The North Carolina baseball team put together its second straight win on Wednesday, defeating unranked VCU 8-3. Following a 1-2 weekend at the Cambria College Classic in Minnesota, head coach Mike Fox applauded his team’s effort to perform after coming off such a trying stretch.
“I thought today was one of our most impressive wins of the season,” Fox said. “Coming off the weekend, we had a really long day on Sunday of traveling. I didn’t know what to expect today, but I thought it was one of our most complete games.”
The Tar Heels struggled to pull away in the opening innings. After North Carolina scored two runs in the first, the team wouldn't score again until five innings later.
Heading into the sixth, UNC held a slight 2-1 lead over the Rams before Jake Holtzapple stepped up to the plate. With a man on base, the redshirt junior crushed one out to left-center field and over the wall for a two-run homer.
After rounding third, Holtzapple was met by a cleared dugout of Tar Heels excitedly waiting for him at home plate.
Prior to this game, Holtzapple only had four at-bats and one hit this season. His sixth-inning home run to get his team trending in the right direction was the perfect way to cap off this breakout performance that saw him go 2-for-3.
Despite not getting much playing time so far this season, Holtzapple was ready to take on the challenge.
“Coach talks about it all the time,” Holtzapple said. “Guys coming off the bench just being ready for their opportunity. Today I was fortunate enough to be in the starting lineup, so I just tried to be ready for it, take advantage of that.”
Holtzapple was redshirted in his 2017 season and missed almost all of last year due to injury. His teammates were thrilled to see him finally get the chance to show what he’s got.
“You’re talking about a kid who’s been through injuries, redshirted a bunch and now is finally getting his opportunity and playing well,” sophomore Aaron Sabato said. “When you see that ball go over the wall you just get filled with emotion, filled with joy.”
Fox has had success in the past with bringing in players off the bench to provide offensive sparks, including senior Dallas Tessar who provided invaluable production in last year’s postseason. He says everyone on the team is more than capable, they just have to be given a chance.
“It’s not a surprise he did what he did," Fox said. "It’s a little surprising he pulled it up into the net, but you never know unless you give a kid a chance. It was so good to see. He’s had such a journey here medically, having to miss a whole semester last year. It’s a credit to him for sticking with it. That was the highlight of the day for our team today.”
After four scoreless innings for the Tar Heels, Holtzapple’s homer seemed to breathe life into North Carolina’s offense. Two batters later, Sabato contributed a two-run homer of his own, extending UNC’s lead to 6-1.
“He’s just one of those guys when you watch him play and you hear him talk about finally getting that opportunity, being in the starting lineup and taking advantage – that’s something you feed off of," Sabato said.
The Tar Heels will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Friday in their first ACC matchup of the year. With unexpected contributors stepping up left and right, North Carolina seems primed and ready to take on conference play.
“It definitely has helped us prepare. When you get into the ACC, it’s not easy. Every game is close,” Sabato said. “You’re going to lose on a walk-off, you’re going to win on a walk-off. You’re going to kill teams, you’re going to get killed. It’s good we could go through that stuff early. It’s stuff that prepares you."
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