After starting the season off with a three-game sweep of James Madison and a solo-game win over Elon last Tuesday, Carolina got their ACC season off to a great start, taking the first two games in a three-game series with Virginia. UVA came into Chapel Hill ranked #12 in the country, but went back to Charlottesville down four spots, while the Diamond Heels, previously unranked and perpetually disrespected, entered the rankings at #25 with a stellar 6-1 record.
A name that you’ll want to remember for the rest of the season is Justice Thompson. The sophomore transfer from Northwest Florida State College has been the early season standout, and currently leads Carolina in hits, runs, doubles, and is tied for the team lead in home runs.
Thompson was the hero in the two wins, contributing to four of the five runs scored by UNC, either by his feet or his bat. His offensive contributions were as varied as they were crucial. Thompson hit a 415-foot homer, and stole home after some poor infield throwing by the Cavs.
Carolina kicked off the Virginia series with a 3-2 win on Thursday afternoon. Austin Love, who was the opening day starter for the Diamond Heels, threw 7.1 innings with six strikeouts, two walks, and two earned runs.
UNC inched their way to a 3-0 lead, scoring single runs in the first, fifth, and sixth innings. Virginia brought their sticks out at the end of the game, scoring two in the eighth, and crushing a shot deep into center that Justice Thompson caught at the wall.
if "best ACC debut in history" sounds like hyperbole for UNC CF Justice Thompson, well, judge for yourself:— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) February 26, 2021
- RBI single/hustle double in the 1st
- insane catch in RCF in the 4th
- bunt single (3.68 to 1B)
- stole second
- huge HR to LF in the 6th
- insane catch in CF in the 9th https://t.co/KaKlB13qPW pic.twitter.com/SnGzrus3ok
Another interesting note from Game 1: Carolina hosted the first ever all-black umpire crew in a Power 5 college or MLB game.
After poor weather delayed the Friday game, Carolina got back to business, clinching the Virginia-series with a 2-1 win on Saturday. Starting pitcher Max Carlson went 5.1 innings with five strikeouts, four hits, and one run in the fifth inning, which turned out to be UVA’s only bite at the apple. Reliever Nik Pry was fantastic, going the rest of the way by himself, and only surrendering one hit and no runs in a game with no margin for error.
Justice Thompson (I swear I’m not trying to only write about him, he was just at the absolute center of every good thing UNC did in the series) got on base with a double in the bottom of the 2nd inning, and was brought home by a Johnny Castagnozzi single.
In the fourth inning, Thompson had some heads up base running when Virginia piddled around with a pickoff at second. Video of Thompson’s mad dash steal to home plate is in the highlight video below:
90 minutes until first pitch of game three!— Carolina Baseball (@DiamondHeels) February 28, 2021
In the meantime, take a look at our series clinching 2-1 win yesterday. ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/YVag5pTeog
I suppose all good things must come to an end. Carolina’s undefeated streak finally came to an end as Virginia held on to a 3-2 win in the final game of the series. Hoos starter Mike Vasil gave up a leadoff single, then promptly retired the next 11 batters he faced. It was tough sledding for the Heels, as Virginia scored the first three runs of the game in the fourth and fifth innings and withstood a nervy eighth inning with a one-run lead.
Down by a single run in the bottom of the eighth with a man on second and two outs, Virginia elected to bring out their closer and Kenny Powers lookalike, Stephen Schoch in for an extra out. He blew by Justice Thompson with an outside fastball, then pitched a perfect ninth inning to preserve the save.
The Diamond Heels will play their first road game and series of the season when they take the boring three-hour bus ride up to western Virginia to take on #24 Virginia Tech. The Hokies opened ACC play with an impressive 2-1 series win over then #6 Miami in Coral Gables. The series will be played on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with all games shown on ACCN Extra.