North Carolina baseball got off to a fine start in the opening weekend of the season, taking 2 of 3 from South Florida— good enough to justify their opening #6 national ranking. The Heels won the two games not started by (according to Baseball America) potential first-rounder Shane McClanahan, and looked good. Losses to UNC-W and St. Johns during the week damped the momentum some, and led to a weekend series with a game ECU squad.
The Heels are probably not a top-25 team at this point. Scroll to game 2 if you want any good news.
Game 1: ECU 2, Carolina 1
The game in Greenville went to the homestanding Pirates, as they allowed just two hits against a hapless Carolina offense. Sophomore Trey Benton was awesome for ECU, allowing 2 hits and an unearned run in 6 innings. He fanned 11, and the Heels hopefully (spoiler alert: they were shipped back to Chapel Hill) left those bats east of 95.
For Carolina, the lone run came off of an Ike Freeman sacrifice fly in the 3rd to create the final margin. ECU scored two in the 2nd off Carolina starter Giancula Dalatri. Dalatri picked up his second L of the season, allowing a not-impressive 11 hits in 5 1/3. Brett Daniels pitched the final 2 2⁄3 for the Heels, and kept them in the game— he allowed just one baserunner and struck out 5.
Game 2: Carolina 5, ECU 4
The Heels evened up the series, ended a three-game losing streak, and handed the Pirates their first loss of the season in Game 2, played at Durham Bulls Athletic Complex.
Carolina needed only the top of the 1st to match their hit and run output from Friday, as Michael Busch singled home a run to give Carolina a 1-0 lead. The cleanup hitter struck with another RBI single in the 3rd to make it 2-0, and C Cody Roberts scored on a wild pitch to push the lead to three.
Starting pitcher Tyler Baum gave up three innocent hits through 4 innings, and fell apart in the 5th. Spencer Brickhouse, he of 80-grade power to go with his 80-grade name, hit a 3-run bomb for ECU to put the Pirates ahead 4-3. Austin Bergner surrendered the homer, but the runners on base were charged to Baum.
Bergner settled in, scattered two more hits over the next two innings, and got the win eventually.
The Heels came right back in the top of the 6th and tied it on Kyle Datres’ first home run of the season. They took the lead in the 7th due to some very typical (read: frustrating) Carolina offense. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Ike Freeman grounded into a double play— the run scored, but credit for the game-winning RBI was lost for the sophomore.
T6: And with one swing of the bat Kyle Datres ties that game at 4-4. That ball was crushed. It landed on top of the Tobacco Road roof in left field. We have a good one on our hands. pic.twitter.com/rbKq1Ce2Qj— Carolina Baseball (@DiamondHeels) February 25, 2018
Elite closer Josh Hiatt releived Bergner with one out in the ECU 8th, and it was an adventure. With Pirates loading the bases and one out, Hiatt got Pirates catcher Jake Washer to ground into an inning-ending double play. Hiatt walked two Pirates in the bottom of the 9th (after the Heels squandered a great opportunity to add some breathing room), and got 3-hole hitter Alec Burleson to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end it.
Game 3: ECU <redacted>, Carolina <redacted>
After an amazing week of weather throughout the state of North Carolina, the start to the rubber match in Chapel Hill was delayed due to rain. Mike Fox and the boys may just wish it was cancelled.
ECU starter Chris Holba no-hit the Tar Heels for the first 5 1⁄3 before Carolina’s new leadoff man Dallas Tessar broke the streak with a 6th inning single. At the time, the Heels trailed, 4-0.
That...was about it. Carolina didn’t score in the 6th, our dude Brickhouse singled in a run then scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-0, and Holba allowed one more hit, finishing 7 innings allowing just 2, with two walks and 8 strikeouts.
The Carolina bullpen imploded in the later innings, with Cooper Criswell allowing 4 runs in 1⁄3 of an inning during the 8th. All told, the Heels were shut out, 12-0. Notice, if you will, the most effort/detail was put into the Saturday result.
What did we learn?
Oof. DH/cleanup hitter Ashton McGee was 0-for-6 with 2 K’s, Brandon Riley was demoted from the leadoff spot and went 0-for-9, Zack Gahagan was 0-for-9 before getting Sunday off, and the bright spots were Michael Busch’s 3-for-10 with 2 RBI and Datres’ 3-for-10 with a homer. The Heels are going to have to find an offensive identity before conference play.
The pitching? Not much better. Dalatri has not gotten it done as the Friday starter, allowing 17 hits over 9 IP thus far. Baum has struck out 18 over 10, but his ERA sits over 4. Hutchinson made it just 3.2 innings in his first start, giving way to Brandon Daniels (who started the Sunday game of the USF series). Neither has avoided baserunners yet.
The Heels may get it together, but the 3-5 start is a tough pill to swallow.