But recently, when the stakes have been highest, like in this past weekend's NCAA regional round in Chapel Hill, it’s the subtler elements of the game where UNC has shined.
“If we pitch and play defense, we’re gonna win,” Fox said. “Most teams are gonna win if they pitch and play defense. It’s been shaky for us, but boy, it’s showed up, the last two days especially.”
While the 16-1 drubbing of Liberty on Saturday showcased five home runs, it also had three double plays, a season high for the team. UNC has had major contributions on the mound as well, from Austin Bergner’s impressive outing on Sunday to a bullpen that combined to allow just two earned runs over 12.1 innings in three regional games.
North Carolina shines in another often unrecognized area: walks. Three different players — Busch, Dylan Harris and Ike Freeman — have drawn more than 50 walks this season, a first in program history.
When the big hits weren’t coming for UNC, it was the team’s ability to draw walks that steadied the offense.
“Anyone can win 16 to one, that’s not very hard to do,” redshirt junior Dallas Tessar said after the 5-2 win over Tennessee to advance to the Super Regional. “To show some toughness and resilience, kind of says a lot about your team.”
It was a walk that put Freeman on first to load the bases in the first inning on Sunday. All three players on base would go on to score, contributing to UNC’s early 4-0 lead. It was walks that put two men on base in the sixth, and a walk that would let Caleb Roberts trot home to push the lead back up to three.
“It’s a unique combination to have the home runs we have … and the number of walks we have,” Fox said. “We take great pride in that.”
Going forward, North Carolina will have to find the right combination of the smart and the spectacular if it wants to find its way back to Omaha for the second year in a row. The Auburn team coming to Chapel Hill, like the Tar Heels, has won its fair share of close games and had its big blowouts.
"You have to win these kind of (close) games to get to the next round, to win a super," Fox said after the Tennessee win. "You've got to win low scoring, close games, because here they come. Because the teams that are left have good arms ... we can score some runs, but you have to win those low scoring ones."
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