Carolina baseball is undertaking a great transition in 2021. Longtime head coach Mike Fox retired after 22 years in the UNC dugout, leaving Chapel Hill with a 948-406-1 record, seven College World Series appearances, and three ACC Tournament wins. Fox was named Baseball America’s National Coach of the Year in 2008 and ACC Coach of the Year in 2018.
Unfortunately, Fox’s final season in 2020 ended prematurely due to COVID-19. Into the breach steps former associate head coach Scott Forbes. The Fox disciple has been in the Carolina dugout cumulatively for 20 years and has built his reputation mostly as a pitching coach, overseeing the development of such Tar Heel greats as Andrew Miller, Alex White, Kent Emanuel, and Matt Harvey.
Things went about as well as you could hope for in the Diamond Heels season opening series against James Madison (a replacement for Kentucky, who had COVID issues within their program). Carolina won all three games against the Dukes, and looked especially impressive on the mound.
Austin Love tossed six innings of no-hit ball with nine strikeouts (tied for his career-high), before handing the ball off to Nick James to start the seventh inning. James promptly gave up a hit to break up the no-no to the first batter he faced. Caleb Cozart gave up a consolation run in the top of the ninth to break up the shutout.
Caleb Roberts smashed two home runs and Tyler Causey hit one in the fifth inning to pace the Heels in slugging. Carolina finished the game with nine hits, producing eight runs in an overwhelming 8-1 win.
Freshman Max Carlson took the mound for Game 2 and impressed, going 6.2 innings with eight strikeouts, while only giving up three hits and two earned runs.
James Madison made things interesting in the seventh and eighth innings, scoring three to bring the game within a single run, with the Heels finishing the sixth and seventh innings without a score. But in the bottom of the eighth, Caleb Roberts, with two men on, belted a triple and cleared the bases to put the game to bed.
Sophomore transfer Justice Thompson was the star of the show in Game 2, going 4-for-5 from the plate with two runs, three RBIs, and a 408-foot home run in the fifth inning. Carolina won the game 7-4.
Redshirt freshman Max Alba pitched five innings, surrendering four hits, two earned runs, and one walk while striking out six Dukes. With UNC’s bats quieter on Sunday than the previous two days, pitching was at a premium. Things looked dicey in the seventh inning when reliever Shawn Rapp walked his first two batters and soon found himself surrounded by JMU runners, clinging to a 3-2 lead. He calmly struck out Kyle Novak to end the inning and preserve the victory.
Sound base running rather than power proved the be the difference for Carolina in the final game of the series. In the fifth inning, Mac Horvath led the inning off with a walk, taking four straight pitches after a first pitch strike. Angel Zarate stepped up the the plate and belted a shot into left-center that was bungled by JMU, resulting in a Zarate triple and Horvath run.
Next, Danny Serretti walked, but then promptly got thrown out trying to steal second. Zarate followed this temporary setback by scoring off a James Madison wild pitch. That run decided the game, as both UNC and JMU were scoreless the rest of the way.
The Diamond Heels will play Elon at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday, February 23, before starting ACC play, hosting Virginia for a three-game weekend series.