The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday June 26th

In absence of head coach, Diamond Heels pull off back-to-back wins in Chapel Hill Regional

Junior outfielder Angel Zarate (40) hits the ball during UNC's NCAA Regional game against VCU at Boshamer Stadium on June 5, 2022. UNC won 19-8.
Buy Photos Junior outfielder Angel Zarate (40) hits the ball during UNC's NCAA Regional game against VCU at Boshamer Stadium on June 5, 2022. UNC won 19-8.

On Sunday at Boshamer Stadium, a jersey reading “Forbes” was strung on a hanger in the North Carolina dugout. 

The man to whom the jersey belongs was nowhere to be found. 

UNC head coach Scott Forbes was ejected after a heated argument with the umpires in North Carolina’s 4-3 loss to VCU on Saturday. On Sunday, due to a subsequent two-game suspension, he sat out both of UNC's games in the NCAA Tournament Chapel Hill Regional.

Despite this, Forbes’ influence, much like the jersey bearing his name, was a constant presence in North Carolina's dugout as the Tar Heels avoided elimination with back-to-back victories against Georgia and VCU.

“The message today, that coach Forbes passed along, it’s really just being in the moment and having an attainable goal,” assistant coach Bryant Gaines said. “(Having) something that’s in front of you that you can achieve.”

The Diamond Heels, following their absent coach’s advice, took each of their games on Sunday in stride. 

Following a narrow 6-5 defeat of Georgia in their first game of the day, capped off by a game-saving home run robbery by first-year center fielder Vance Honeycutt, the Tar Heels used their hour-long break to refocus on the game ahead.​​

"Knowing we won one of the two games that we had to win today, just in a way, took the weight off our shoulders as a team because that’s half the work that needs to be done," senior left-handed pitcher Caden O'Brien said. "But really, just in the locker room between games, (we were) just trying to flush it, reset, and focus on the task at hand for the beginning of the second game.”

The task at hand for North Carolina in its second game on Sunday? Attack early.

In UNC’s rematch against VCU, the Tar Heels immediately made a dent. In a six-hit output in the bottom of the first inning, the North Carolina offense cycled through all of its batters to establish a five-run lead.

VCU starting pitcher Maddison Furman gave up nine runs in just two innings pitched, doubling his season-earned run total.

“We kinda knew that (Furman) was gonna come at us and he was going to throw some strikes,” Honeycutt said. “So we were kinda just being aggressive and being competitive. We were able to find some barrels and make good things happen.”

Good things continued to happen for the Tar Heels, as the team went on to record 17 hits in its 19-8 victory over the Rams. In a drastic shift from UNC’s abysmal performance against VCU the night before — a game in which the Tar Heels stranded 12 baserunners — the rematch between the two teams saw North Carolina capitalize on seven of its 11 opportunities with runners in scoring position.

“I think a lot of it was the fact that we were able to expose (Furman) pretty early,” Gaines said. “Angel (Zarate) got a big hit, and obviously, Mac (Horvath) got a big hit, and a lot of times hitting is just contagious. When we got off to that kind of start, especially when Angel gets us going the way that he does, I think it just carried on through.”

Just a day prior to the Tar Heels’ resounding victory over VCU, Forbes was visibly fuming as he trotted back to the innards of the UNC baseball clubhouse following his ejection.

After Sunday night’s postgame press conference, in the same hallway behind the North Carolina dugout, Forbes couldn’t have been more relaxed. Laughing alongside UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham, he congratulated Gaines on a successful day at the helm. 

Thanks to the Diamond Heels' offensive resilience, the UNC head coach will return to Boshamer Stadium on Monday with the chance to lead North Carolina to a super regional. 

And, if the “We want Forbes!” chants that broke out on Sunday evening foreshadow anything, it’s expected that he'll receive a warm welcome back on Monday.

“I mean, I’ll give him credit, he got thrown out of the game and he’s coming back a folk hero,” VCU head coach Shawn Stiffler said. “He’ll be happy to hear he came back a legend.” 

@shelbymswanson 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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