Carolina baseball is off to a great start to the season. The Diamond Heels started the season with a trip to UCLA and took two of three games from the Bruins and soundly outplayed the Bruins. Carolina missed the postseason NCAA tournament for the first time in more than 10 years last season and the Heels came into the weekend with a lot of questions about this team as they are quite reliant on freshmen. For this weekend, those freshmen delivered and the ceiling on this team looks a higher than it did even last week.
Friday: UNC 4 #10 UCLA 0
Carolina won by a score of 4-0 in the season opener on Friday. The Heels were paced by 7.2 excellent innings from starter Zac Gallen. The Junior allowed only 4 hit and struck out 11 for his first start of the season. After Gallen's stellar start, the Heels gave the ball to Hunter Williams for the hold and Hansen Butler came in for his first career save. The Heels' freshmen paced them on offense, catcher Cody Roberts scored the first run for the Heels via freshman left fielder Tyler Lynn's sacrifice fly in the third. Carolina put up the rest of their runs in the three run sixth inning. Freshman second baseman Kyle Datres was hit by a pitch before junior center fielder Tyler Ramirez hit a single to put runners at the corners. Freshman designated hitter Brandon Riley then hit a two run double and sophomore short stop Logan Warmoth hit him in with a double of his own to cap the scoring for the Heels.
Carolina did have some hiccups in the game, Gallen walked two in the seventh inning before getting out of the jam himself. The Bruins also put two men on in the eighth and the ninth but the Heels were able to preserve the shutout each time. Butler's save to end the game produced two strikeouts on an incredibly impressive seven pitches, not one of them a ball. The Heels won their 17th opener in 18 seasons under Coach Mike Fox.
Saturday: #10 UCLA 6 UNC 5
The Diamond Heels showed their relative youth on Saturday, losing 6-5 in a game where the Bruins only managed 4 hits. The Heels walked seven batters, threw two wild pitches, hit a batter and committed a costly error. These screw-ups cost the Heels the game, starter J.B. Bukauskas struck out nine and allowed only one hit in 4.2 innings of work, but surrendered four runs--two earned--due to poor defensive play. In the fourth inning the Bruins plated two, one on an error and another who only got on base as he was hit by a pitch. The fifth inning saw two runners who got on base via Bukauskas walks score, and the seventh inning saw the Bruins score on a wild pitch. The walk off run was a similar story, freshman Cole Aker made his Carolina debut by walking Luke Persico who then stole second and scored on Eric Filia's single to center to walk off winners.
The Heels outhit the Bruins 12-4 for the game and stranded 9 runners on base. The Carolina offense was very impressive but failed to convert on all of their scoring opportunities--going 4-16 with runners in scoring position. Tyler Ramirez, Cody Roberts, Adam Pate and Logan Warmoth all had two hits for the Heels with Roberts, Pate and Warmoth supplying all Tar Heel RBIs. This game reflected the youth of the Heels and as the season continues, fans should expect the players to make fewer mistakes as they become used to playing at the college level as well as together as a team.
Sunday: UNC 14 #10 UCLA 5
Carolina decisively took the rubber match on Sunday, leaving no doubt as to who is the better team. Tyler Ramirez started the game off with a bang, hitting a three run home run on the first pitch he saw to plate Lynn and Datres. The Heels scored two more times in the third Miller and Lynn scored off of a Datres ground out and a wild pitch respectively. The Bruins did manage to tie the game at five but the Heels would not be denied. Carolina scored five times in the seventh and four more times in the ninth. The seventh inning saw the Heels bat around, highlighted by a Zack Gahagan two-run home run with the other Carolina runs coming mostly off a failure of the Bruins to execute. Carolina scored four more runs in the top of the ninth as the Heels seized upon Bruin mistakes-- two errors, two passed balls and a walk--to put the game beyond reach and set the final margin at nine.
Sophomore pitcher Jason Morgan made his debut as Carolina's third starter on Sunday, striking out 5, allowing 2 hits and 4 runs (2 earned) in 5.2 innings of work. A.J. Bogucki and Hunter Williams failed to record an out after they replaced Morgan before Aker came in and got the Heels out of the inning. Aker threw two more scoreless innings before Spencer Traynor came in and held the Bruins scoreless in the ninth inning. This was a great series win for the Diamond Heels but Carolina committed three errors on Sunday, walked eight, hit two batters and had a passed ball which led to three of the Bruin's five runs being unearned. The Heels are still young but they need to make a concerted effort to clean up the errors as the season goes on if they want to capitalize on their potential in the postseason.
The series win over the then #10 Bruins has vaulted Carolina into the top 25 at #20. The #20 Tar Heels have their home opener in Chapel Hill this weekend with a series against the #13 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Note on rankings: There are many different rankings for college baseball, so you may see different rankings for teams mentioned in these articles other places. However, the rankings I use will always be according to the Baseball America top 25.