The 30-21 North Carolina baseball team, fresh off securing a much-needed win in the series finale against Florida State, will be aiming to close out the regular season strong with a four-game road swing starting Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. when the Tar Heels take on the 23-26 Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs.
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The Tar Heels head down the road to Shelby with a focus on defense and pitching. That’s where it all starts for this ballclub, according to Head Coach Mike Fox.
Coach Fox also says the team’s now re-energized and fresh after leaving the stress of the exam break behind them.
“It’s a tough stretch up through exams. Our kids need to rest. They have a lot on them. Now all off that is kind of gone. Not only do the bodies rejuvenate a bit, they get that academic stress out of them,” Coach Fox says.
Gardner-Webb is no pushover opponent for Carolina. The Runnin’ Bulldogs feature a pitcher, Matt Fraudin, who was honored Monday as a Louisville Slugger Player of the Week by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Fraudin fired a complete-game, one-hit shutout against one of the nation’s most high-powered offensive teams last Thursday, blanking Colonial Athletic Association leader William & Mary in a 2-0 victory.
In fact, after completing a series sweep of William & Mary, Gardner-Webb is rolling into its contest with Carolina.
The Tar Heels know the significance of each and every game at this point in the season. A slip-up could pop their NCAA Tournament bubble. But despite the pressure, Coach Fox says the guys must stay calm and loose to perform at the highest level.
“It’s a cliché in baseball to just go out, play like a little-leaguer and have fun. We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves. It is what it is. If we let what’s at stake weigh on us too much, you generally don’t play at the level you need to,” Coach Fox says.
With the season winding down, it’s also a time for reflection, especially for the three seniors – Tom Zengel, Andrew Smith and Parks Jordan. The latter was named ACC Player of the Week thanks to his explosive .525 batting average over five games.
Coach Fox says it’s been his distinct privilege to watch the seniors grow and develop on and off the field.
“You just watch them grow and mature. They really turn from boys into grown men. That’s the fun part. That’s the gratifying part,” Coach Fox says