After winning the ACC Baseball Championship and hosting a super regional last season, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the North Carolina baseball team ahead of opening day.
The Tar Heels are ranked in the top 25 in all of the major polls, and some players are receiving preseason honors and recognition. Rather than shying away from the pressure of high expectations, the Tar Heels are welcoming it.
“We were talking about it the other day, that you want to coach somewhere where you had those expectations,” head coach Scott Forbes said. “And when you coach at the University of North Carolina, every sport has those expectations.”
Questions remain for UNC, a team returning many of the same players that got out to a slow start in ACC play last season. The Tar Heels have a challenging slate of non-conference opponents awaiting them this year, beginning with a home series against Seton Hall starting on Feb. 17.
The Tar Heels also have several young players on the roster, like Preseason All-America center fielder Vance Honeycutt, who are key contributors but haven’t yet dealt with high external expectations at the collegiate level.
“We talk about it as a team, that you can be humble and you can be confident,” Forbes said. “But as soon as you lose that humility, we have a saying in our locker room, ‘What's coming? And that's a big old piece of humble pie.’”
UNC’s roster is well-rounded with veteran experience, as the team is returning six of its consistent starters from last season.
Junior catcher Tomas Frick, one of the team's leaders, will be back behind the plate this season. He’ll be accompanied by fellow junior third baseman Mac Horvath, a big-time offensive weapon who produced the second most runs on the team last season, and junior Johnny Castagnozzi, who can play multiple positions in the infield.
Many of these upperclassmen, like Frick and Horvath, were on the roster when UNC struggled to finish with a winning record in the 2021 season.
These players understand what it takes to build a successful team and earn the recognition the Tar Heels are now receiving. Their leadership in navigating the high preseason expectations will play a critical role in determining whether UNC meets them or allows them to lose their humility and fall short.
“I think the biggest thing for us is to bring what we learned from last season and try to share with the new guys,” junior catcher Eric Grintz said. “We've got to stick to our mentality, stick to our culture, stick to our standards and really try to keep that even mentality going throughout the season.”
Instead of focusing outward, the Tar Heels plan to spend the remaining weeks before opening day focusing on what they can control and trying to prepare for the season to come. Younger players believe maintaining the mentality they entered last season with during preseason preparation is critical for the Tar Heels to keep preseason hype from getting to their heads.
“Every single game counts — every single inning, every single pitch counts towards the common goal that we have of getting to Omaha and winning the national championship,” junior pitcher Max Carlson said. “So, regardless of the day, every single pitch is important, and I think we all understand that this is the stuff.”
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