The #12 ranked Diamond Heels had another perfect week at home last week, beating Winthrop 11-6 before a sweep of Fairfield over the weekend. Carolina walked off for the fourth time of the season on Friday, winning 4-3 in 13 innings while the other three games turned into Tar Heel blowouts. UNC followed up with an 11-6 win over Gardner-Webb on Tuesday.
The offense remained remarkably consistent all week, with double digit hits in every game. The defense has also improved from its early season inconsistencies. Ultimately, this is a very likable team, everyone plays for the team rather than themselves and they have great chemistry--something all the players have said.
Wednesday Mid-Week Game: #12 Carolina 11 Winthrop 6
This contest was much closer than the final score. The Heels trailed twice and the contest was tied for three innings. The game was decided in the bottom of the seventh when Carolina roared to life with 8 runs to go up 11-5 and effectively ice the game. The offense was led by the back end of the lineup with Eli Sutherland and Zack Gahagan in the 8th and 9th spots providing the most important performances. Sutherland hit a home run to lead off the seventh and hit a single for another RBI in that inning. Gahagan went 4-4 on the day with three singles and one double. Tyler Ramirez also had two RBIs for the Heels to tie Sutherland for the team lead. The offensive effort was exceptionally balanced and it was a complete team effort as everyone who started except Brian Miller scored a run.
The pitching in this game was not great, as expected in a mid-week contest with the weakest starter playing. Freshman J.T. Rogoszewski made his first start for the Heels, but only lasted two innings before allowing three baserunners who would eventually score. From there it was the bullpen's day, six more pitchers got the call for the Heels. The bullpen pitched well before Hunter Williams allowed two runs in the top of the seventh and Hansen Butler had to come in to finish off the inning for the Heels. Freshman Rodney Hutchinson started the eighth but was tagged for two doubles on his first tow batters before being quickly pulled for A.J. Bogucki who threw two scoreless innings to end the game.
Friday: #12 Carolina 4 Fairfield 3 (13 innings)
Carolina scored their fourth walk off win of the young season when Eli Sutherland drew a walk with the bases loaded on Friday. The team's offense showed up once more, as they had 11 hits on the afternoon with Tyler Ramirez, Tyler Lynn and Ryder Ryan all had two hits for the Heels with Lynn submitting the most impressive performance with a double and triple. Lynn also scored twice for the Heels--including the winning run--while Brian Miller also scored twice for Carolina. This was the case of a game where Carolina just had difficulties stringing hits together rather than a case of a stymied offense.
The pitching was once again very good. Zac Gallen threw seven scoreless innings before getting into trouble in the top of the eighth. Hunter Williams allowed another unearned run in the top of the inning, before holding the Stags for the top of the ninth. In extra innings Spencer Trayner and A.J. Bogucki held the Stags scoreless with Bogucki picking up his first win of the year. The coaching staff has shown a lot of faith in Gallen so far this year, something that he has earned as the best pitcher on the team, and maybe even the conference. However, Gallen has gone into the eighth inning, and triple digit pitches, in every start this year. The coaching staff has sent Gallen out in the eighth with a high pitch count in every one of his starts this year. Meanwhile, the bullpen has been a strength of the team, with Bogucki and Hansen Butler each playing at a very high level. The coaches should turn the game over to their bullpen in the eighth inning rather than ride Gallen until he loses it every start. The team is built to be able to put games away in the later innings after a quality start, the coaches just need to let the bullpen take over.
Saturday: #12 Carolina 10 Fairfield 2
The bats came alive on Saturday with the Heels getting fifteen hits in their eight innings at bat. Brandon Riley went 4 for 4 with a single, two doubles and a triple with three RBIs and three runs scored. Sutherland continued his torrid run of play on Saturday with his second home run of the week to give him the team lead in home runs. Brian Miller also had a good day, hitting three singles and scoring twice. Carolina dominated from the plate and the game was never in doubt after three innings.
Tar Heel starter J.B. Bukauskas showed much better command on Saturday and remarked after the game that he felt good as he heads into conference play. Bukauskas had command of his fastball on Saturday and showed a good mix of fastballs and sliders. He still needs to work on his third pitch, a change up, if he wants to become a complete player, but Saturday was a nice improvement from the Oklahoma State series and he looks sharp heading into the ACC opener against Pitt. Bukauskas' first win of the season let Carolina throw a couple more relievers out on the mound. Chris McCue, Zach Rice and Brett Daniels came in to complete the game and they collectively struck out six and allowed no hits over their 3.2 innings of relief. It was the first appearance of the season for McCue and Daniels.
Sunday: #12 Carolina 11 Fairfield 0
The pitching staff combined for a 5 hit gem on Sunday, giving you everything you could want from a college staff. In this third start, Jason Morgan turned in his best performance of the year, going six innings and allowing just three hits and striking out seven. By the time the game was handed over to the bullpen, the Heels were up 9-0 and the coaches let five guys pitch for bits of the rest of the game. Three Tar Heels, Taylor Sugg, Brendon Little and Cody Roberts, made their pitching debut on Sunday. Roberts had his first the day off behind the plate and the coaches had him come in to get the final two outs.
On offense, Brian Miller went three for three and Adam Pate scored three times. There were not that many other standouts on offense for the Heels but that was because Carolina got up by a lot of runs quickly and the game became a blow out. Carolina had fifteen hits on the day with Brandon Riley hitting a solo shot to give him the cycle for the weekend.
Tuesday Mid-Week: #12 Carolina 11 Gardner-Webb 5
Carolina submitted another solid performance Tuesday afternoon with a six run win over Gardner-Webb. The offense remains solid as the Heels knocked off one of the two remaining undefeated Division One teams (the other is Georgia Tech). The offensive performance was another team effort with no one player carrying the team. Sutherland continued his torrid run of play with two runs scored and another home run, this time a three run blast to left field. Tyler Lynn had three hits to lead the team while Logan Warmot and Kyle Datres each had two hits and scored twice. Tyler Ramirez was the lone starter to not get a hit, but he drew three walks and scored. It can not be overstated how balanced the offensive production for Carolina has been so far this year. Everyone who came to the plate had a batting average above .250 and no one has been an early season outlier with an average above .400. The Diamond Heels are playing quality team baseball on offense, stringing multiple hits and walks together regardless of what portion of the lineup is at the plate in any given inning. Offense like this is difficult to stop no matter the opposition and the team could not be in a better rhythm as conference play commences.
Freshman Cole Aker made his first career start for the Heels and went into the fifth inning. His start was rather remarkable considering 54 pitches an astounding 43 of them were strikes after he had made an appearance out of the bullpen on Sunday where he threw 15 pitches in 0.2 innings of work. The only blemish on Aker's day was a home run in the top of the fifth that ultimately led to his removal for A.J. Bogucki. Bogucki did not play up to the high expectations he has set for himself with his stellar early season play. He allowed his first two earned runs of the season in the top of the sixth with an unearned run added in the top of the seventh. The Carolina bats gave him plenty of support though, and Bogucki picked up his second win of the season for his trouble. Spencer Trayer and Hunter Williams came in after Bogucki and did not allow a base runner for the rest of the game. The bullpen has been a strength for the Heels all year and it carried the final 4.2 innings of this game home for the team. The pitching staff is solid from front to back and everyone seems to be on their A game heading into conference play.
In my preview of this season, I said that Carolina was a bubble team for the NCAA tournament. The Heels started the season unranked in the Baseball America top 25 and after a deflating end to last year there was little reason to expect the program to get back to their impeachable standard. Before the season, I speculated that this would be a team which needed to win a lot of low scoring close games. That this was a team that was going to rely on freshmen to produce offense and might have a couple players in the lineup for purely defensive reasons. I named Brian Miller, Tyler Ramirez, Adam Pate, Zack Gahagan and Logan Warmoth as people on the team who I knew would play and be able to hit. At this point in the season, not only have these players produced, but Freshmen Kyle Datres and Cody Roberts with Junior College Transfer Tyler Lynn have stepped into productive offensive roles. I completely missed the emergence of Eli Sutherland as a clutch performer and team leader in home runs. Sutherland has been the surprise of the season so far. Coach Fox says that the coaching staff has always known that Sutherland has power and that he intends to keep Sutherland in the lineup as long as he continues to produce. Sutherland himself says that nothing much has changed for him, but he's been seeing regular playing time throughout this stretch for the first time in his Carolina career. Coach Fox seems to believe that this is a situation where Sutherland has seen regular playing time and that has let him get into this groove.
Beyond the offensive surprises, Coach Fox has said that he has been surprised by how well the team has played. He did not anticipate the team getting out to such a hot start. He believed that this team was good, but considering their opening schedule he has been pleasantly surprised with how they have won so many games. He is really happy with how this team has come together as the season has come along. Everyone associated with the team, from Coach Fox to every player I have talked to, has said that this team has incredible chemistry. After the game on Sunday Coach Fox talked about how Zack Gahagan is mentoring Kyle Datres at third base, Gahagan's primary position. Fox says that this attitude is emblematic of the team. Every player cares about the team winning above individual achievements. Sutherland notes this as a key difference compared to last year, he feels that the players this year are much more selfless and team focused than they were last year. The improved chemistry of this team seems to have led to a vast improvement this year over last year and they might just be good enough to make a deep postseason run if they keep this up.
Weekend: Pittsburgh at home