Carolina baseball got healthy in Chapel Hill over the weekend. After a 3-5 start characterized by putrid hitting, the Heels went 4-0 for the week. They kicked it off with a 10-0 midweek shutout of High Point, and welcomed Liberty to the Bosh for a three-game set over the weekend.
Game 1: UNC 17, Liberty 2
Tyler Baum replaced the struggling Giancula Dalatri (who did not pitch at all this weekend) as the Friday starter, and did not disappoint. After shutting out the Flames for 3 innings, he surrendered a 2-run homer to Tre Todd in the 4th...and was otherwise marvelous. He finished with 6 IP, 3 H, 2 R (both earned), 7 K and 3 BB.
The offense came to the plate in the bottom of the 5th in a 2-2 tie and promptly put the game away, scoring 8 in the frame. Cody Roberts started the onslaught with a bases-loaded single, followed by an Ashton McGee 2-run double. The Heels then got three straight bases-loaded walks to push three more across, before a two-run single by Michael Busch scored the final two, pushing the lead to 10-2.
They didn’t stop there. Zach Gahagan had an awful start to the season and was demoted to 8th in the order— but launched a two-run shot in the bottom of the 6th. Center fielder Brandon Riley did the same three batters later. Carolina put up numbers of the less exciting variety (singles and sac flies) in the 7th and 8th to push the final margin.
Trevor Gay and Kyle Blendinger combined for 3 innings of 2 hit, 6 strikeout relief. Compared to Liberty’s 3.2 innings of 13 hit, 13 run, 8 walk relief, the Carolina bullpen was quite stout.
Game 2: UNC 6, Liberty 5
There was a little more drama in game 2, as Austin Bergner got the start for the Heels and struggled. He gave up all 5 Liberty runs (3 earned) in 2.1 innings. A Michael Busch homer for Carolina gave them a 2-1 lead in the 1st and kept the team in striking distance, but the Heels found themselves down 5-2 in the middle of the 3rd.
Cody Roberts pulled the score back within 1 with a 2-run double in the bottom of the 3rd, and a Brandon Matrorano homer in the 4th tied it.
From there, it was a battle of the bullpens. Cooper Criswell came on for Bergner and gave up just 2 hits in 3.2 innings of relief, and gave way to Brett Daniels’ perfect 7th and 8th innings (which earned him his first win of the season).
The Heels pushed across the game-winner in the bottom of the 7th, as Bush scored Kyle Datres on an RBI double.
Josh Hiatt struck out the side in the 9th to shut the door and give the Heels a chance for the sweep.
Game 3: UNC 13, Liberty 8
This game was a hybrid of the two prior games: Carolina’s starter (Caden O’Brien) gave up an early lead, and the Heels put up a stupid number in the middle innings to take control of the game. Both teams struck for a run in the 1st, and Liberty tacked on a run in both the 2nd and 3rd to take a 3-1 lead and run O’Brien out after just 57 pitches in 2.2 innings.
Then...the bottom of the 4th happened. The Heels scored 10 runs, and did so in every conceivable way. A passed ball scored Kyle Datres, Asthon McGee singled to bring one in, Matrorano continued his impressive weekend by doubling in McGee, and Ike Freeman singled him home. After an RBI walk by Brandon Riley, Datres sacrificed home a run to push the score to 7-3. Cody Roberts walked in another run, a wild pitch scored Riley, and McGee put the exclamation point on the inning with a 2-run double— the only multi-RBI play of the inning.
Not to get too comfortable, Taylor Sugg (who got out of the 3rd and held Liberty hitless in the 4th) was touched for 3 runs in the top of the 5th. Rodney Hutchinson walked in a run in the 6th to close the lead to 11-7.
Carolina struck back and pushed the margin back to a comfortable level on the strength of their 5th and 6th homers of the weekend— both by dudes named Brandon (Riley and Matrorano), both hitting their second of the weekend.
Josh Hiatt was (again) the fireman out of the bullpen, getting through the 6th and 7th with no damage. Hansen Butler and Ben Casparius got the final 6 outs to give the Heels the win.
Stars of the Weekend
Baum’s Friday night performance was huge, as his third start was by far his best of the season. He lowered his ERA to a respectable 3.94 and has K’ed 25 while walking just 6 thus far in 2018.
Matrorano— a new name to me— only had 3 hits on the weekend, but all were of the extra-base variety, as he drove in three runs on a double and two solo HR’s. He leads the club with 4 long balls in the early going.
Michael Busch somehow has 20 (!!) RBI in 12 games, as he drove in 5 while batting .444 against the Flames.
Finally, junior CF Brandon Riley, who batted out of the sabermetrically-vital 2 hole this weekend, hopefully turned his early season around. His season batting average is an ugly .167, but it was .100 entering Friday. His first two homers of the year capped offensive onslaughts in Friday and Sunday’s games.
Looking Ahead, and Updated Rankings
The Heels’ scheduled game against VCU tonight has been postponed due to weather, and the makeup date has yet to be determined. We will let you know when this changes.
For this weekend’s series, the Diamond Heels open ACC play in a critical series at Louisville. The Cardinals are only ranked #19 this week by Baseball America (Carolina, surprisingly, is holding steady at #13), and swept Western Carolina over the weekend to move to 11-0.
The ACC is well-represented in the March 5 polls. In addition to Carolina and Louisville, Florida State (#3), Clemson (#10), and Virginia (#14) are in the Top 25.