First-year skipper Scott Forbes put not only one big win under his belt this weekend, but swept his entire first series as the new head coach for UNC baseball against James Madison.
After playing only 19 out of their 56 games scheduled in the 2020 season, the Diamond Heels were hungry to get back in action this weekend. With no fans, a new head coach and a deep roster, the team faced an entirely new ball game this weekend in a quiet Boshamer Stadium.
“It was great to be out there with all my teammates,” redshirt sophomore outfielder Angel Zarate said. “Even though there’s no fans, we still are happy to be out there and very thankful just to be able to play baseball again.”
UNC baseball’s roster has some added depth this season, with many players granted COVID-19 redshirts. In addition, the team has welcomed 14 new faces to its roster this year.
Right-handed pitcher Max Carlson and infielder Mac Horvath were two of the standouts this weekend wearing Carolina Blue for the first time in college games.
As the starting pitcher on the second day of the series, Carlson pitched 6.2 innings with only three hits, three runs and one walk. Although Horvath committed two errors on defense in the first two games, his clutch run in the fifth inning on day three secured the sweep for the Diamond Heels.
Sophomore outfielder Justice Thompson, a transfer from Northwest Florida, also made his UNC debut this weekend. In the second game of the series, Thompson went 4-5 with two runs and three RBIs. He attributed his consistency to Forbes’ training, saying that the games felt just like another day at practice.
With a combined 20 years of experience with the team before becoming head skipper, Forbes’ head coaching transition has been smooth thus far. His players grant him the same respect as they did former head coach Mike Fox, who made an appearance in the stands this weekend to cheer on his team.
“He’s a player’s coach, so he trusts all of us,” redshirt first-year pitcher Max Alba said.
This weekend, the Tar Heels’ outstanding offense earned a total of 18 runs, led by sophomore outfielder Caleb Roberts, who finished the series 5-for-11 with two home runs and eight RBIs.
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Austin Love was the starting pitcher on day one and set the defensive tone for the weekend. Love earned ACC Pitcher of the Week with his six-inning performance that included nine strikeouts — his 2020 strikeout season-high — while allowing two walks and no hits.
The games got progressively closer as the weekend went on.
The first game was a blowout, with the Tar Heels coming out on top 8-1. The second was closer, but North Carolina eventually pulled ahead for a 7-4 win. The final game was a low-scoring pitcher's duel, with UNC just inching forward in the fifth inning for a 3-2 win.
“Sweeps are hard to get. If you haven’t been in a really close game, or haven’t had to come from behind or hold a lead, you haven’t done it,” Forbes said. “You would rather do it before you get into league play.”
A normal season would see UNC play around 10 games prior to its ACC schedule. This year, the young team will have only played this three-game series and Tuesday’s game against Elon before facing the Virginia Cavaliers on Friday.
“It’s definitely a quick turnaround, but I think with the group of guys we have, we’re going to be able to play with an edge,” Alba said. “I think we’re going to be ready for ACC play.”