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The Daily Tar Heel

Preview: No. 7 Diamond Heels prepare for ACC tournament with raised expectations

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The UNC baseball team looks towards fans during the Feb. 23, 2024 game in Boshamer Stadium against ECU.

Behind Billy Currington tracks and the occasional Morgan Wallen tune, the No. 7 Diamond Heels participate in their typical warm-up drills on Tuesday morning. 

The scene is normal, but the feeling is different. There’s a buzz at Boshamer Stadium

Sure, a different excitement exists when it's the postseason, but there’s a new pulse that’s been vacant for some time. The type of pulse felt by a team on the precipice. 

“I mean they’re excited,” head coach Scott Forbes said. “This team is confident. They’re a together team.” 

Starting on Thursday, North Carolina will begin pool play in the ACC tournament against No. 8-seeded Wake Forest and No. 12-seeded Pitt. Since beginning the regular season in late February, the Tar Heels have reached new heights during the recently named ACC Coach of the Year’s fourth season at the helm. UNC holds the ACC coastal division title, the regular season title and the tournament’s No. 1 seed. To secure these accolades, the Carolina Blue-clad team was never swept during weekend series to propel itself to a 41-12 record and a 22-8 conference record.

For the first time in Forbes’ tenure, there’s a buzz because their success is unmarked by a late-season hot streak or prescribed luck. 

The last time the Tar Heels won the ACC tournament they were “dead in the water.” After being swept by then-No. 13 Virginia in 2022, they found themselves almost out of tournament contention altogether. 

“We [were] in the pit of all pits after the Virginia series and I just remember thinking, ‘Man, like, where [do we] go from here?’” Forbes said

With tournament hopes on the line, the postseason served as a form of salvation. 

Sparked by a three-run walk-off homer from then-sophomore designated hitter Alberto Osuna during the first game of the series against Florida State, UNC went on to sweep the Seminoles during the last three games of the regular season. 

This success marked the beginning of the Tar Heels’ late hot streak, pushing them to a 13-4 finish that helped them take the ACC Championship title and reach an NCAA Super Regional. 

But that success was unprecedented — underdogs finding their footing just in time. 

Almost two years later following a semifinal exit last season, this year’s ACC tournament is not hindered by a Cinderella story moniker. Instead, UNC is a true top-10 team with hopes of making it to the College World Series

No longer salvation. Each game in the postseason is a stepping stone — one more closer to Omaha. This process-oriented mindset is preached to players by Forbes. 

So, when the Tar Heels play Pitt — whom they previously swept this season in March — to open their ACC tournament campaign on Thursday, each player won’t be thinking about the levity of the game and the challenging No. 22 Demon Deacons that lie beyond it.  

Instead, Forbes’ coaching is echoing through the Tar Heels’ heads. Focus on this game and focus on this stepping stone. 

“Baseball is a weird game where anything can happen on any day, so we just want to kind of stick to our process and treat each game like its own kind of World Series,” senior first baseman Parks Harber said

Starting first-year right-handed pitcher Jason DeCaro possesses this same mindset. 

While the young player can’t remember a game that he has pitched in that’s comparable to Thursday’s gravity, he’s sticking to this simple tried-and-true compartmentalization. 

“It doesn’t really matter how big the game is or what day the game is on, I’m just trying to go out there and prepare as best I can and go out there and pitch my game, and that’ll give me the best chance for success,” DeCaro said. 

For right now, it’s just a buzz. An increased pulse. It marks the type of team that has already proven itself and is looking to prove more. 

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@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com