Fittingly, this unseasonably warm week was capped off by the beginning of the college baseball season in Chapel Hill, announcing the impending arrival of spring and spring sports. After a mediocre first season with Scott Forbes at the helm, the Diamond Heels will look this season to get back to their traditional position among the top of the ACC and the country. Friday night was certainly a good step towards doing exactly that, as the Heels rode their big bats and a solid pitching night to a blowout of Seton Hall, winning 14-3. The Heels hit five home runs and Brandon Schaeffer, a transfer from WVU Potomac State who quickly grabbed the Friday starter position in practice, shook off a rough start to put in 6 innings of strong work. After allowing two runs in the first inning, he allowed two hits, no runs, and struck out six batters to boot.
Things looked a little sweaty at first, with Schaeffer allowing the first two Pirate runners on base. A single brought in the first, then the second scored while his teammate grounded into a double play, turning the tide UNC’s way. A routine flyout ended the inning, and the Heels were up. Angel Zarate hit a leadoff dinger on the first pitch he saw, then right behind him, Danny Serretti followed suit, tying things up at 2. Patrick Alvarez hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the 2nd to increase the lead to 5-2, and the rout was on. Vance Honeycutt, the highly-touted freshman center fielder, added a solo shot in the fourth for his first career college home run.
The game broke open further in the sixth inning, where UNC showed they can score effectively playing small ball, too. Johnny Castagnozzi singled and then reached second on a balk, Zarate reached first with some impressive baserunning to take advantage of an error, and then Serretti singled to bring Castagnozzi home and Zarate to third. After Mac Horvath drew a walk, Tomas Frick singled Zarate and Serretti home to bring the score to 9-2 in favor of the home team.
Nik Pry was the first relief pitcher Scott Forbes brought in for Schaeffer, but after he allowed a solo home run and two singles on his first three batters, he was quickly pulled for Shawn Rapp, who quickly struck out two and forced a groundout to end the seventh. Seton Hall wouldn’t score again, while UNC added 2 runs on a Seretti single in the seventh and a three-run shot from Honeycutt in the eighth to reach the final score. Rapp was perfect for two innings, and Kyle Mott came in to close things out and did so without much trouble.
While this was a great start for UNC, the real challenge in making this season more successful than the last is becoming a team that can play at a high level for a whole series. Last year, they were a good Friday team with Austin Love at the mound, but struggled to find pitching consistency without Love. Tomorrow’s starter, Max Carlson, was supposed to be part of that solution last year but sat the year out with an elbow injury, so that’s already hopefully a step towards that goal if Carlson is as advertised post-injury. Coastal Carolina transfer Shaddon Peavyhouse will start Sunday after a strong preseason. Meanwhile, while this may go without saying, the bats will have to stay strong.
We’ll have regular updates on the Diamond Heels as the season continues, and hopefully they’re good ones — I’m sure we’d all love to see UNC back near the top of the college baseball world.