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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 15 UNC baseball showcases talent, deep bench in opening weekend sweep of Wagner

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Redshirt sophomore outfielder Casey Cook (16) slides into third base during the baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. UNC completed a sweep over Wagner (20-6, 15-9, 5-4).

Casey Cook knew in the fall UNC “could really swing the bat.”

“Our goal was to keep it going as the season started,” the redshirt sophomore left fielder said. “And we've been doing that.”

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UNC redshirt sophomore outfielder Casey Cook (16), junior outfielder Vance Honeycutt (7), and senior infielder Colby Wilkerson (3) celebrate their home runs during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. UNC won 16-5.

In No. 15 North Carolina baseball’s opening weekend sweep of Wagner, the Tar Heels outscored the Seahawks 46-14. Despite the loss of key offensive pieces from 2023 like Mac Horvath and Tomas Frick, the performance showcased the combination of speed, power and contact that this new, rebuilt team holds. 

“In a perfect lineup, you want speed and power distributed throughout the lineup,” UNC head coach Scott Forbes said. “And you don't want just a guy with speed, you also want him to hit a double, hopefully.”

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UNC redshirt sophomore outfielder Casey Cook (16) speaks with head coach Scott Forbes during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. UNC won 16-5.

This past weekend demonstrated this combination in a record-breaking way. On Sunday alone, the Tar Heels broke the school record for walks in a game with 18 and tied the record for steals with 10. And, in terms of power, the Tar Heels' 46 runs against Wagner are the most scored by a UNC team in their first three games since tallying 52 to begin the 1899 season, per Pat James.

Forbes credits UNC's knowledge of the strike zone as one of the reasons the team is able to draw walks consistently. He also said the presence of TrackMan, which delivers data to umpires about the accuracy of their calls, is another reason for an uptick in walks.

“If you know a ball from a strike, a walk is just like a single,” Forbes said. "So we preach that. We get on our guys if they swing at balls in [batting practice.]”

Combining UNC’s plate discipline with a lineup that totaled 43 hits in three games, the Tar Heels capitalized on high-scoring innings to lead them to victory. Cook, who tallied seven RBIs during the series, said the UNC bench feels the momentum shift when it starts to string hits together.  

A six-run sixth inning helped UNC pull away from the Seahawks on opening day, and three five-run innings on Saturday led the way for a double-digit victory. 

A 10-run inning on Sunday catapulted UNC to its first 20-run game since 2021.

“The lineup is so deep and there's not really any holes in the lineup,” senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna said. “It's incredible. I feel like anybody can do anything at any time.”

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UNC senior first baseman/designated hitter Alberto Osuna (23) swings to strike the ball during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. UNC won 16-5.

With high-powered bats throughout the roster, the Tar Heels will look to turn around an offense that ranked near the middle of the ACC last season. UNC will lean on its combination of returners and newcomers, as well as its deep bench, to propel the offense forward.  

While Forbes said he plans to switch up the batting order as the season progresses, and wants the lineup to be more consistent being on time for fastballs in fastball counts, the offense failed to show any rust to begin the year.

In a conference like the ACC, which holds six teams in the preseason top-25, the Tar Heels will need to really swing the bat if they want to return to Omaha for the first time since 2018.

“This lineup is dangerous,” Osuna said. “And I feel like we should never press when we're playing, because y'all can see — it just takes one swing and the game's just completely different.”

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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