseball this season. He leads all North Carolina batters with a .376 batting average and is second on the team with a .463 on-base percentage. In addition, he entered Tuesday’s game with the third highest batting average and fourth most hits in the ACC.
“I’m seeing the ball well right now and just trying to put together good at-bats,” Datres said. “In the game of baseball, you don’t know what the result is going to be. You’re just trying to go up there and have a good at-bat, hit the ball on the barrel and usually good things will happen.”
With both Datres and the team trending up, the Tar Heels find themselves ranked in the top 25 for the first time since their series sweep against Liberty. UNC also tied Duke for first place in the ACC Coastal Division with its series win against Miami.
North Carolina is in the middle of its ACC season and the schedule will only get tougher from here, but the Tar Heels are playing their best baseball of the year.
“We knew those games we were struggling in at the beginning of the year, playing those close games and coming up shorty, that they were going to help us down the road,” Datres said. “So now that we get in close games, we’ve been there and done that.”