Rivalry week strikes home for many baseball families in North Carolina. Young kids dream of suiting up and playing for — and against — the top programs in their home state.
For Pinehurst native and No. 11 UNC sophomore relief pitcher Nik Pry, that feeling is no different.
When the No. 8 East Carolina Pirates from Greenville came to Chapel Hill on Tuesday night, those childhood feelings returned on the mound at Boshamer Stadium for the young pitcher who always dreamed of doing it on the big stage.
“I had this game circled on my calendar," Pry said with a grin. "This is one of the biggest games of the year. Where I come from, these are the two powerhouses in the state. My high school coach played at ECU and my high school teammate Seth Caddell is at ECU.”
After sitting patiently in the bullpen and watching his teammate Will Sandy toss 4.2 innings of one-run ball, the time came for Pry to step onto the mound, showcase his talents and guide his Tar Heels to an 8-1 win, his first win of the season as a reliever.
And that's just what he did.
Coming into the inning with two outs and two runners on base, Pry closed the inning out with just one at-bat to keep the Diamond Heels' lead at 3-1.
After that, Pry truly settled in, striking out five Pirates on just 41 pitches before handing the ball off to first-year Connor Ollio in the ninth to close things out. When Pry left, the Diamond Heels held an 8-1 lead — another job well done.
For first-year catcher Tomas Frick, those performances are what he has come to expect from the right-handed Pry, and Tuesday was no different than what he and his teammates have been seeing all season.
“He’s such a competitor and he wants to win," Frick said. “He’s got some crazy eyes and I love it. When that cutter is working, nobody can hit it, and that cutter was working tonight.”
A performance of this caliber on any night would bring a smile to the face of nearly any young pitcher, but to do it against the Pirates was Pry's dream come true. For the sophomore from the Sandhills of North Carolina, it gave him the opportunity to remind his hometown crowd what he was really made of.
“There's a lot of ECU fans where I’m from and a lot of Carolina fans, so this one's a big one," Pry said. “I knew if I got out there, I was just going to let them have it, man, and it feels really good. It feels really, really good.”
These kinds of games don’t come easy, and skipper Scott Forbes knows this all too well, given his lengthy coaching history at UNC before taking the helm this year.
Regardless of how the season is going, the Diamond Heels can never take rivalry games for granted, and that's what made Pry's performance on Tuesday so special — a personal connection and deep passion to beat both a hometown rival and top-10 opponent.
“You can throw the records out when you play East Carolina and N.C. State and local teams," Forbes said. “We know the importance of just being ready to play, because they are going to be good and play at a high level.”
Things are just getting started for the Diamond Heels.
After a big rivalry win over ECU, UNC has solid momentum going into this weekend's series against the Wolfpack. Defeating the Pirates sent the college baseball world a signal — rival or not, ranked or not, the Diamond Heels are ready.