Coming into the ACC tournament, the Diamond Heels pitching staff issued 19 walks over their four games in South Carolina against Coastal Carolina and Clemson. However, in their 10-2 win over Virginia on Thursday to finish off ACC tournament pool play and advance to the semifinals, they issued two — a stark contrast from the pitching seen just a week prior.
Junior Jake Knapp and sophomore Dalton Pence were at the helm of the Tar Heel team and set a commanding tone for the game, shutting down a normally potent Virginia offense. The rest of the Diamond Heels rallied around the show of sharp pitching and posted 10 runs while limiting UVA to two in a display of timely hitting and sound defense.
In a sentiment echoed by both UVA head coach Brian O’Connor and UNC head coach Scott Forbes, it all starts with pitching.
The momentum and energy of the whole team are reliant on the pitching and, recently, the starting rotation for the Diamond Heels has fluctuated.
The one constant on the mound for the Tar Heels was the appearance of Knapp. The Walters State Community College transfer has 60 strikeouts in his 15 appearances and has seen the mound in every ACC series this year.
The Tar Heels were counting on Knapp, who had shut out Virginia in March, to put the kibosh on UVA’s big bats and All-ACC first-teamers Jake Gelof, Ethan O’Donnell, Griff O’Ferrall and 2023 ACC Player of the Year Kyle Teel.
He did just that.
Knapp allowed only one hit from UVA’s powerful top four in the lineup and struck out Gelof, O’Ferrall and Teel.
Forbes described Knapp’s 5.2 innings of work as “outstanding” and credited the pitcher as getting better and better every game.