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The Daily Tar Heel

After series loss to Georgia Tech, UNC baseball looks to turn a corner with its pitching

UNC freshman infielder and right-handed pitcher Justin Szestowicki (14) watching his team play from the sideline during a baseball game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, April 16, 2022, at Boshamer Stadium. UNC won 10-5.

If you like home runs and high scoring baseball, the Diamond Heels’ series against Georgia Tech was for you.

Unless, you’re a North Carolina fan. In that case, there might’ve been too many home runs for your liking.

The Tar Heels lost this weekend’s series to the Yellow Jackets 2-1, scoring at least eight runs in each game with a total of eight homers. Hitting wasn’t their problem — it was the pitching.

UNC gave up 28 total earned runs and 10 homers to the opponent and made numerous mistakes from the mound.

These pitching woes are not an anomaly. The Tar Heels gave up 15 runs for the second time this month in the first game of the Georgia Tech series. The first time was just a couple weeks ago in a 15-2 loss against South Carolina.

Like that game and others that followed, UNC used a significant portion of its bullpen in the series against the Yellow Jackets, looking for someone to come in and be a difference maker.

That hasn’t been a recipe for success, however, as UNC is 9-13 overall and 3-10 in the ACC when rolling out five or more pitchers.

In games like this past weekend where head coach Scott Forbes made a call to the bullpen in almost every inning, the need for “one guy” is urgent.

“I think if we have had one guy come in, wrap through OK, but just was that good — even if it was three innings, I think we win the game,” Forbes said, referring to the game one loss.

Only two pitchers stayed for three or more innings all weekend — both in the 10-5 second game win.

The starter of that game, junior pitcher Brandon Schaeffer, went five innings and found success through the Tar Heel defense — allowing them to take the pressure off his performance.

“(The defense) did really well (Saturday),” Schaeffer said. “When you have the defense behind us, we can rely on that and just make pitches in the zone and kind of not fishing around guys so much.”

But for the most part, the weekend’s pitching struggles were not a matter of trusting the defense. It was just bad execution.

There were plenty of crucial mistakes from the mound that cost the Tar Heels some wins this series, especially at the end of the final game.

With UNC down 7-6 in the ninth inning, senior pitcher Caden O’Brien had a rough stretch of hitting two batters with a pitch and giving up a grand slam, creating a deficit the team could not overcome.

“I think that’s a sign of lack of toughness,” Forbes said. “That’s where you have to say as a pitcher, ‘OK, I’m getting this guy out.'"

With a four-series losing streak and an 8-10 conference record, a lack of solid and consistent pitching is not ideal for the Diamond Heels when it comes to ACC Championship and College World Series implications.

The Tar Heels are now in "go mode" with only four ACC series left on the schedule.

With batting seeming to be a strength, the pitchers must find the confidence to put it all together — whether that confidence comes from within themselves, Forbes or the support of their teammates.

“I know what it’s like to struggle," junior shortstop Danny Serretti said. "I’ve struggled plenty throughout my career, and at the end of the day, it just comes down to you ... It’s tough, but at the end of the day, I know the work (the pitchers) put in and how good these guys can be.

"So, I still have faith in them, and I do think they’re gonna turn around.”

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