Tar Heels Dominant in Win Over ECU

Nik Pry, Tomas Frick help UNC kick off rivalry week on a strong note

Heading into this week’s home games against rivals ECU and N.C. State, Scott Forbes didn’t shy away from telling his players of this week’s importance. In fact, North Carolina’s first-year head coach made it a point that they understand the history of both rivalries.

For many, the lesson was needed, as the Tar Heels entered Tuesday’s contest against the Pirates with only 14 players on their 44-man roster who had played against either foe. Nik Pry wasn’t one of them. But the UNC-ECU rivalry is one the redshirt sophomore pitcher knows well.

“Where I come from, these are the two powerhouses in the state,” said Pry, from Pinehurst. “My high school coach, he played at ECU. (High school teammate) Seth (Caddell) is at ECU. There are a lot of ECU fans where I’m from and a lot of Carolina fans. So, man, this one is a big one. And I knew if I got out there (Tuesday), I had to have it.”

Called out of the bullpen in the fifth inning, Pry ensured he and his teammates did, tossing 3 1/3 scoreless innings to help the No. 11 Tar Heels to an 8-1 win over the No. 8 Pirates.

With UNC (13-6) up 3-1, Pry entered the game with two outs and runners on first and second. He promptly got Caddell to hit a grounder toward the left side of the infield, and redshirt sophomore shortstop Danny Serretti made a ranging play to his right to get the inning’s last out at third base.

The Pirates (16-4) – who entered Tuesday hitting .288 with 27 home runs, tied for the 11th most in the nation – didn’t get another runner past first base the rest of the night. Relying on the cutter he developed in the offseason, Pry held ECU to two hits and struck out five batters en route to his first win of the season.

“Nik has always been able to spin the ball, but (pitching) coach (Bryant) Gaines wanted something a little bit harder to get the guys off the slider,” Forbes said. “They worked hard at it, and (former UNC pitcher Rob) Wooten helped a little bit, too; he knows Pry pretty well.”

Tuesday marked the third time in nine appearances this season that Pry pitched two or more innings of scoreless relief. The right-hander has also logged two outings in which he surrendered three runs and another in which he allowed two – which is why his ERA sits at 4.60.

When he’s pounding the strike zone, though, as he did against the Pirates, Pry is among the Tar Heels’ top arms.

“If I’m able to locate that cutter wherever I want, locate the heater wherever I want, it’s going to go in my favor,” he said. “Hitting is hard as it is, so if I can throw that pitch where it is, it’s going to go in my favor more times than not."

Sandy bounces back

After a pair of rough outings against Liberty, Forbes said redshirt sophomore Will Sandy didn’t travel with the team to Boston College last weekend. The lefty, however, didn’t sulk. Forbes said Sandy turned in “a bunch of really good side sessions” and a live batting practice session to earn the start Tuesday. And he delivered, allowing one run and six hits over 4 2/3 innings.

“That was the Will Sandy who I saw in the fall,” said true freshman catcher Tomas Frick. “He was filling up the strike zone, throwing every pitch and just throwing with competitiveness.”

As has happened in a few similar situations this year, Sandy could have unraveled after ECU tied the game at 1 on a second-inning infield single. But he didn’t, inducing a ground ball two batters later to escape the inning.

“Will is not really a strikeout guy,” Forbes said. “He’s at his best when he’s getting ground balls and he’s sinking it a little bit, which he did (Tuesday). We’ve been working on that, like, ‘Hey, you’re going to give up some hits, but let’s just eliminate the free passes because you’ll get enough outs and you’ll get some strikeouts as your stuff comes back.’ I think for his confidence, that was really important to get out of that inning.”

‘Locked in from the get-go’

It’s not too often that you see a pitcher of ECU starter Tyler Smith’s pedigree in a midweek game. But after standout Gavin Williams moved into the rotation last weekend after a few weeks working his way back from a health issue, Smith – who entered Tuesday with a 3.74 ERA in 65 career appearances (34 starts) – came out of the rotation and received the nod against UNC.

The Tar Heels struck early against the right-hander, with center fielder Justice Thompson scoring on a first-inning RBI double by Serretti. Two innings later, UNC knocked Smith out of the game, thanks to an RBI groundout by Serretti and an RBI double by Frick off the right-field wall.

From there, the Tar Heels went on to score five more runs, totaling 11 hits and eight walks against a pitching staff that ranked inside the top 30 nationally in ERA, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“Smith is good, and that’s a credit to our guys,” Forbes said. “They were locked in from the get-go, they made him work, they spat on a lot of pitches. I really thought we had a couple that we stung pretty good that if we would’ve found a hole, we might have got a couple more (runs). But I was proud of our guys, one through nine, with competitive at-bats.”

Frick finding his groove

In addition to his RBI double and an RBI single, Frick hit his first career home run, sending a first-pitch slider over the right-center-field wall to lead off the bottom of the seventh. According to UNC’s analytics team, the ball left Frick’s bat at 102.6 mph. The four balls that he put in play on the evening had an average exit velocity of 101 mph.

“I know he’s a freshman, but he doesn’t play like it sometimes, especially defensively,” Forbes said. “It was good to see him get that first home run. We’ve been busting his chops that he needs to bench press a little bit more.”

With his 3-for-5 performance, Frick improved to 11-for-28 with four doubles, a homer and just two strikeouts over the last seven games. This is after he went 8-for-34 with a double and 12 strikeouts in his first 11 games.

“Earlier in the season, I was a little tense,” he said. "As a freshman coming in, you can be a little quick and stuff. I’ve just tried to relax and get in my rhythm and put good swings on it.”

What’s next?

Rivalry week continues for the Tar Heels on Friday, when they host N.C. State in Game 1 of a three-game series. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.

Picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division in the ACC preseason coaches poll, the Wolfpack (5-9, 1-8 ACC) is coming off a 5-3 win at UNCW on Tuesday.