By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — It’s hard to win in the rugged ACC without good pitching and North Carolina continues to struggle to find any since the league season started.
A Tar Heels staff that had one of the best ERAs in the country and a low walk rate during the non-conference season has seen those numbers flip in league play, and that continued Friday night.
Georgia Tech took batting practice all night against the Tar Heels on its way to a 15–12 victory at Boshamer Stadium in the first game of a key three-game series.
“Our pitchers right now are struggling with confidence,” said UNC coach Scott Forbes, adding that the Tar Heels probably would have won if he could have gotten three good innings from one pitcher. “They work. It’s just that we’re in a bit of a pitching slump, we gotta find a way to get out of it.”
Carolina tried to rally in the ninth when Danny Serretti drove in two runs on a single that bounced off the third-base bag with two outs but Alberto Osuna was called out on strikes, representing the tying run, to end the game.
“I thought our guys really fought,” said Forbes, whose pitchers issued nine walks. “I thought throughout the lineup our guys battled, they had great at-bats. And we just could not hold them down.”
Forbes said that the lack of long outings from his starters had worn out his bullpen. Evidence of that is that reliever Kyle Mott has pitched the third-most innings on the team. Only eight times has a starter gone five more innings.
“So, that’s a great credit to our team that we’ve still managed to get 20-plus wins,” Forbes said. “So, until some step up, it’s going to be hard to piece together a winning streak because it’s all about pitching.”
Both teams came into the series at 7–8 in the league, trying to find some momentum. But the Tar Heels (21–13, 7–9 ACC) gave up at least six runs for the seventh consecutive game and lost their fourth consecutive game.
Needing to win the final two games of the series with the Yellow Jackets (21–13, 8–8) to avoid losing a fourth consecutive league series, Carolina is looking for answers.
It was the most runs given up at home since a 14–8 loss March 17, 2006, to Maryland. It was the most combined runs in a UNC game since its 21–8 win last season over Duke.
Mac Horvath (top photo) and Mikey Madej led a potent Carolina offense, each with a homer and three RBI, with Hunter Stokely and Angel Zarate also hitting home runs.
“We’ve been clicking and we’re putting up runs and I don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon,” said Horvath, who had his first four-hit game and homered for the third consecutive game. “Position wise and offensively. I think we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Horvath said that it wasn’t frustrating to score 12 runs and still lose.
“There’s gonna be games where we score one run and our pitchers do their job and carry us,” he said. “And there’s gonna be days where we have to carry the pitching staff and today was just both teams were scoring runs, so it’s tough.”
Carolina starter Max Carlson struck out three in 1⅔ innings but walked four. Tech catcher Kevin Parada, the game’s second batter, hit a two-run homer in the three-run first and Carlson’s day was over soon after Andrew Jenkins’ two-out, two-run triple in the second gave the Jackets a 5–4 second-inning lead.
UNC matched that early offense with a two-out three-run homer to right-center field by Madej in the four-run first, his first homer as a Tar Heel, and Zarate’s two-run shot to right in the second.
After Carolina reliever Kyle Mott silenced the Jackets’ bats for one inning, they hit him for three fourth-inning runs on Tres Gonzalez’s RBI double just off Zarate’s glove in right field and Tim Borden’s two-run single to right to put Tech up 8–6.
Carolina got one run back on Horvath’s RBI double in the fourth but Drew Compton’s two-out 3-run homer to right-center in the sixth pushed Tech’s lead to 11–7 in the sixth.
UNC powered back in the sixth when Stokely launched a long solo home run well past the right-center field wall and Horvath belted a 403-foot two-run shot over the scoreboard in left field. It was Horvath’s seventh homer of the season.
The Jackets shoved the lead back to 14–10 with back-to-back homers from Parada and Jenkins, and tacked on another run in the eighth.
Weather permitting, Game 2 is at 2 p.m. Saturday, with the series finale at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Georgia Tech 15, UNC 12
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications