After missing nearly three months due to elbow numbness, North Carolina sophomore pitcher Gianluca Dalatri returned to the mound on Saturday, pitching four shutout innings in the Tar Heels' 6-1 victory over Virginia Tech.
Dalatri got off to a strong start by mowing through the Hokies’ top of the order on only eight pitches, all for strikes, including two three-pitch strikeouts.
“It felt pretty good,” Dalatri said. “I didn’t realize they were all strikes until afterwards. I was just trying to go out there, pound the zone, and make them beat me at my best stuff. That’s something that I don’t really think I can truly say that I had all year, the two outings that I threw.”
Dalatri pitched three more solid innings, allowing only two hits and one walk while holding Virginia Tech scoreless. After the fourth inning, sophomore Tyler Baum relieved Dalatri with UNC holding a 3-0 lead.
“I had two, three innings left in me today, but coach Fox and all the other coaches, especially coach Woodard, they pride themselves on keeping us healthy,” Dalatri said. “Not to discredit Virginia Tech in any way, but this game didn’t mean as much to us as the ACC tournament and all the rest of them that are coming up.”
Josh Hiatt followed Baum, pitching 3.2 innings and allowing only one baserunner. Senior Brett Daniels entered in the ninth inning, striking out the side while walking one batter.
Behind stellar pitching, the North Carolina batters got hot — tallying six runs on seven hits. UNC took an early 3-0 lead in the third inning, adding on to its one run lead, when it loaded the bases. Brandon Riley walked home a run, and Ike Freeman brought home Michael Busch on a sacrifice fly.
With a three run lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, sophomore Ashton McGee sunk Virginia Tech’s chances with a two-run single through the left side — the final scores of the game.
Daniels sealed the victory in the ninth, securing the top seed in the ACC tournament for UNC.
“I’m just happy for them,” head coach Mike Fox said. “They’ve been a tough bunch and have played hard all year. A little bit of a tough start for us, and I’m just happy for them more than anything else.”
North Carolina will now turn its attention to the ACC Tournament, looking to advance deep into play after losing to Florida State in the Championship game in 2017. The Tar Heels chances will be bolstered now that Dalatri is back in the rotation. Dalatri, a preseason all-american, will bring much needed support to an inconsistent rotation.
“It was just nice to get back out there, just giving them a chance to win,” Dalatri said. “Especially my first two outings this year, I didn’t really do the best job, so it was nice to finally be healthy just be content.”
Even though Dalatri will be important for UNC in postseason play, he gave all of the credit to his teammates for the team’s accomplishments.
“That’s all them," he said. "I don’t have a win this season, so for me to say that I did anything would be kind of selfish.”
Fox was proud of what Dalatri has done, however. He credited Dalatri for his work ethic and mindset.
“It’s been a long three months for him,” Fox said. “You gotta give him a lot of credit. He stayed with it, and he takes care of himself like no other player I’ve been around. He told me through the whole thing that his goal was to get back in to pitch and help his teammates and help us win this year, so we just let that process play out and he felt good.”
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