So far this season, UNC’s offense and starting pitching has dealt the most damage to opponents. But in spurts against Virginia this past weekend, that wasn’t the case.
Through the first two games of the series, the Tar Heels burned through seven pitchers – four in the first game and three in the second.
Despite recording 18 strikeouts in the first game of the series on Friday night, North Carolina fell 7-3. In the first game on Saturday, the Diamond Heels’ pitching staff only mustered four strikeouts in an 8-4 loss.
But after surrendering 15 runs in the first two games of the series against the Cavaliers, the Diamond Heels' pitching staff demonstrated a complete performance in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader — a 6-0 win that helped the team avoid being swept.
The Tar Heels only used two pitchers to earn the win and record their second shutout of the season. The one-two punch of juniors Jake Knapp and Matt Poston gave up just five hits against the Cavaliers.
Depth in the bullpen has been a struggle for the Tar Heels, who have mainly relied on their offense to win them games. Teams typically have to dig deep into their bullpen in the third game of a series, but a steady performance from Poston helped ease that concern.
“I felt good that our bullpen was rested and we had some options. I didn’t think we’d do it [win] with two pitchers. I thought it’d be like five or six [pitchers], but Poston was hot and we just rode him,” head coach Scott Forbes said.
After dropping the first two games, and the offense struggling to find its typical form, the pitching stepped up and helped relieve some of the pressure the offense was facing.
“When they’re throwing that like that (allowing no runs), it just takes off so much pressure because you feel like you don’t need to score a ton when they’re throwing like that. We needed that,” redshirt first-year right fielder Casey Cook said.
Poston, who came in to relieve Knapp, didn’t let the results of the other games bother him.
“Just because you put up a lot of runs one game doesn’t mean you got to do it the next game. It’s just whatever team plays better that game is going to win, and you got to just be ready for every inning and try to win every inning,” he said.
Much like the Tar Heels, Virginia is a powerful team offensively. The Cavaliers were held scoreless for the first time all year Saturday night, while also being handed their first loss of the season.
Even though the Tar Heels used four pitchers in game one, they were still able to get great performances out of their veteran arms. Graduates Will Sandy and Kevin Eaise were dominant in their outings on Friday, posting a combined 16 strikeouts and allowing four hits on six and a third innings pitched.
As ACC play begins and the Tar Heels aim to prepare themselves to make a run to for the College World Series, having pitching depth and experience – combined with their usual offensive prowess – will be vital.
If parts of this series were any indication, the team has been practicing what Forbes has been preaching.
"You can’t hit your way to Omaha," Forbes said. "And understanding that if you play well defensively and you pitch, you have a chance to win every single game.”
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