The Diamond Heels lost their first series of the year this past weekend, dropping a home series 2-1 to an unranked Georgia Tech team (the series win put the Yellow Jackets at #23 in the new poll). Carolina's offense was stymied in game one on Thursday and failed to show up on Saturday. The Friday game was the bright spot for the Heels as starter J.B. Bukauskas annihilated the Yellow Jacket hitters from the mound with a stellar outing.
Tuesday Game: #6 Carolina 10 Western Carolina 2
The Heels cruised in their midweek date with the Catamounts. Carolina got up 10-0 heading into the top of the ninth before Western Carolina scored some consolation runs. Hunter Williams made his first start of the season for the Heels, going 5 full innings with 7 strikeouts against only two hits and two walks. The relief work came from Cole Aker, Rodney Hutchinson, Brendon Little and Chris McCue. Aker, Hutchinson and McCue held Western scoreless with Little tagged for the Catamount runs. Little walked a batter before Andrew Bullock hit a two run home run to give Western their only runs.
On offense, Carolina got off to a hot start and never looked back. The Tar Heels had four infield hits in the first inning and plated four runs. Carolina kept scoring throughout the game and the Heels cruised to the win. Brandon Riley and Brian Miller each had three hits for the Heels. Riley had two RBIs for the Heels and also scored a run to be the stand out performer for the Heels. Zack Gahagan hit a home run for the Heels, his second of the season.
Thursday Game: Georgia Tech 3 #6 Carolina 2
A costly Eli Sutherland error in the top of the fifth inning plated two Georgia Tech runs and ended up being the difference in the series opener against the Yellow Jackets. Starter Zac Gallen threw four scoreless innings before getting into trouble in the fifth. The Yellow Jackets had already tied the game at one with grounder that Sutherland failed to handle but with the bases loaded Sutherland threw a grounder past Gallen covering first, which, rather than ending the inning, allowed two runs to score as the ball traveled out of play. Gallen struck out the next batter to end the jam but the damage had been done and he did not throw another pitch. Brett Daniels came in and threw three stellar scoreless innings allowing only two hits while striking out four to keep his ERA at 0.00. A.J. Bogucki kept the Yellow Jackets scoreless in the top of the ninth in that one frame of work. No Carolina pitcher surrendered a walk during the game.
Outside of Logan Warmoth, the Carolina offense did not do much on Thursday. Warmoth had three hits with two doubles on four at bats to lead Carolina. Riley had two hits and one RBI, Miller had the only other Tar Heel hit and Pate had a squeeze bunt for the other RBI. The team was kept in check by a stellar performance from Brandon Gold who went 7.1 innings, recorded 5 strikeouts and walked only one batter. Matthew Gorst came in for the save, going 1.2 innings without a baserunner.
Friday Game: #6 Carolina 8 Georgia Tech 0
J.B. Bukauskas personally devoured the souls of the Yellow Jacket hitters on Friday. Bukauskas threw eight complete innings and allowed only four hits while striking out 11. Bukauskas' fastball hit 96 miles per hour on his first stirkeout and he hit 96 again 111 pitches later to end the eighth inning with his 11th strikeout. His command and location were perfect the entire game. He threw only two pitches, a fastball and a slider, both went for strikes and his slider, coming in in the mid to high 80s was indistinguishable from his fastball to the Yellow Jacket hitters. Spencer Trayner came in to throw the top of the ninth and preserved the shutout for the Heels.
The bats showed up on Saturday with the Heels scoring early and often. Tyler Ramirez had three hits for Carolina, including his team leading fifth home run. Sutherland led Carolina with four RBIs on two clutch singles and Logan Warmoth went two for two. A key for the Heels was that they drew six walks on Friday after only one walk the day before. The Heels used the walks to load up pitches on the Yellow Jacket starter, Keyton Gibson, who only lasted two innings. Faced with the challenge of needing quality relief work for up to seven innings, Georgia Tech ran out of options and the Heels were able to coast to a win.
Saturday Game: Georgia Tech 6 #6 Carolina 0
The Tar Heel offense did not show up on Saturday as the Yellow Jackets comfortably won the rubber match 6-0. The Heels had only four hits, all singles, with one each from Ramirez, Tyler Lynn, Sutherland and Kyle Datres. The Heels only had three walks, but they only struck out four times. Georgia Tech got two great pitching performances on Sunday from starter Zac Ryan and Burton Dulaney. Ryan got the Heels out in the air, recording six strong innings with ten fly outs by the Heels. Dulaney went the opposite route and in his three innings the Heels rolled into seven ground outs. The different approaches seemed to confound Carolina whose hitters never got in a groove against the two arms from Atlanta.
Georgia Tech's bats came alive on Saturday, hitting home runs against both starter Jason Morgan and reliever A.J. Bogucki. Morgan said after the game that too many of his pitches came in high on the Tech hitters, which would allow the them to see the ball better. Morgan picked up the loss but only allowed two earned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts against one walk. Errors cost the Heels again on Saturday with three of the six Yellow Jacket runs being unearned; however, the offense was so impotent that the errors did not cost the Heels the game.
The biggest issue confronting the Diamond Heels seems to be their offense. When the top of the lineup fails to produce, this team really struggles. Adam Pate and Brian Miller each had a poor series and Coach Fox benched Datres Friday before moving him down in the order Saturday. Sutherland has also cooled off after his torrid start, Cody Roberts' average has dropped below .250 as has Tyler Lynn's. Carolina needs to field a consistent lineup and they need to figure out who their top hitters are. Heading into the season, there was a reason why the Heels were unranked and it was because the offense was not thought to be at the same level as the pitching. Early in the season the offense was rolling but as conference play has started, the offense has stalled. Carolina needs to rediscover their offensive magic if they want to stay in the top ten and have significant postseason hopes.
Davidson at Home on Tuesday
Weekend Series (Friday-Sunday) at #3 Miami (all games on ESPN3)