Last weekend, North Carolina baseball picked up by far their biggest wins of the season when they went on the road and swept a top 15 Louisville team. While there was (and still is) a decent amount of baseball left to be played, the series win seemingly got UNC off the NCAA Tournament bubble after they had been teetering in the wrong direction.
This weekend featured a series with more implications. Beyond NCAAT ones, UNC could’ve even won the Coastal Division if things fell right. Unfortunately, they didn’t, as Georgia Tech took two of three over the Heels, but the weekend did feature at least one very memorable performance.
Just as it was last weekend when he took the mound, Thursday was the Austin Love show for the Tar Heels. Carolina’s starter went all nine innings, allowing two hits on eight hits, while striking out a career high 15.
After Love retired six of the first seven batters he faced, the Yellow Jackets picked up some runs off him, scoring two on three hits in the third. However, he responded in a big way after that. He stranded a runner to finish off the third and then wouldn’t allow another run all game.
The Heels got one run back on a Brett Centracchio RBI double in the fourth, and then even the score thanks to a Johnny Castagnozzi home run in the fifth.
Over the next couple innings, UNC missed out on a couple chances to take the lead, including leaving the bases loaded in sixth. Thankfully for them, Love was there to match zeroes. They finally took the lead in the ninth when Centracchio recorded an RBI fielder’s choice. The Heels’ ace then shut the door with three more strikeouts in the ninth, sealing a series-opening win.
The second game of the series was pitching optional, while also showing us why maybe Love was needed to go all nine innings in the opener.
UNC’s starter in the second game was Shawn Rapp, but he was chased after just 1.1 innings and five runs allowed, putting the Heels in a big hole early. Over the third and fourth innings, the offense battled back, scoring four runs, including two on a home run from Castagnozzi.
A bad fourth inning saw Tech score three runs and erase a lot of the hard work the offense had just done. However, the lineup again fought back, with Caleb Roberts’ three-run home run again getting the Heels back within a run.
After a few scoreless innings, the Yellow Jackets seemingly put the game away when they added an eighth inning insurance run. The UNC offense wasn’t done with the comebacks just yet. Angel Zarate and Danny Serretti coming up with RBI hits to tie the game.
However, this game just clearly wasn’t meant to be for Carolina. Georgia Tech walked it off with a home run in the ninth, giving them a 10-9 win.
As you might expect with that many runs scored, there were some standout performers on offense. Seven of UNC’s starters recorded at least one hit, with Serretti and Roberts leading the way, getting on base three times each.
Saturday’s series finale also featured the Heels allowing 10 runs, but this one got out of hand in a hurry.
UNC got on the board first with Castagnozzi driving in another run with a single. That would be the extent of Carolina leading this game.
Georgia Tech followed that by scoring 10 unanswered runs across the second, third, and fourth innings. UNC tried to bullpen their way through the game as starter Caleb Cozart was lifted after the first inning. In then took a further five pitchers to get through the second and third innings, where the Yellow Jackets did the majority of their damage.
Those 10 runs would be all Tech scored on the day, and the Heels did chip away over the course of the rest of the game, they just never got close enough. Justice Thompson and Zarate each hit home runs while Castagnozzi added yet another RBI. A ninth inning rally did bring the tying run to the plate, but UNC couldn’t keep it going and fell four runs short.
Next up is the ACC Tournament. Grouped with the Heels will be NC State and Pitt, against whom UNC went just 1-5. Carolina has seemingly played their way off the bubble in recent weeks, but just to be safe, they should probably pick up at least one win this week.