By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Power surges have short-circuited North Carolina in recent weeks and Georgia Tech played the long (ball) game well.
Homer runs, two of the five from designated hitter Tim Borden II, drove in every Yellow Jackets run in their 11–8 victory Sunday at Boshamer Stadium as Tar Heels pitching has given up 30 home runs in the last 12 games.
That’s a big reason why UNC (22–14, 8–10 ACC) has lost four consecutive league series after a 5–1 start, although it avoided a sweep with an 11–8 Saturday victory.
“You can’t win if you don’t pitch,” UNC coach Scott Forbes said. “We haven’t pitched well in this stretch, really top to bottom. A lot of mistakes. I think a lot of it obviously out of the bullpen has to do with some of our starting pitching. But we’ve also had opportunities in the bullpen to have a shutdown inning and if you go look at this stretch, we haven’t won as many games as we should have. We haven’t had hardly any shutdown innings.”
The pattern of walks, errors and hit batsmen preceding a home run continued. That’s happened for 12 of the last 30 homers the Tar Heels have given up and twice Sunday. Borden’s ninth-inning grand slam followed an intentional walk and two hit batsmen.
“I think that’s a sign of lack of toughness,” Forbes said. “I was a pitching coach for 10 years. That’s where you have to say, as a pitcher, ‘OK, I’m getting this guy out.’
“And we talked to our pitchers about it,” he said. “ ‘OK, if something negative happens, a hit by pitch, an error or a walk, the next guy — if you get him out — it’s hard to have that big inning.’ And that fact right there tells me a lot that is a toughness factor that we’ve got to improve on.”
The Tar Heels couldn’t ride their potent offense to victory Sunday because, like unclaimed Easter eggs during a hunt, the Tar Heels missed out on a basket full of runs.
UNC left 12 runners stranded and was 1 of 7 with runners in scoring position, a few times hitting hard balls right at fielders. Jackets starter Marquis Grissom Jr. got out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the second inning when Angel Zarate lined out to center field.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech (23–14, 9–9 ACC) scored five runs with two outs and hit 10 homers in the three-game series.
Danny Serretti, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games, did his part with two hits and an RBI triple but it was a day of missed opportunities for Carolina, which outhit the Jackets 11–9.
“Runs are hard to come by in the ACC, so we just got to be a little better with two outs, especially with runners on,” Serretti said. “But I’m really proud of how the offense battled today.”
Although there is a sense of urgency with the regular season winding down, Serretti likes the way the offense has played of late and is confident that the Tar Heels can turn things around.
“We have so much firepower in this offense, and I love this team still and we have great players and we just haven’t put it together yet,” Serretti said. “So when that does happen, we’re going to be very dangerous.”
Carolina has hit multiple home runs in four consecutive games and seven of its last nine.
It all comes down pitching, though.
UNC used seven pitchers Sunday and walked seven. Only relievers Shawn Rapp (1⅓ scoreless innings) and Shaddon Peavyhouse (⅔ of an inning) went unscathed, with both striking out one and not giving up a hit.
Closer Caden O’Brien faced five batters, walked two (one intentionally) and gave Borden’s grand slam.
“We’re not going to consecutively win games and be the team that we’re capable of being if we don’t pitch,” Forbes said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, there’s not a team that’s going to get to Omaha, that’s going to have a great season, if it’s not centered on the mound. It’s just not going to happen in baseball. It doesn’t matter if you have the best offense in the country.”
Carolina starter Connor Bovair exited with the bases loaded and nobody out in the second after walking four of the last five batters he faced. Reliever Kyle Mott came in and retired the next two batters before Kevin Parada hit a grand slam over the scoreboard in left field that traveled 423 feet for his third home run of the series.
“Just terrible pitches,” Forbes said of all the home runs his staff has given up. “Guys have to make better pitches.”
Tech’s Tres Gonzalez led off the third inning with a home run that just cleared the center field fence to make it 5–0.
Serretti got UNC on the board in the third with his RBI triple down the right-field line and scored on a throwing error by Tech shortstop Jadyn Jackson.
Carolina got another bases-loaded, two-out chance in the fifth after a pair of walks and a hit by pitch. Hunter Stokely took advantage with a two-run single down the right-field line.
That briefly trimmed Tech’s lead to one before the Jackets’ Colin Hall led off the sixth with a home run to right off UNC reliever Gage Gillian. Borden added a two-out solo homer to right field in the seventh.
Carolina designated hitter Alberto Osuna sliced Tech’s lead to 7–6 with a two-out, two-run homer in the eighth after Serretti drew a walk before Borden’s grand slam to right field put the game away.
UNC got a two-out home run to left field from freshman Vance Honeycutt in the ninth inning.