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Heel Tough Blog: Tar Heels Open the 2021 Season with Weekend Sweep of James Madison

Jeffery A. Camarati- GoHeels

The Tar Heel baseball team took the diamond for the first time in 345 days on Friday, as they opened up the 2021 season following a 2020 one that was cut short after just 19 games due to the initial outbreak of COVID-19. The new look Tar Heels in their first year under new manager Scott Forbes were set for a weekend series with the Kentucky WIldcats originally, but COVID-19 protocols caused that series to be cancelled. The Tar Heels were able to scramble and find James Madison, who made the trip to Chapel Hill to take the place of the Wildcats. With an extremely difficult schedule lurking ahead of the team this season, completing the opening weekend sweep of the Dukes was the start the team was hoping for.

Friday: North Carolina 8 James Madison 1

The Tar Heels opened the season on Friday with a dominant performance where they jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Sophomore outfielder Caleb Roberts led the way at the plate for the Tar Heels, finishing the day 3-for-5 at the dish, hitting two home runs and driving in five runs on the day. Tyler Causey added a home run of his own, a two-run shot that extended the lead to 8-0 in the 5th. The Tar Heel pitching was excellent in this one, as well, as the three pitchers who saw action allowed just one run on two hits, all beginning with a dominant outing from Austin Love, who threw six no-hit innings in his first career start on bump.

Saturday: North Carolina 7 James Madison 4

After a bit of a quiet start that gave James Madison the early 1-0 lead, the Tar Heel bats exploded once again for another big day. The Tar Heels scored three runs in the 3rd and two more in the 5th to jump ahead 5-1, but the Dukes would cut the lead back to one after scoring two in the 7th and one in the 8th. Caleb Roberts would come up big yet again, though, tripling to left center field to drive in two runs in the bottom of the 8th. Joey Lancellotti would enter in the 9th and shut the door on the Dukes for his fifth career save and first since 2019. First-year freshman Max Carlson had a fantastic start in the first action of his college career, allowing just two earned runs and striking out eight in 6 ⅔ innings pitched. Transfer outfielder Justice Thompson had a big day at the plate, going 4-for-5 on the afternoon, hitting the first home run of his Tar Heel career and driving in three runs of his own.

Sunday: North Carolina 3 James Madison 2

Both pitching staffs were locked in in the series finale on Sunday, but the Tar Heels did just enough to eek out the victory. The 5th inning was the difference in this one, as the Dukes held a 2-1 advantage on the scoreboard heading into the inning. The Tar Heels would tie the game thanks to a Angel Zarate RBI triple that brought Mac Horvath in to score. Zarate would score on a wild pitch to the Tar Heels a 3-2 lead, a score that would hold the rest of the way. Third-year freshman Max Alba got the start and looked good in his 5 innings pitched, allowing just two runs on four hits and striking out six. Caden O’Brien and Shawn Rapp would get the team in a bit of trouble in the top of the 7th, but Rapp would get a key strikeout of Kyle Novak to get the team out of a bases loaded jam to keep it a 3-2 game. Connor Ollio would handle the final two innings of the game, striking out three of the seven batters he faced on the way to a victory.

Weekend Takeaways:

-There is a lot of promise for this young Tar Heel pitching staff. It was the first start of the season for all of these guys, so we’ll see how the wear and tear of the season sets in, but all three guys who got the starts on this opening weekend were fantastic. Austin Love looks set to lead the rotation, Max Carlson provided plenty of positivity as a first-year freshman and Max Alba finally looks healthy and ready to handle a weekend role in the rotation. If this group can keep it up, it creates a lot of flexibility for the bullpen and mid-week starters, something the team didn’t have much of last season.

-There was a lot of concern about the ability to hit the long ball with Aaron Sabato’s departure in the offseason, but this Tar Heel team showed off plenty of power this weekend. The team hit a combined five home runs in the three games this weekend, led by two in the opener from Caleb Roberts.

-The two transfers will play a huge role in this team’s success this season. Both Justice Thompson and Brett Centracchio started all three games this weekend and each had some nice success, especially at plate. The two combined to go 9-22 and drive in six runs this weekend.

-Caleb Roberts looks ready to become one of this team’s best players. He, too, had a big weekend at the plate, going 5-11 on the weekend, driving in eight of the team’s 18 total runs in the three games this weekend.


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