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Monday October 18th

'Playing for our lives': UNC baseball sweeps Louisville in final home series of season

UNC redshirt sophomore outfielder Angel Zarate (40) hits the ball at the game against Louisville on Sunday May 16th, 2021 at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels won 10-5.
Buy Photos UNC redshirt sophomore outfielder Angel Zarate (40) hits the ball at the game against Louisville on Sunday May 16th, 2021 at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels won 10-5.

The North Carolina baseball team reached the lowest of lows after a home loss to UNC-Greensboro on Tuesday, dipping below .500 for a losing record of 21-22.

But on Sunday afternoon, the team reached the highest of highs as it swept No. 15 Louisville in its final weekend series at Boshamer Stadium this season.

After winning the first two games 5-1 and 5-0, the Tar Heels got the job done in the series finale for the team’s first sweep of an ACC opponent since March 14.

“It’s no secret we’re kind of playing for our lives. We’re treating every game like it's a playoff game at this point,” graduate first baseman Brett Centracchio said. “Usually, if you win a series on Saturday, you get a little satisfied, but not with this series at all. There was no celebration really yesterday, it was just, ‘Get ready for tomorrow and take care of business.’”

UNC’s offense got off to a quick start in the bottom of the first, scoring seemingly every which way against the Cardinals’ struggling starting pitcher, Carter Lohman. A single from redshirt sophomore Angel Zarate was followed by a hit by pitch and two consecutive walks to bring in the first run of the game. A fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly later, the Tar Heels were up three runs on Louisville with just one hit.

The offense continued to pile on in the second inning, as Centracchio ripped a double to right field and was brought in on an RBI single from sophomore Justice Thompson. First-year Colby Wilkerson scored on a wild pitch, and sophomore Caleb Roberts reached home on an RBI single from first-year Mac Horvath, giving UNC starter Shawn Rapp some much-appreciated run support.

“Just having the confidence going out there and knowing that the offense is firing, even if (the opponent is) stringing some hits together and scoring some runs, I know the offense is going to have my back,” Rapp said.

Rapp delivered a quality outing, allowing just one run and striking across four innings pitched. The Cardinals’ bats flared up after his exit from the game, but the Tar Heels kept pace to secure the 10-5 victory.

UNC's pitching staff was at the top of its game all weekend. Redshirt sophomore Austin Love threw a complete game in Friday’s victory, and on Saturday, UNC achieved its first shutout of the season.

“I want to credit our pitchers, especially because they threw up zeros right after we scored, and that was definitely the difference-maker all weekend,” Centracchio said.

The Tar Heels now just have a midweek game against UNC-Wilmington and an away series against Georgia Tech remaining in the regular season.

With the sweep of Louisville, the Tar Heels have climbed to fourth in the ACC Coastal standings and boast the eighth-best winning percentage in conference play. But they can’t let up if they are to make the cut for the 12-team pool in the conference tournament.

Head coach Scott Forbes thinks the Tar Heels can be a threat in the uber-competitive ACC as they start to heat up late into the season.

“The most dangerous teams in my coaching career are the ones, this time of year, that are playing together, but also they know that they can’t take a day off,” Forbes said. “They got some talent and all of a sudden they get hot, and those teams can be really dangerous. And that’s what we hope to be.”

UNC won crucial series earlier this season, but the team has struggled to convert those victories into real momentum shifts. After clinching the rivalry series against Duke in April, the Tar Heels lost three of their next four games, and the series win against Miami was followed with four straight losses.

This time, they cannot afford to falter.

@LucasThomae

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com




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