Bolt's Back

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 2 North Carolina's midweek game against Appalachian State on Tuesday almost seemed secondary to the return of freshman phenom Skye Bolt.

The highly touted right fielder had missed his previous 17 games due to a broken right foot. Doctors cleared him to play on Monday, less than 10 days before the start of postseason play.

"It's good to be back out on the field again," Bolt told reporters following UNC's 2-0 victory. "It's been painful sitting there and watching but the guys have been playing regardless."

Carolina went 13-4 without Bolt and suffered a decline in every major statistical category during his absence. With Bolt, the Tar Heels averaged 9.24 runs per game. Without him, that number dropped to 7.24. UNC's batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage all dropped during his absence.

After losing their first ACC series of the season against Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels needed a surge to avoid the possibility of enduring their first losing streak of the season. Bolt, as expected, supplied the charge.

Tuesday's win opened up in a fitting manner with Bolt tracking down a fly ball in right field for the first out.

"It was a sigh of relief to get it off of my shoulders and get a ball to me to get moving," Bolt said. "It kind of put me back to the basics and got me going."

Bolt made his presence known right from the start as he walked up for his first at bat with Eminem's "Square Dance" serving as intro music.

The lyrics: "People!! It feels so good to be back. Ladies and gentleman, introducing the new and improved you know who."

This switch made for an emphatic declaration of his return yet he admitted that the idea wasn't his alone.

"I actually stole it," Bolt said. "We played Georgia Tech this past weekend and their first baseman A.J. Murray had it. I got it to Tyson today and I guess everybody liked it."

He followed that intro with action more suited toward what Tar Heel fans have come to expect from him – a hard hit single in the gap between short and third.

"It was nice to see him go up there and get a base hit," head coach Mike Fox said. "He's going to be a little rusty but his learning curve is pretty short so he'll get back into it pretty quickly."

Bolt made an impressive snag in right field to start the top half of the fifth inning and stole a base to help dismiss any concerns about the health of his ankle.

Bolt doesn't believe his injury absence hurt him; instead, he thinks it actually may have helped his game overall. The Georgia native claimed it was a "flush to the system" eliminating all the bad habits.

"I feel relaxed," Bolt said. "I've been taking the best rounds of batting practice I've taken pretty much all season the past two weeks so it's been a good flush of the system at the plate specifically."

In UNC's 46th victory this season, Bolt had one of the four Tar Heel hits and went 1-of-3 on the night with a walk.

"That's pretty much how I imagined my first game going coming back," Bolt said. "I couldn't ask for it to go any better. That was a good stepping stone."

The next step for Bolt and the Tar Heels will come when they face a true test this weekend in Coastal Division foe Virginia. The series starts on Thursday night at Boshamer Stadium.

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