Sometimes in a baseball game you’ll face a pitcher who won’t allow a hit, or a defense that won’t allow you to run to first base — or maybe your offense just isn’t firing.
But when the North Carolina baseball team faces those challenges, the Diamond Heels know they have the pitching and the defense to stay afloat. That’s how it was under former head coach Mike Fox, and new head coach Scott Forbes doesn’t plan to change that.
The best way to describe UNC’s home 4-1 win over Elon on Tuesday? Business as usual.
“You look at how we scored tonight, that’s what we always talk about,” Forbes said. "Sometimes, you’re not gonna hit doubles and home runs every single game. We generated those runs with walks, push bunts and a big double from Brett (Centracchio) at the end.”
Still, in the bottom of the fourth inning, UNC needed a spark. Enter sophomore outfielder and junior college transfer Justice Thompson. Getting the offense going with a bunt single to start the action, he was able to advance all the way to third base. Then, a passed ball at home plate saw Thompson reach home — 1-0, Diamond Heels.
“Number one: (Thompson’s) an unbelievable center fielder,” Forbes said. “He saved us a ton of runs. He’s fast, he’s got power. He’s a vital part of our team because he can get on base, and he can make things happen on the bases. He’s gonna hit in the top five of the order.”
Forbes said Thompson’s stolen base in the first inning and bunt in the fourth were big for UNC’s momentum. Perhaps it was the momentum redshirt sophomore outfielder Angel Zarate needed to notch two RBIs in the fourth inning as well. A strong, low hit sent Centracchio and first-year catcher Tomas Frick to home base. 3-0.
But the win came down to UNC’s core: pitching and defense. Sophomore lefty Will Sandy was mostly a Saturday starter in last year's shortened season, and Tuesday was his first start of this year, so he made good on his opportunity: no runs allowed and six strikeouts.
“I felt good out there,” Sandy said. “We picked up a win, which is the goal. The guys were playing good defense behind me, so it was a good game all around.”
Bullpen pitchers Davis Palermo and Nik Pry continued the good pitching. Palermo allowed the lone run between the two, neither walked a batter and both came up with four strikeouts.
Throughout the first four games of the season, UNC kept its starting lineup mostly consistent. Though the team faces ACC play much sooner than it usually would, Forbes said that didn’t affect the lineup. Instead, he chose who he thought would be best to beat Elon.
“(The lineup) can vary, but that’s one that we’ll definitely be continuing to use,” Forbes said. “We got some young players who we think are talented, and you got to stick with them. Baseball’s a long game, and it’s a long season.”
For such a young, deep team, the Diamond Heels’ sense of their identity is very strong. And that identity won’t change just because there’s a new coach. Whether it's Fox or Forbes, it's still UNC.
“We know we’re a tough team," Sandy said. "We’ve got tough guys. We’re gonna fight till the end, no matter what’s going on in the game, no matter what scenario. We’re gonna stick to what we do, and we’re gonna try to win ball games.”
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