UNC Baseball Prepares For Tough Weekend Series

In what might be their toughest test so far this season, the Tar Heels welcome Louisville to Boshamer Stadium for a three game series starting Friday.

The Cardinals come to Chapel Hill as the fifth-ranked team in the nation and a 33-9 overall record.

Ron Stutts chats with UNC Baseball Head Coach Mike Fox:

 

Friday’s matchup will see Tar Heel ace Zac Gallen take on the ACC strikeout leader Brendan McKay.

Saturday will feature another pitching duel as J.B. Bukauskas faces off against wins leader Drew Harrington.

The two Cardinal starters have combined to go 17-3 this season, providing one of the biggest tests for the Tar Heel lineup.

So far this season, UNC pitchers have averaged 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, one of the top marks in the country. They’ll hope that continues this weekend as one of the most feared hitters in the ACC comes to town.

Lefty outfielder Corey Ray swings one of the most dangerous bats in the county. So far this season he’s batting .316 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI’s. But even when Ray doesn’t go yard, he’s just as great a threat on the basepaths.

Ray breaks conventional wisdom that says power hitters don’t have speed; he’s stolen 35 bases on 41 attempts.

First pitch will be at 6:00 p.m. Friday, and 1:00 Saturday and Sunday. The Tar Heels have not announced who Sunday’s starter will be.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/unc-baseball-prepares-for-tough-weekend-series

Diamond Heels Knock Off Campbell

Shortstop Logan Warmoth started off the scoring for the North Carolina Tar Heels on Wednesday night on the way to a victory over Campbell.

Warmoth’s two-run home run was followed by an RBI single from Zack Gahagan for a 3-0 UNC lead after two innings.

Carolina never trailed, eventually extending the lead to 7-0 over the Camels.

Campbell did score three runs in the sixth inning to chase UNC starting pitcher Rodney Hutchison Jr. But Brett Daniels came on in relief to put a stop to the Camels’ offensive threat.

UNC added two insurance runs and Campbell scored once in the top of the ninth for a 9-4 victory.

UNC has been struggling as of late in Atlantic Coast Conference play but has now strung together victories this week over UNC – Wilmington and Campbell. The Tar Heels are off this weekend with a break from conference play and will be back in action next Wednesday hosting Virginia Commonwealth University.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/diamond-heels-knock-off-campbell

UNC Baseball Prepares For Weekend Series Against Wake Forest

After an up and down week that saw a loss to Coastal Carolina and a drubbing of William & Mary, the Tar Heels get ready for a three-game series against Wake Forest.

The Tar Heel pitching staff will have all it can handle as they travel to face star first baseman Will Craig.

Craig is the reigning ACC Player of the Year and currently leads the league in batting average and RBI’s, while still showing a propensity for power, going deep 11 times this season.

But despite Craig’s prowess at the plate, Wake Forest has struggled this season, going just 7-11 so far in ACC play.

The Demon Deacons have won three of their last four games, including taking two of three from Florida State.

If the Tar Heels hit like they did Wednesday, when they put up 17 runs on William & Mary, then they should be able to handle Wake Forest.

First pitch is at 6:00 p.m. Friday, 4:00 p.m. Saturday and 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-baseball-prepares-for-weekend-series-against-wake

UNC Baseball Crushes William And Mary 17-2

UNC jumped out to a three-run lead in the bottom of the first against William and Mary Tuesday night and never looked back.

The Tar Heels put up 17 runs the hard way, with just three extra-base hits, none advancing further than a double.

Leadoff hitter Brian Miller set the tone from the start, picking up a walk and stealing a base, which led to the first run of the game.

Miller scored four runs on two hits and tacked on three RBIs.

He was one of 10 different Tar Heels to round all four bases in the game.

Freshman Brandon Riley also had a big day at the plate, going 2-3 with four RBIs.

Starting pitcher Jason Morgan didn’t pitch long enough to earn a decision, but had a solid four innings of work. Morgan allowed just one earned run and struck out four.

Cole Aker was credited with the win after locking down the fifth and sixth inning.

The Tar Heels return to action Friday when they travel to Winston-Salem for the first of a three-game series with Wake Forest.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-baseball-crushes-william-and-mary-17-2

UNC Baseball No. 17 In D1 Baseball Ranking

The Tar Heels fell two spots in this week’s rankings after losing the weekend series to an unranked Virginia team.

UNC lost the first game of the series before taking an 8-1 victory behind the dominating performance of JB Bukauskas.

They would eventually drop the deciding game in a 15-9 slugfest that saw 27 hits between the two schools.

But there will be no rest for the weary as the Tar Heels welcome Coastal Carolina for one game Tuesday.

The Chanticleers will be a tough test, making it into the top-25 this week and riding a seven game winning streak.

First pitch at Boshamer Stadium is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-baseball-no-17-in-d1-baseball-ranking

Bukauskas Nearly Unhittable As Tar Heels Win 8-0

When the Tar Heels think about starting pitching, they usually think about their ace Zac Gallen, but don’t forget about J.B. Bukauskas.

UNC’s number two starter shut down the Georgia Tech offense, pitching eight strong innings with just four hits as the Tar Heels won 8-0 Friday night.

He matched his career high with 11 strikeouts as the Yellow Jackets had no answer for the righty. At one point he retired 17 in a row and all of his strikeouts came on swings and misses.

The Tar Heels gave Bukauskas all the run support he needed from the start and they quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning.

Cleanup hitter Tyler Ramirez did his duty, clubbing a solo shot, his fifth of the season, in the fifth inning. He finished 3-5 with four runs scored.

Second baseman Eli Sutherland also had a strong day at the plate, going 2-4 and driving in four runs.

The Tar Heels dropped the first game of the series Thursday, but have a chance to come out of the weekend with a winning record on Saturday.

First pitch Saturday will be at 2:00 p.m.

 

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/bukauskas-nearly-unhittable-as-tar-heels-win-8-0

UNC Clobbers Pittsburgh Behind Miller’s First Home Run

Pittsburgh Panther fans can’t be happy with UNC right now. One day after the basketball team knocked Pitt out of the tournament, the baseball team pounded the Panthers 14-2.

What started out as a close game turned quickly to a blowout as UNC used an eight-run fifth inning to break away from visiting Pittsburgh.

The Tar Heels have now won eight straight games, again on the back of starter Zac Gallen.

Gallen appears to be nearly unhittable this season. He came into Friday’s game 1-0 with a 1.21 ERA and delivered another masterful performance.

He left after eight innings, giving up just four hits and one run with eight strikeouts.

But the Tar Heel offense gave Gallen all the help he could ask for.

First baseman Brian Miller had two hits in the fifth inning alone. He leadoff and got the action started with a single.

After being driven home by centerfielder Tyler Ramirez, Miller came up again later in the inning and put the final touches on the Tar Heels’ offensive explosion.

Miller doubled to right center and brought home the seventh and eighth runs of the inning.

Two innings later, Miller hit a two-run home run to end up a triple away from the cycle. It was Miller’s first career home run.

The Tar Heels will take on Pittsburgh in the second game of the three-game series Saturday. First pitch will be at 2:00 p.m.

J.B. Bukauskas is scheduled to start for the Tar Heels.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-clobbers-pittsburgh

Zac Gallen Named ACC Pitcher Of The Week

UNC starter Zac Gallen has been named the ACC Pitcher of the Week.

It is the first time the award has been given this season.

Gallen got UNC off to a strong start against No. 11 UCLA over the weekend. He threw 7.2 innings of shutout baseball, only allowing four hits and striking out 11.

UNC took two of the three games in the series against UCLA over the weekend.

The Tar Heels return to action against Oklahoma State on Friday  in the first of a three-game series.

 

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/zac-gallen-named-acc-pitcher-of-the-week

Countdown to First Pitch: Mike Fox

With Friday’s UNC baseball season opener against Seton Hall just days away, head coach Mike Fox closes out our Countdown to First Pitch preview series with his thoughts on the young, but talented Tar Heel team that will take the field this year.

For a man that has made six trips to the College World Series since 2006, watching at home last season was definitely out of the ordinary for Coach Fox. After making a run to Omaha and winning 59 games during a 2013 season that was the most successful in the program’s history, the Tar Heels struggled to a 35-27 record in 2014 and fell to Long Beach State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

However, Coach says that experience can only help the team moving forward.

“You gotta take the good with the bad, the wins with the losses, and vice-versa,” Coach Fox says, “You hope what we went through last year, the stretches that we didn’t play as well, you hope you learn from it. Experience is your best teacher.”

Coach Fox hopes last year was a learning experience. (Getty Images)

Coach Fox hopes last year was a learning experience. (Getty Images)

Much has been made in the pre-season about the talented freshman class on the team, which originally included eight players ranked among the nation’s top 200 high school prospects a year ago (before some were drafted into the pros), but Coach Fox is not sure what kind of contributions to expect from them yet.

“Until another team is over there with a different jersey, and the scoreboard’s on, and the fans are in here, you really, truly don’t know (what to expect). Especially with your freshman. They can show you some good things out here (in practice), not just how they perform, but how they handle failure and that sort of thing. Some of it is honestly just trial by fire,” Coach Fox says.

Returning weekend starters Trent Thornton, Benton Moss, and Zac Gallen certainly give the Tar Heels a loaded pitching staff this season.

Some feel the burden in 2015 should be placed on the big bats in the lineup to give their pitchers a little more run support after struggling to produce much offense last season.

Coach Fox sees it a bit differently, saying that “if you go back and look at last year, we did not pitch well in the league. People on the outside said ‘you didn’t score enough runs’, but if you look at the ACC stats in those 30 games that count the most, we were right up there at the top of the league.”

The biggest worry for his team is the possibility that the infield may be comprised of four fresh faces after losing players to graduation and junior Landon Lassiter’s transition from third base to the outfield in the offseason.

Mike Fox has established a winning tradition at UNC. (Courtesy of GoHeels.com)

Mike Fox has established a winning tradition at UNC. (Courtesy of GoHeels.com)

“I think that is the biggest question mark of our team is our infield defense because we probably are gonna have four different guys out there at third, short, second, and first. Or at least three,” Coach Fox says. “And we have to pick the ball up in the infield and make plays.”

If the infielders do end up making some mistakes that put the Heels into high pressure situations, the bullpen will be called on to save the day.  Junior Reilly Hovis is back after earning a spot on the preseason third team All-American roster, along with the triumphant return of Chris McCue, who missed most of last year with a blood clot in his shoulder. These veterans will team up with freshman flame-throwers Hunter Williams, Hansen Butler, and J.B. Bukauskas to help get UNC out of those aforementioned tough scenarios.

Pre-season All-American reliever Reilly Hovis will get the Heels out of tough jams. (Daily Tar Heel)

Pre-season All-American reliever Reilly Hovis will get the Heels out of tough jams. (Daily Tar Heel)

“There is one critical time where you better not let the other team open the door. It’s kind of like runs in basketball, you better calm down, and you better stop it,” Coach Fox says. “That could be the fourth inning with the bases loaded and we need a strike out, we may go to Reilly Hovis or Chris McCue right then. The good news is, we have those guys, and the better news is if we don’t use one of them, we’ve got another one.”

Now that the offseason has come to a close, the Tar Heels are eager to take the field and get this year underway. Coach Fox can feel the anticipation growing.

“You see the excitement build from the fall, winter, and the preseason. We’re one of those sports that practices such a long time before opening day, so as we get closer the excitement builds. The kids are excited,” Coach Fox says.

The countdown is finally over.  First pitch is here, and for the next three months this group will be looking to revert back to tradition and give Mike Fox a seventh trip to Omaha in his quest for a coveted national title that has so far, remained elusive.

It all starts this Friday at 2 p.m. as UNC takes on the Seton Hall Pirates within the friendly confines of Boshamer Stadium.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/countdown-first-pitch-mike-fox

Countdown to First Pitch: Skye Bolt

UNC junior outfielder Skye Bolt has all the tools to be a top draft pick, making use of his time on UNC’s campus to leave Major League scouts in awe.  This edition of our Countdown to First Pitch preview takes a look inside the mind of the Tar Heels’ most spectacular everyday player.

Anytime the Tar Heel baseball team has needed a strike of lightning over the past two seasons, Skye Bolt has usually delivered.  A starter since his freshman year, Skye has proven himself to be one of the more dangerous bats in the Carolina lineup, hitting for both power and average.

With 10 home runs in his career though, Skye says that hitting the long ball definitely brings out a special kind of feeling.

Skye rounding first, listening to the crowd. (UNC Athletics)

Skye rounding first, listening to the crowd. (UNC Athletics)

“I’ve never been a power guy, per se, that has lived and died on the long ball, so if I’m bustin’ butt down to first base, and I pick my head up and the first thing I hear is a clap or something like that, it’s kind of a ‘relax’ type of moment. There’s nothing like seeing the ball go over the wall.”

Drafted out of high school in the 26th round by the Washington Nationals, Bolt opted to go the college route instead.  Heading into 2015, Skye has improved his game greatly, seen by many pro scouts as a potential first rounder after the season.

Capable of playing all three outfield positions, Bolt is an extremely versatile player. However, injuries limited his production last season, after a breakout freshman year in 2013, where he hit .321 with six homers and 51 RBI during UNC’s run to the College World Series in Omaha.

His main focus this year is on the Tar Heels, but he does have long-term sights set on a pro career.  With this in mind, he says he’d like to see the NCAA transition to the use of wood bats, to better prepare young hitters for the big leagues.

Skye Bolt can do it all, at the plate, and in the outfield. (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt can do it all, at the plate, and in the outfield. (UNC Athletics)

“There’s an expense side of it that’s kind of keeping the NCAA off of the idea. For showmanship, and for a fan base, the metal bats provide more home runs, obviously. But swinging a wood bat is something that separates the guys that can really swing it, and the guys that can’t.”

One of the most legendary wooden bat swingers of all time was Babe Ruth.  Ruth was famous for not only his hitting ability, but also his diet of hot dogs and beer.

Skye Bolt’s eating habits can easily be considered borderline “Ruthian.”

“I cram down anything. I know it’s gonna catch up with me later in life,” Bolt says, “I do concentrate on protein and calories. Protein’s great. And I think a staple of all of our athletes’, and especially us baseball players’ (diets), is protein bars, something with some grain and some nuts in it.”

For many top athletes, competition runs in their blood.  That seems to hold true for Skye as he loves playing sports and competing in anything, on or off the diamond.

Every sport except for one that is.

“Not a basketball fan, never liked basketball, never was very good at it. I didn’t understand the concept of dribbling,” Skye says, “I like playing around with the guys, football, throwing it around.”

The Georgia boy also has a passion for the outdoors, saying that he is an avid hunter.

“Whenever I get free time, when it’s not 20 degrees out, and we’re out of season, I love to hunt, love to hunt and fish. That’s something I do back home in Georgia whenever I get the opportunity to,” Bolt says, “In the past two years, me and some teammates have looked into some local land, and tried to get out there as much as possible.”

Bolt's bat will be a big key to UNC's success this season. (WRAL)

Bolt’s bat will be a big key to UNC’s success this season. (WRAL)

There is plenty of optimism in the air around Boshamer Stadium these days, with seemingly anyone you talk to around the clubhouse singing the praises of this team’s “chemistry.”

Everybody  seems to be friendly with one another, something Bolt says definitely has an impact on the field.

He credits those relationships with helping in situations such as middle infielders knowing where one another is going to be on a double play, a pitcher and catcher with a great feel for each others’ tendencies, or outfielders knowing who will make a play on a fly ball.

Chemistry, along with the team’s talent, has given Skye plenty of reasons to harbor high expectations for this season.

“I think we’re just as talented, if not more talented than we were in ’13. We’re definitely and certainly younger, but we will make a run. We will make a run. If we get to Omaha, that’s all that we care about,” Bolt says.

“The rest will take care of itself.”

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/countdown-first-pitch-skye-bolt