If the No. 22 North Carolina baseball team can do one thing well, it’s pitch the ball.
This seemed to be the case in its series against Dallas Baptist, at least. Despite losing two of three games against the Patriots, the one constant for UNC throughout the weekend was its pitching staff, as the Tar Heels threw a total of 31 strikeouts in its three games against DBU.
UNC opened the series on Saturday with a doubleheader. Junior Joey Lancellotti started game one for the Tar Heels for the second series in a row and threw seven strikeouts in the seven innings he pitched, setting career-highs in both areas. The starter also improved his record to 2-0 on the season in a 9-0 victory.
In 96 pitches thrown against the Patriots, Lancellotti allowed just four hits and no runs. He coupled an impressive pitching performance with an RBI and a run as a hitter.
"My big thing is ‘Don’t let one side of the ball affect the other one,'" Lancellotti said. "If you’re confident on both sides, it’s gonna boost you up. Being in a good mental state for 18 innings is huge."
He was not alone, as the team put on an offensive clinic in the dominant win; outfielder Angel Zarate and first baseman Aaron Sabato combined for four hits and four RBIs. But unfortunately for the Tar Heels, this would prove to be the only game in the series in which North Carolina delivered a strong offensive performance throughout nine innings.
The second game of the doubleheader did not go UNC's way, as the team stranded six batters on base in a 6-3 defeat. North Carolina threw nine strikeouts as a team — Will Sandy and Kyle Mott struck out four batters apiece — but Sandy gave up a two-run home run in the fourth inning, and the Tar Heels would never regain the lead.
“We have to play defense,” head coach Mike Fox said. “I think we’re gonna be able to pitch, but we’ve got to make plays. You still win with pitching and defense.”
The final game of the series saw North Carolina return to form on the mound. Sophomore Connor Ollio started the game and recorded five strikeouts against the 15 batters he faced. Though the Tar Heels allowed two runs in the first inning, Ollio held the Patriots scoreless after that.
In the fourth inning Ollio was replaced by Austin Love, who managed to immediately throw two strikeouts. The redshirt sophomore finished the game with nine strikeouts, and did not give up a run until a DBU solo shot in the ninth inning.
Similar to game two of the series, however, the Tar Heels could not capture any momentum offensively. The team failed to even record a hit for the first seven innings of the game until Lancellotti hit a single in the bottom of the eighth.
“I was coming in knowing I had to keep them in that range, two-nothing,” Love said. “Hopefully our team would get a few runs up there, which I know we’re capable of doing. We just didn’t have the bats today.”
The 3-0 loss gave the Patriots the series win in Chapel Hill. While the pitching was not enough to overcome DBU, it will prove crucial for UNC the rest of the season. In the Tar Heels' six wins this season, they've allowed just nine total runs. If North Carolina wants to get back to the College World Series, it will have to rely on contributions from on the mound.
"Pitching is going to be the key to our season," Fox said. "With the arms in the ACC, this series is going to help us get ready for our league."
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