Overcoming a cold start to the series on Saturday, the North Carolina baseball team racked up 10 runs to beat No. 17 Pittsburgh and avoid the sweep on Sunday.
The first game of the series, also the first of a doubleheader on Saturday, saw UNC struggle mightily to score. The team recorded nine hits in the game, but it translated to just two runs. North Carolina put runs on the board early in the afternoon, scoring in the second and third innings. Beyond the third, however, the team was unable to cut into the lead any further, already trailing 3-2 at that point and eventually losing 6-2.
In the next game, roughly 45 minutes from the end of the first, the Tar Heels had similar struggles. UNC struck first, scoring two runs in the third inning. Despite getting out to a 2-0 lead, its scores were matched by Pittsburgh immediately, as the Panthers scored three runs in the same inning to go up 3-2. Both teams went scoreless for the remainder of the game, causing the Tar Heels to drop a second consecutive game.
Though UNC lost the series, the team had the opportunity to avoid a sweep with the series finale on Sunday, which is what head coach Scott Forbes’ team was able to do.
“To lose a doubleheader on the road against one of the better teams in this league and to find a way to salvage a game just showed the toughness that we have,” Forbes said. “When you go on the road in this league, you want to win the series. But if you can’t, you want to leave without being swept.”
The game looked much different for the Tar Heels at the onset, as the team got on the board in the first inning. Not only that, but North Carolina jumped out to a 5-0 lead with a couple of home runs and hits leading to scores.
“The times when we just stick to our routine and don’t try to do too much are the times that we have the most success,” said senior outfielder Dallas Tessar. “We just have to buy into our routine and what we’re trying to do.”
Pittsburgh got its first run after a sacrifice fly, but then brought the lead to one with a three-run homer. The Panthers later tied the game in the fifth inning, evening the score at 5-5.
“When we have those big innings when we put up five runs and we allow them to put up some runs as a response, those are deal-breakers,” Tessar said. “That’s what we’ve got to get a little bit better at. Being able to put up those runs early and being able to get right back in the dugout.”
For the remainder of the game, UNC began to resemble the team that defeated Duke in its previous series. North Carolina scored five unanswered runs throughout the top of the sixth and seventh innings.
But again, the Panthers were able to answer the scoring spurt of the Tar Heels. Pitt scored three runs in the seventh inning and one in the ninth to make the score 10-9. North Carolina held strong, however, and clinched the win on the final play.
“That was a hard-fought, gritty win for our guys,” Forbes said. “I told them after the game, I took my hat off and said, ‘This is why I don’t have any hair anymore.’”
Despite the loss on the series, the victory in the finale is big for a young North Carolina team. With Pittsburgh holding a top-25 ranking, it was up to the more experienced players on the team to guide them to a win.
“(We) don’t have a lot of guys who have played in the ACC this year,” Tessar said. “A lot of young guys. You gotta lead by example and it can’t just be words. It’s gotta be actions. I take full responsibility for making sure that my words are followed by my actions.”