Inside Carolina/MattClements

UNC's Diamond Heels Intent on Closing Strong

UNC is 19-6 and currently holds a two-game lead in the ACC Coastal Division.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox hates talking about last season.

At the end of March last year, UNC held a 20-4 record and sat at No. 7 in the national rankings. The Tar Heels then finished the season by losing 17 of their last 31 games, posting a 34-21 record and failing to qualify for the ACC Tournament.

As the calendar prepares to flip to April this year, Fox finds his team in familiar territory. With a 7-6 win over Coastal Carolina on Tuesday night, the seventh-ranked Tar Heels improved to 19-6 on the season.

After the win, Fox even seemed to frustrate himself when he referenced his team’s play last season during his postgame media availability. He just doesn’t want to make the parallels. This year’s team is different, even if it took last year’s shortcomings for them to realize it.

“Keep your eyes forward and don’t look back,” Fox said after the win over the reigning national champions. “Our players have learned from last year that it’s how you finish.”

Fox has plenty to be happy about with his current squad. As usual, pitching has been at the forefront of UNC’s success. Friday night ace J.B. Bukauskas boasts an imposing 0.90 ERA, which ranks second in the ACC, and freshman Luca Dalatri is leading the league in innings pitched (41.2). Closer Josh Hiatt has already recorded nine saves this season, good for second nationally.

On the offensive end, consistency throughout the order has helped the Tar Heels sprint to the top of the ACC Coastal Division standings. Speaking of consistency, it would be an omission to fail to mention the production of shortstop Logan Warmoth – the junior has reached base in 40 straight games.

UNC’s bats were on display against the Chanticleers, amassing eight hits and smashing two home runs to left field.

“This is as good a win as we’ve had,” Fox said. “I’m about as proud of our team as I’ve ever been this season because there were so many things that happened… The one thing we’re doing is we’re getting contributions from everybody up and down the lineup.”

With the season at its halfway point, it would seem easy for the players to glance into the past, noticing the parallels to last season and how it ended. However, sophomore third baseman Kyle Datres says that’s not the case.

“We kind of let go of last year,” Datres said. “This is a new team, a new mentality… we tried to flush last year away and forget everything that happened. We’re just going out there like nothing happened last year. Going out and playing ball at our best.”

But if there is one thing to be taken from last season, it’s Fox’s sage advice that no matter how well you’re playing, the only thing that matters is the next game. In this case, that’s Friday night in Tallahassee.

“You’ve just got to keep racking up wins,” Fox said. “It really doesn’t matter. You walk into Florida State on Friday night and it doesn’t matter if you’ve won 10 in a row or lost 10 in a row. If you don’t strap it on there you’re going to have a bad weekend. I’ve got a pretty mentally strong and tough team. They don’t get deterred too much, which was our problem last year. I think we learned from that.”

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