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The Daily Tar Heel

Diamond Heels compete across North Carolina in summer baseball leagues

Kyle Percival Blowfish.jpg
UNC sophomore pitcher Kyle Percival pitching for the Lexington County Blowfish summer collegiate baseball team. (Larry James/Blowfish Baseball)

Although the North Carolina baseball team's season ended in June, several Diamond Heels participated in various summer leagues around the country to hone their craft.

Sophomore pitcher Connor Hegan — who didn’t play at all last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery — viewed summer league as an opportunity to face batters again.

Hegan sat down with UNC coaches after the spring season. Before he left for summer league, the coaches detailed what he needed to work on over the break — emphasizing the need for Hegan to develop a breaking pitch while continuing to work on his slider and cutter. 

After not playing for a while, summer ball helped him regain confidence.

“Coming off the injury, I was not really confident coming into school, honestly,” Hegan said. “But now that I've been back in baseball, playing games again, it definitely builds a lot more confidence that you can succeed against these elite players.”

Hegan made 11 appearances with the Burlington Sock Puppets, striking out 17 batters and posting a 3.60 ERA, which earned him a spot on the East squad for the Appalachian League All-Star Game. Hegan also had the chance to learn from pitchers from other major collegiate programs while playing for the Sock Puppets.

"It was a grind," Hegan said of his summer league experience. "It was a lot different than I expected. I knew that we played a lot of games. But I didn't expect the type of travel and the toll that it [would] take on my body throughout the whole summer."

While Hegan focused on improving his pitching, sophomore outfielder Carter French worked on his vision at the plate. Last season, French earned a walk-on spot and saw action in 29 games for the Diamond Heels, but he was primarily a pinch runner.

As a center fielder for the Asheboro Zookeepers, French posted a .367 batting average and stole 13 bases.

“I wanted to get more at-bats because I got some in the spring but not enough to gain the experience that I wanted going into next year,” French said.

While summer ball is beneficial to players who don't see the field as often, some seasoned UNC players also gained valuable experience during the off-season.

Sophomore pitcher Kyle Percival mainly worked out of the bullpen for the Diamond Heels last spring and earned four starts — this summer, he started all six of his games for the Lexington Blowfish, allowing him to find consistency and comfort on the mound.

“Coach Gaines and I talked and summer ball was a way for me to improve, get a better off-speed [pitch] and then throw more strikes,” Percival said. “I wasn't really worried about going deep into games or even getting a ton of strikeouts.”

Percival finished with 23 strikeouts in 22.1 innings and an ERA of 4.83. Reflecting on his summer league experience, Percival said he's eager to return to Chapel Hill with an expanded arsenal and deeper knowledge of the game.

"I was mostly working on stuff to improve myself to better set myself up for the fall," Percival said. "[I] definitely improved with the changeup and got a lot more fastball command, which I was really pleased with."

@mdmaynard74

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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