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Max Alba shines in his first start for UNC baseball against NC A&T

<p>UNC first-year pitcher Max Alba (28) pitches the ball in the game against North Carolina A&amp;T on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 in Boshamer Stadium. UNC beat NC A&amp;T 8-0.</p>
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UNC first-year pitcher Max Alba (28) pitches the ball in the game against North Carolina A&T on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 in Boshamer Stadium. UNC beat NC A&T 8-0.

After a long 2019 season, one North Carolina pitcher finally got to shine.

Redshirt first-year Max Alba got his first start for the Tar Heels on Tuesday in their 8-0 win over North Carolina A&T after recovering from Tommy John surgery last season. 

“It’s been a day I’ve been looking forward to for years now,” Alba said. “Heels got the win, too. So it was a good day.”

As the No. 1 right-handed pitching recruit and the fifth-ranked high school player in the state of Wisconsin, Alba was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 39th round of the 2018 MLB Draft. And with the North Carolina pitching staff combining for more than 30 strikeouts in its last series against Dallas Baptist, there was certainly a high standard for Alba to live up to in his first game on the mound.

He gave up a five-pitch walk to the first batter of the game, but induced a double play and a groundout to end the inning. Alba seemed to gain even more of a rhythm in the second inning, forcing a pop fly to centerfield and throwing two strikeouts. 

“Obviously a lot of nerves early in the outing,” Alba said. “Trusting myself and knowing I was good enough to get back in the zone was really all it was.”

Before redshirt junior Chris Joyner took over the pitching duties in the top of the sixth inning, Alba had six strikeouts and allowed just two hits. 

“To finally be able to go out on the mound at (Boshamer Stadium) and be able to see the field from a different perspective with fans at the stadium,” Alba said, “it was everything it was made up to be.”

Head coach Mike Fox knew of Alba’s potential before the season began, and Alba delivered with a solid performance.

“You’re going to see how good Max Alba is over the course of the year,” Fox said. “We needed that arm last year.”

Though Alba’s pitching held the Aggies without a run for the game’s first five innings, the Tar Heels initially struggled to capitalize on the offensive end.

After Angel Zarate hit an RBI double to left-center field to score Dylan Harris in the first inning, the Tar Heels went scoreless for the next three innings. 

The team showed plenty of life later in the game, cumulating 11 hits. In the fifth inning, Danny Serretti scored on a Tyler Kehoe single. In the sixth inning, Harris and Zarate both scored on errors to extend the UNC lead to 4-0. Serretti scored another run after tagging up on a pop fly.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Harris hit a triple that scored Mikey Madej. Harris then proceeded to steal home after a wild pitch.

“With my speed, I’m always looking to take the next bag,” Harris said.

It was a home run by Tyler Causey that sealed the 8-0 victory, but it was Alba’s pitching that gave UNC the opportunity to rout the Aggies. Now 1-0 as a starter, the rookie will try to take this experience and grow as the season progresses.

“It was a little bit of a slow start,” Fox said. “Fortunately we’re keeping ourselves in the game pitching-wise.”


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