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Monday Baseball Report(3/31)

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Last Week's Results: Lost to Winthrop 1-3, Swept by Duke 2-3, 8-9(12), 4-6
Record Last Week: 0-4
Record This Season: 15-12, 5-7 ACC
Schedule This Week: 4/1 vs UNCW, 4/4-4/6 at Boston College

Oh boy.

Two weeks ago UNC won a series at Maryland and was sitting at 14-5. The early season struggles that saw the Heels open the year 1-3 seemed to be passing. UNC had gone 11-2 and the boat appeared to have been righted. Apparently not. Since then UNC has gone 1-7 losing two out of three versus Georgia Tech, then a midweek game to Winthrop and finally getting swept by Duke for the first time since 1994. Needless to say this season has flown off the tracks at an accelerated rate.

If you had to reduce UNC's troubles down to a couple of things it would be defense and hitting. UNC has been fairly awful at both, especially during the past week. Against Winthrop UNC managed just one run on nine hits and left ten on base while dropping a 3-1 decision. The game was basically decided in the second inning on a three run home run by Winthrop's Michael Patrick.

Over the weekend, UNC lost 3-2 to Duke in the first game as the Heels ran into a buzzsaw on the mound. UNC had just five hits and struck out 12 times against Drew Van Orden. Duke managed to get three runs off Trent Thorton which was enough to carry the day and hand the sophomore his first loss of the season.

On Saturday, UNC staked a 6-1 lead only to give it back then take an 8-6 lead but against allowed the Blue Devils to rally. Eventually Duke would score a run in the bottom of the 12th to win the game and clinch the series. UNC was mostly undone in this game by the pitching. Benton Moss gave up six runs, five of them earned and Reilly Hovis surrendered two despite striking out six in 3.1 innings.

Things didn't get any better on Sunday as Duke completed the sweep with a 6-4 win. Freshman Zac Gallen lasted just five batters giving up two runs in the first and the Heels committed three errors. As noted above, it marked the first time in 20 years Duke had recorded a sweep over UNC in baseball.

So why exactly has there been such a downturn this season? First of all, everyone expected this to be a rebuilding year. The problem is UNC is in the midst of squandering the easier portion of the ACC schedule. If UNC is having issues getting a win versus Duke, things will not get easier when it's Miami, Virginia and Florida State in the other dugout.

As for the baseball, UNC has struggled mightily in the field. In 2013, UNC played 71 games and committed a total of 64 errors. This season through 27 games the Heels have committed 40 errors. The issues on defense have hurt UNC's pitching which has been good with an overall ERA of 2.95. UNC is actually ahead of last season's pitching staff with 3.3 walks and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings while giving up slightly more hits. However UNC's issues once the ball is put into play continues to plague them.

The same is true at the plate. UNC is getting almost nothing from Landon Lassiter(.220) and Skye Bolt(.200). Freshman Wood Myers has been the only reliable hitter among the regular starters and the only everyday player batting over .300. Michael Russell is batting .296 and is second in RBIs with 17. Needless to say the offensive production is well down from a year ago. That is not really a surprise given what UNC lost. What is surprising is Lassiter and Bolt struggling to get hits. Both players' batting average is down over 100 points from last season.

In short, there may not be any easy answers for what ails UNC this season. Some of this is confidence and some of it is just bad baseball. For a UNC program that has consistently enjoyed great success over the past eight years, a season like this is a shock to the system. And if the Heels don't turn it around soon, it is unlikely UNC will even make the ACC Tournament.