On March 26, the North Carolina baseball team, ranked No. 11 and holding a 13-6 record, was set to host a series with a struggling N.C. State team that was recently coming off a five-game losing streak.
Although the Tar Heels had just defeated No. 8 East Carolina, they failed to capitalize on the opportunity to take down their ACC foe. The team lost all three games against the Wolfpack and failed to put up more than three runs in each of the games. Additionally, UNC could not slow down N.C. State's hot hitting, as the pitching staff allowed 23 runs over the series.
However, these struggles were only the beginning of a difficult two-week stretch.
Four days later, UNC faced off against East Carolina again in Greenville. Although UNC reached statistical game-highs on the season in runs, hits, and home runs, the team could not turn its lead into a win and gave up four runs in the eighth to lose, 11-10.
After winning the first game of a series at No. 18 Florida State, North Carolina’s offensive woes were resurrected on Easter weekend, as the Tar Heels lost the next game, 4-2, and were shut out in the series finale, 8-0. Within this time span, the Tar Heels have fallen from the top of the ACC standings, dropped out of national rankings and lost six out of seven games.
Despite the negatives, UNC has shown its perseverance by not giving up. Last Tuesday, in a battle against No. 9 South Carolina in Charlotte, the Tar Heels pulled out an impressive 3-2 win — taking the game in the top of the tenth inning.
In UNC’s first extra-innings game of the season, the night was highlighted by strong performances in all aspects of the game. The Tar Heels had nine hits, including sophomore outfielder Caleb Roberts’ go-ahead RBI single to win the game in the tenth. The bullpen was also dominant, as after South Carolina scored a run in the sixth inning, the relievers shut down the Gamecocks the rest of the way, led by three scoreless innings from junior Caden O'Brien.
The win against South Carolina was reminiscent of the way the team started the year and displayed the type of play North Carolina will need to showcase in the future.
In order to get back on track, UNC will need to find harmony between its offense and pitching. In the losses to N.C. State, East Carolina and Florida State, inconsistent offensive production and pitching caused the team to fall behind or lose comfortable leads throughout games.
However, North Carolina also understands how to dominate games. Under the leadership of new skipper Scott Forbes, the Tar Heels have eight wins against ranked opponents, tied for the most in the country. The Tar Heels' lineup is led by sophomore outfielder Justice Thompson, who leads the team with a .330 batting average, and Roberts, who leads the team with seven home runs and a 1.035 OPS.
Although the Tar Heels have fallen to a 16-13 record, they are still just a few games out of first place in the ACC Coastal Division. To reclaim its position at the top of the standings, UNC needs to rediscover its early-season form, but the path to victory is not as clear as it was before.
The team will travel to face top-25 teams in No. 17 Pittsburgh, No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 15 Georgia Tech, but only boasts a 4-7 record on the road.
With the season past the halfway point, North Carolina’s destiny is controlled by its players and coaches. They know how it feels to be the best of the best, just as they know how it feels to fall from grace. It’s now time for them to show the nation which one of those teams they truly are.
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