Heel Tough Blog: Tar Heels Continue Early Season Success, Win Three of Four to Get to 6-1
Scott Forbes and the Tar Heels were looking to build upon a productive opening weekend and pull an upset along the way against one of the preseason favorites in the ACC. The Tar Heels got a nice mid-week win over Elon before winning the first two games of the series over the ranked Virginia Cavaliers to take home one of their biggest series wins in the past few seasons and in the process, welcomed fans back to Boshamer Stadium.
Tuesday: North Carolina 4 Elon 1
The Tar Heels were once again led by their transfers in this one, as they staved off the Phoenix to remain undefeated. Justice Thompson went 2 for 3 at the plate, scoring two of the team’s runs, while Brent Centracchio went 1 for 3 at the plate with an RBI double that brought in Thompson to extend the lead to 4-1 in the 7th. The big play of the day, though, came in the 4th when Angel Zarate crushed his only hit of the day through the left side of the Elon infield for a two run single that would give the Tar Heels a 3-0 lead that they never turned back on. The Tar Heels hot pitching start continued, as Will Sandy went 5 innings, allowing just one hit and no runs before giving way to Davis Palermo and Nik Pry, who closed the door without too much issue.
Thursday: North Carolina 3 No. 12 Virginia 2
The Tar Heels picked up their biggest win in a few years on Thursday behind another dominant start from Austin Love on the mound. The redshirt sophomore with 7 ⅓ innings in this one, allowing just two runs on three hits while striking out six to set the Tar Heels up with a chance to win the game. Shawn Rapp and Connor Ollio would help get the team out of the top of 8th inning before Ollio would slam the door on the Cavaliers in the 9th for his second save of the season. Justice Thompson would lead the charge again at the plate, finishing 3 for 4 and driving in two of the three Tar Heel runs, including one on his second home run of the season in the 6th. He was the only Tar Heel hitter with multiple hits in the game.
Saturday: North Carolina 2 No. 12 Virginia 1
After rain delayed the series by a day, the Tar Heels welcomed fans back to Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, as they looked to lock up a series win over the Cavaliers. The Tar Heels were led once again by a strong pitching performance, headlined by a 3 ⅔ inning save by Nik Pry where he allowed just two base runners. Max Carlson had another strong start, going 5 ⅓ innings, allowing one run on four hits. Justice Thompson continued to add to his steadily growing lore, stealing home in the 4th to score what would end up being the game winning run.
Sunday: No. 12 Virginia 3 North Carolina 2
The Tar Heels suffered their first setback of the season in this one, but fought hard all the way till the end to try and pick up the series sweep. The Cavaliers jumped out to a 3-0 lead through five, but a big 7th inning from the Tar Heels put them back within a run heading into the final two innings. Unfortunately, the Tar Heels were only able to muster one base runner in those final two innings and were unable to get that run across to tie the game. Max Alba may have had the worst start of any Tar Heel pitcher this season, but he still went 5 innings, allowing three runs on five hits on the day.
-Justice Thompson has quickly become the star of this 2021 Tar Heels after a spectacular two week start to the season. Thompson is hitting .520 through the first seven games of the season and already has four multi-hit games. His steal of home in Saturday’s game will be the highlight from the weekend, but he also had a huge play in the field in the 9th inning to help secure the Friday win.
-The Tar Heels pitching staff continues to impress through the first seven games of the season, as they have allowed an average of just 2.0 run a game so far this season. The starters have been great, led by tremendous 2-0 starts to the season from both Austin Love and Max Carlson, but the Tar Heel bullpen has also been outstanding, headlined by another big week from Nik Pry and Connor Ollio, both of whom came up big late in games to preserve separate wins over the Cavaliers.
-There is plenty of reason to come away from this weekend encouraged about the direction of this team this season. This was a tough test early in the season for this inexperienced Tar Heel team and they nearly came away with a series sweep of a ranked Cavaliers team. The emergence of some new stars early combined with the depth of this team, especially on the mound, gives them a chance to build on this and potentially be a sleeper to win the ACC.