GREENVILLE, N.C. — Coming into Tuesday night's game against No. 8 East Carolina following a sweep at the hands of N.C. State, the No. 21 North Carolina baseball team was looking for a way to change its momentum.
For a moment, it looked liked the Tar Heels had.
By the end of the first inning, things couldn't have looked better for UNC, already up four runs and well on its way to another dominant win over their ranked in-state rival.
Even when the Pirates managed to come back and tie the score in the fourth inning, a two-run homer in the sixth from left fielder Angel Zarate proved that North Carolina's bats wouldn't be shaken by shoddy work from the bullpen. By the end of the seventh, UNC had its four-run lead back in hand, and just needed its platoon of pitchers to close out the game.
That's when East Carolina mounted a furious comeback, hitting a pair of two-run homers in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game and finishing it out with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth, after the Tar Heels failed to retake the lead, to finish the game with an 11-10 victory.
"I was proud of the fight our guys showed on the road,” head coach Scott Forbes said. "Punches were thrown back and forth. I thought we jumped on them early. I thought our guys were ready to play, I thought they had the right response to losing that home series to N.C. State and against a good East Carolina team.
"We just couldn’t hold them off, and we just didn’t get it done on the bump.”
Like the series against N.C. State, the game was lost on pitching. Eleven runs is simply too many to give up and win a game against a ranked opponent. Of the seven pitchers North Carolina cycled through on Tuesday, Shawn Rapp was the only one to pitch at least a full inning and not give up a single run.
"You know, we were in the predicament we were in and had to use guys earlier than we wanted to just because our starters didn't give us any any length against N.C. State," Forbes said.
Unlike the Wolfpack series though, the Tar Heels actually had enough power behind their bats to do some damage, taking the early lead and registering a season-high in runs, hits and home runs.
"I think we did a really good job today, just having competitive at-bats and putting pressure on their defense and their pitchers, and we didn't get to do that this past weekend against N.C. State," right fielder Caleb Roberts said.
Despite the performance of Roberts — who tied for a team-high with three hits, matching a season-high, and knocked three RBIs along with a home run and two drawn walks — and second baseman Johnny Castagnozzi, who had a career-high three hits as well, the offense sputtered late in the game when the Pirates mounted their comeback.
With the score tied in the top of the ninth, UNC only managed to get one man on base before the inning finished, opening the door for ECU's late-game heroics.
Now, the Tar Heels will need to find a way to recapture the same energy they came out with heading into their road series against No. 18 Florida State.
"I've said earlier that I think this team's got toughness," Forbes said. "Obviously, we've lost four in a row. And they've been tough losses. But it didn't surprise me that they would come ready to play. I mean, that's kind of group we have and they're not going to quit, they're going to keep playing. They're going to keep working hard."
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