Senior Jackson Hesterlee stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning. The No. 7 North Carolina baseball team was down, 2-1. There were multiple runners on base and two outs.
For Hesterlee, it was a familiar position.
Last season, Hesterlee came off the bench as a pinch hitter against Georgia Tech with the bases loaded and two outs. The timely hitter came through for the Tar Heels on that day, blasting a grand slam that would send the game to extra innings. Thanks to Hesterlee's clutch hitting, UNC won that game in extras. History repeated itself on Saturday.
The senior pinch hit for first-year right fielder Will Schroeder, who was 0-1 on the day. Hesterlee was down one ball and two stikes in the at-bat, but came through for UNC (2-0) with a triple that snuck down the right field line. The hit scored shortstop Ike Freeman and catcher Brandon Martorano, and paved the way for UNC's 8-3 win over Xavier (0-2).
“I’ve always liked to be in the spotlight, and I’ve always kept my senses about me,” Hesterlee said. “It was just another at-bat.”
Many Tar Heels had a successful first game in the series, but that was not the case for Saturday’s hero. Hesterlee went 0-4 on Friday, prompting head coach Mike Fox to take him out of the starting lineup.
“I knew I didn’t have the best day yesterday, and I knew I had a chance to come off the bench and help my team win,” Hesterlee said. “I was just looking for a good pitch to hit.”
Hesterlee’s one at-bat on the afternoon proved to be more than just another base hit. UNC continued to pepper the ball out of the infield in the team’s remaining two at-bats en route to clinching the series win against Xavier.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Freeman notched his fifth RBI in two games on a single, and junior Ashton McGee hit a sacrifice fly to extend the Tar Heels' lead to three runs.
In the eighth, preseason All-American Michael Busch launched a three-run home run 376 feet to right-center field. Those three runs put the game out of hand and allowed for UNC to get young pitchers experience in the ninth inning.
One of the bright spots for the Tar Heels after two games has been one of those young guys. First-year Aaron Sabato continued to impress after going 2-3 in Friday’s game by showing off his power in his first at-bat Saturday. The first-year, who hit third in UNC’s lineup, blasted a 383-foot home run to center field.
Despite a slow start, the UNC offense powered the team to its 20th consecutive home win, a streak that stretches back to last season.
“It’s always nice to be playing at the Bosh, it’s just familiarity,” Fox said. “Quite honestly, I didn’t think there would be anybody here today.”
The crowd showed up on a cold and rainy day. There were 2,127 in attendance for Friday’s opening day game in warm weather, and 2,017 made it to Boshamer Stadium in the rain on Saturday.
Those fans were treated with an offensive display from the Tar Heels and a bit of heroics from Hesterlee.
“We’ve seen Jackson do that before,” Fox said. “He’s amazing.”
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