By R.L. Bynum
If you’ve watched Carolina’s baseball team emerge from weeks of struggles to finish the regular season with three consecutive ACC series wins and thought that its season trajectory reminds you of the Tar Heels’ men’s basketball team, you aren’t the only one.
For Coach Hubert Davis’ basketball team, the low points were the back-to-back road losses to Miami and Wake Forest and the stunning home loss to Pittsburgh. For Coach Scott Forbes’ baseball team, it was losing five consecutive league series before the exam break.
They’ve both noticed the similarities. Both rebounded after dealing with early-season criticism of them and their players.
“I’m lucky that I’m close with Hubert,” Forbes said after his team’s 11–0 Saturday win over Florida State in the regular-season finale to finish off its first ACC series sweep since February. “So, I’ve talked to him a lot about it. His saying the whole time was keep your eyes forward; eliminate the distractions.
“I’ve talked to our guys about it; don’t get on your phones. Don’t look at Twitter,” Forbes said. “Don’t look at what people are saying. And just focus on each other and what’s in front of them. Because you can’t do anything about what’s behind you.”
Carolina (34–19, 15–15 ACC) is in Pool A and the No. 8 seed at the ACC Tournament in Charlotte. The Tar Heels play Tuesday against No. 12-seed Clemson (35–21, 13–16) and Friday against No. 1-seed and No. 2-ranked Virginia Tech (40–11, 19–9). Both games are at 7 p.m. and air on regional sports networks.
The weekend when UNC pulled out an epic NCAA tournament overtime second-round victory over Baylor in Fort Worth, Texas, the baseball team took two of three from Duke. But they didn’t win another ACC series until taking two of three from N.C. State the first weekend in May when the Tar Heels started to flip the script.
Before the stretch that began with that big series in Raleigh, there were doubts that UNC would make the ACC Tournament, much less the NCAA tournament. Knowing that his baseball team is full of Carolina basketball fans, Forbes used their plight as motivation to show how you can accomplish big things after devastating setbacks. In the case of the basketball team, Forbes pointed to the Pittsburgh loss.
” ‘Look at where these guys were after that loss,’ ” Forbes remembers telling his team. “ ‘Think about what everybody was saying. And you might have been saying it because you pull for them so hard.’ Well, somehow in that locker room, they said, ‘You know what, we can do this and they did and look where they ended up.’ ”
Davis talked even early in the season about the goal for his team to play in New Orleans at the Final Four. Forbes began the season with similar goals of playing in Omaha at the College World Series. Few outside of their programs believed either was possible even midway through their seasons.
“Expectations are always high,” Forbes said. “So, that’s what we just talked about. Our goal wasn’t to get into the ACC tournament. We know what our goal was at UNC and that goal doesn’t change. We want those expectations. These guys came to UNC because of those expectations. So they don’t feel them at all.”
Much like the basketball team, the Tar Heels likely will have to beat Virginia Tech to make the ACC championship game. The basketball team couldn’t do that, but then made its incredible run to the Final Four.
Forbes knows that anything can happen once you get to the postseason, and he brought up the 2015 Virginia team that had to sweep UNC just to make the ACC tournament field. The Cavaliers have had better teams, but that group won the national championship.
“So, you try to remind the guys that this game is momentum-based,” Forbes said. “We knew we had the talent to chip away. I did lean on Coach Davis because we have a lot of similarities in the way we think as far as why we coach and what we try to do with our players.”
Davis became known in his first season as head coach for his positive attitude, even when little was going right during early stretches. He had advice for Forbes when the baseball team had a tough time putting wins together.
“I just said, ‘What did you do?’ ” Forbes remembers asking Davis. “ ‘You know what, you just do your best to be positive. You love them. But you tell them, hey, we can do this. And then, all of the sudden, they start believing, then a guy plays better, then a guy plays better and next thing you know you’re in a good spot.”
Who knows if the Diamond Heels can find the kind of magic that the Carolina basketball team discovered? But they have the kind of momentum heading into this week to give them the confidence that it’s possible.
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications