Sometimes, all it takes is one game – or one bat for that matter – for a team to get their ‘mojo’ back.
That game was the UNC baseball team’s 10-6 over Virginia Tech Sunday afternoon. With the win, the Diamond Heels avoided the series sweep against the Hokies, and snapped a 5-game losing skid to conference opponents.
And, the bat? Eric Grintz’s aluminum slugger.
Grintz isn’t an every-day guy for the Diamond Heels – that is, he hasn't quite yet broken the batting order in the early half of the season. But, after dropping its first two games against the visiting Hokies 12-1 and 7-3, head coach Scott Forbes knew something needed to change heading into the series finale.
“I got on them pretty good after Friday’s game,” he said. “That was rare for me, but I thought there were plays where the effort wasn’t to our standard.”
But that lack of effort brought forth hitting and fielding changes for North Carolina.
Grintz came in for sophomore catcher Tomas Frick, who then replaced sophomore power-hitter Alberto Osuna at the designated hitter spot. Osuna has arguably the most pop to his swing on the roster. But he also had a cold stand that saw the sophomore have just one multi-hit game in two weeks, nudged Forbes to give him a day off.
And for two innings, that decision seemed to backfire. After a scoreless first inning, the Hokies broke open that game in the second inning with their seventh and eighth home runs of the weekend, putting the Diamond Heels in an early 3-0 hole.
The early punch appeared to foreshadow yet another home loss, and a second straight weekend without an ACC victory. However, those in the Carolina Blue dugout heeded to the words of their head coach.
“They all collectively really listened and realized, ‘we trust coach,’” Forbes said.
That realization and trust resulted in the Diamond Heels capturing their first lead of the game and series, 6-4, but it felt like the scoreboard didn't tell the true story.
The Hokies had out-hit North Carolina up to that point and their fans – and players – seemed more vocal and confident in their offensive play and ability to put up runs.
“In college baseball, a couple runs is nothing, because everyone has the ability to hit the ball out,” said sophomore infielder Mac Horvath.
So, when the Hokies chipped into the lead two innings later, UNC needed a spark — Grintz himself.
Coming into the contest against Virginia Tech, the sophomore catcher had just three hits on the season, all of which were singles. But, he didn’t let those hitting stats do all the talking.
Despite getting down in the count early, with two strikes and zero balls, he took a meaty swing at the ensuing pitcher.
The sound of aluminum rang throughout Boshamer Stadium, and gasps of those in attendance filled the air. It was a sound of a no-doubter, one that even with your eyes closed, you knew was heading for the parking lot.
Grintz’s first-career home run skyed over the left-field scoreboard and out of sight, likely skipping around the forest adjacent to Ehringhaus Residence Hall.
“It was an exciting moment for me,” he said. “(For my career) that moment is up there.”
One inning later, Horvath delivered the team’s second homer of the day, this time driving in multiple runs with his two-run blast. His left-field rocket extended North Carolina’s lead four and served as the final nail in the Hokies’ coffin.
The Diamond Heels were back.
With the win, North Carolina shattered its ACC drought, a stretch Forbes knew would eventually come – as losing is inevitable, but it’s how a team responds to it that can define a season.
“I don’t know when (failure) is going to happen, but it's going to happen,” Forbes said. “But, if it happens at the right time, you can really take it and make you better.”
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