Although the North Carolina baseball team dropped the final game of its series finale against East Carolina on Sunday, many players on the team believe the program is heading back in the right direction.
Before losing 5-0 in the finale, the Tar Heels took two out of three games against the No. 25 Pirates, 7-4 and 2-0. But without the mindset and ability to pick each other up after a bad play, North Carolina might not have seen a win at all.
Redshirt junior outfielder Angel Zarate excelled in the series, as he continued his on-base streak to 30 games dating back to last season. On a night when the offense was quiet, he was one of four Tar Heels to get a hit on Sunday.
The veteran is one of the role models for his team and tries to motivate his teammates, especially through Sunday's loss — North Carolina's first of the season.
“If everybody has that winning mindset, confidence and mentality, everything else doesn’t matter," Zarate said. "If you compete like you're the best guy out there, you will feel and play like it."
Head coach Scott Forbes noticed that mentality carry over to the rest of the team.
Forbes saw it in the bottom of the eighth inning, when senior pitcher Gage Gillian gave up a home run after surrendering a walk and double in the previous frame.
With his team trailing big late, Gillian had no choice but to put his mistakes behind him and focus on the next batter. He promptly struck him out, and the threat was minimized.
“If you give other teams extra outs, they are going to make you pay for it," Forbes said. "Even after the jack from ECU, typical Gage brought us back to the dugout. It doesn’t happen often with Gage — he is hard to square up — but if it gets past him, he’s a worker, he's a leader and we’re happy to have him.”
Gillian has been a huge part of the Tar Heels pitching success this season, helping the Tar Heels jump out to a 6-1 record.
Sophomore designated hitter Alberto Osuna, who transferred from Walters State Community College, is another big advocate for a collaborative, strong team mentality, especially during his first season as a Tar Heel.
“Even the bench guys, they could play anywhere, but they chose Carolina," Osuna said. "They are always ready, cheering everyone on and keeping their spirits high."
Osuna noticed the strong sense of community that the Tar Heel baseball fans show right away — and he believes that the energy in Boshamer Stadium during the first two games of the series was important for the team to build on moving forward.
In the series opener on Friday, junior pitcher Brandon Schaeffer allowed only four hits and one run through five innings. His performance helped the team pick up the win.
But what drove him was being the first pitcher to have the ball in his hands in the first game, knowing the responsibility he had to the team.
“All of my game plan is staying in the zone," Schaeffer said. "It is important for me to have two things — trust in my stuff and trust in my fielders. Without the combination of both and the guys getting the job done behind me, we won’t have the game."
Forbes and his team know that it is not easy to score runs and everything must be earned, especially against a team as talented as East Carolina.
But with a renewed mindset after their first loss of the season, the Tar Heels can look to jump back in the win column on Tuesday against Longwood.
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