On opening weekend, the North Carolina baseball team completed a sweep of Xavier and most of the team came out of the series with impressive stat lines. However, junior Ashton McGee did not.
McGee struggled, finishing with just one hit on the weekend in nine plate appearances. After the series, the right fielder was moved down to the last spot in the lineup for No. 7 UNC’s 2-1 win against North Carolina A&T Tuesday.
It was a familiar position for McGee, who hit towards the bottom of the lineup at times last season.
“We stuck him down there in the nine-hole," head coach Mike Fox said. "And he is a pretty good nine-hole hitter."
Against the Musketeers, McGee had multiple opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. Each time, he made solid contact, but the ball was hit directly to a fielder.
“That's baseball, hitting it right at people, you’ve just got to clear your head and go out there,” McGee said. “Each at bat is a different at bat.”
Tuesday brought new opportunity.
In the bottom of the seventh inning against the Aggies, McGee stepped up to the plate with runners on base with a chance to avenge those woes from the weekend. The Tar Heels trailed, 1-0, and up to that point, only had two hits.
McGee laced the first pitch he saw over the right fielder’s head for a bases-loaded, two-out double that brought in two runs that would end up winning the game for the Tar Heels (4-0).
“It felt good,” McGee said. “I was just going up there trying to have a quality at bat and I put a good swing on it.”
Prior to the eventful seventh inning, N.C. A&T’s starting pitcher, Ethan Chavis, kept the Tar Heels at bay for the second year in a row. Chavis allowed just one hit through his six innings of work. In last season’s matchup on March 13, he also threw six innings and allowed just one earned run.
“He did the same thing to us last year,” Fox said. “He’s good, and when he’s getting the strike zone that he’s getting, he’s tough to hit.”
While Chavis was shutting the UNC bats down, the Aggies (3-1) threatened multiple times — but North Carolina allowed just one run, which came in the fourth inning.
The absence of Chavis on the mound was immediately felt in the seventh inning leading up to McGee’s game-winning double. The Aggies' new pitcher, Gianni Smith, gave up a single and walk to start the seventh inning.
His replacement, Tim Luth, retired two straight batters before McGee came up. Then Luth loaded the bases by allowing a walk.
That gave McGee and the Tar Heels the perfect opportunity for their break through. McGee got that big hit and UNC finally put a crooked number on the scoreboard.
“I think he went up there with the bases loaded looking to do some damage on the first pitch, and he got a good one,” Fox said. “That was one of the hardest balls we hit and we needed it.”
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