For as much as injuries, inconsistent starting pitching and a lack of timely hitting have hampered North Carolina this season, there have also been some occasional mental mistakes.
But perhaps at no point have the Tar Heels made quite as many as they did in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to UNCG, a defeat that puts them in must-win territory for the remainder of the season and prompted Scott Forbes to meet with his team for about an hour postgame.
“Just disappointed in not being fundamentally sound, disappointed in our lack of poise,” Forbes said. “That starts from the top. It starts with me allowing it to get to that point. So I need to correct that and make us a better team because if you can’t control your emotions, you’re going to have trouble being really good in this game.”
After falling behind 2-0 in the top of the first inning, UNC made its first significant mistake in the bottom frame, when, with runners on first and third and two outs, Danny Serretti was picked off at first. That proved to be the first of two baserunning blunders, as with runners on first and second and no outs in the fifth, Tomas Frick was doubled up at second after Dallas Tessar hit a line drive to the shortstop.
“Baserunning is a thing we work on so much, and to get doubled up like that is unacceptable,” Forbes said. “It started with Danny back against Campbell. We got lucky we got out of that and found a way to win because that was a mental baserunning mistake. … When there’s a line drive, just a normal line drive hit in the infield, your first reaction has to be back, and it wasn’t.”
Following a two-out single in the top of the sixth, the runner reached second after the Tar Heels didn’t call time and left the base unattended while getting the ball back to the pitcher. Fortunately for UNC, the next batter flew out, but the mistakes didn’t stop there.
After Brett Centracchio hit a leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth, Tessar popped out to the catcher on a bunt attempt. Although Mikey Madej, who pinch ran for Centracchio, eventually scored to tie the game at 2, Forbes expressed frustration with not getting the bunt down in what could have been a bigger inning. That feeling was only enhanced when UNCG’s Pres Cavenaugh – who reached third on a double and an error by third baseman Mac Horvath – scored what proved to be the winning run an inning later.
As glaring as the error was, Forbes referred to the Tar Heels’ mistakes throughout the game as the reason why they now find themselves 21-22 with seven regular-season games left.
“There are physical mistakes that happen – that’s just part of life,” Forbes said. “You’re going to make an error sometimes. But you’ve got to play smart and you have to be fundamentally sound. … That’s why we are where we are. That was my message to the team, like, ‘OK, that’s why we’re one game below .500, because we’re not doing those things we have to do to win those games.’”
After being picked off at first base to end the first inning and a replay review confirmed the call, Serretti exchanged a few words with the first-base umpire. Colby Wilkerson later replaced the shortstop – who reached first after a pitch hit him in the back – in the third inning in what seemed to be an injury-related decision, but Forbes suggested otherwise.
“Just a mistake on his end,” said Forbes of the pickoff. “Just got to carry himself better.”
Horvath’s hot streak
One of the few bright spots Tuesday, Horvath put the Tar Heels on the board when he hit a 1-0 fastball over the left-field wall in the second inning. The ball left his bat at 101.1 mph and traveled 401 feet, according to UNC’s analytics team.
After a rough start to the season, the freshman has hit safely in seven of the last eight games, a stretch that includes his first five extra-base hits (three doubles and two home runs).
“I think he’s become very coachable and worked hard on changing his swing because it just wasn’t where it needed to be,” Forbes said. “Sometimes when you’re that talented, you don’t want to change it until you fail. So his swing is more compact, it’s better, it gives him a better chance to have good at-bats. And he works. He’s a worker, I think he’s a great teammate, I think he has some leadership qualities, and he’s getting rewarded for it.”
The Tar Heels will host No. 11 Louisville this weekend in their final home series. Game 1 is set for 6 p.m. Friday. Picked to win the ACC in the league’s preseason coaches poll, the Cardinals (26-15, 16-10 ACC) are second in the Atlantic Division and coming off a series win over Duke.