Tar Heels' Late Rally Falls Short Against Coastal Carolina

UNC struggled to rebound from an early deficit

For much of Tuesday’s game against Coastal Carolina, it seemed unlikely that North Carolina would find itself in the position it was in three batters into the bottom of the ninth inning.

But, despite falling behind 6-0 early and struggling again with runners in scoring position, there the Tar Heels were, trailing 6-3 after Caleb Roberts’ RBI single and threatening to score more with no outs and runners on first and second.

As quickly as UNC mounted its comeback attempt, though, it fell short. Justice Thompson struck out and Brett Centracchio grounded into a double play, bringing the game to a sudden, though not entirely unexpected, conclusion.

“Honestly, I was amazed we were still in the game,” coach Scott Forbes said. “It’s a credit to the guys who came in out of the bullpen. I thought they were pretty good. Our starting pitching, again, we’ve got to figure that out and try some different guys in those roles, which we’re going to do this week. And then you’ve got to give Coastal credit. They came in, they swung the bats well and they made one error while we made three – one of them cost us some runs. They got it done, and we didn’t.”

Tuesday’s loss dropped the Tar Heels’ record to 18-16. It also brought their record to 0-14 when trailing after six innings, as the Chanticleers (18-13) scored all six of their runs in the first four innings.

“We have been behind a lot this year – that’s been one of the problems,” Forbes said. “And it’s hard. It’s hard to be good all of the time from behind because there’s momentum in every sport and the momentum swings and the more you can get the momentum on your side, the better you’re going to be, especially offensively.”

Another tough start for Alba

Making his first appearance since the South Carolina game on April 6, Max Alba made quick work of the first two batters he faced. But after falling behind 2-0 to the third, Parker Chavers, the redshirt freshman gave up a home run, the first of three solo shots he surrendered before being pulled after 1 1/3 innings.

Tuesday’s start marked Alba’s fourth straight in which he went 2 1/3 innings or fewer. It was also the seventh time in nine starts this season that he’s allowed a home run. Sixteen of the 23 earned runs scored against him have come on 10 homers.

“Max just hasn’t thrown that well,” Forbes said. “He hasn’t pitched deep except for really one game – I think that was against Clemson (when he went 7 2/3 innings). He’s had trouble with left-handed hitters. And he hasn’t been able to carry over what he’s done in the bullpen into the game. So that’s been disappointing.

“(Pitching) coach (Bryant) Gaines and him have spent a lot of time together in the bullpen. We felt good about Max’s start. Max has been here – it’s not like he hasn’t been here. At this level, you can’t just throw the ball 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 down the middle. Good teams are going to make you pay, and that’s what happened.”

A welcome return

The biggest positive for UNC was the return of Caden O’Brien. Sidelined the previous six games due to COVID-19 protocols, the redshirt junior entered the game in the seventh inning and picked up right where he left off, retiring all seven batters he faced over 2 1/3 scoreless innings. The lefty now boasts a 2.42 ERA and a .85 WHIP in 22 1/3 innings.

“That was great to see,” Forbes said. “It tells you how tough that kid is.”

Forbes said he’s hoping Angel Zarate, who has missed the last seven games due to COVID-19 protocols, can return for Friday’s series opener against Miami. In the left fielder's stead, Dallas Tessar has gone 10-for-26 with three doubles and two home runs – including a solo shot Tuesday that extend his hitting streak to a career-best eight games.

Forbes reiterated Tuesday that Tessar and Zarate will both be in the lineup when Zarate returns.

Young arms show promise

With Joey Lancellotti out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and Max Carlson expected to miss an extended amount of time, if not the rest of the season, due to elbow soreness, the Tar Heels need another starter to emerge.

Just as importantly, though, they need one or more relievers to step up should starter candidates such as Gage Gillian, Chris Joyner or Shawn Rapp move into the rotation.

Two such options include redshirt freshman Davis Palermo and true freshman Cannon Pickell, who both looked sharp Tuesday. Palermo pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit while striking out two batters and walking another. Pickell then came in with one out in the ninth inning and sandwiched two strikeouts around a walk.

“I do feel like Davis and Cannon give us even more depth, and they give us power stuff out of the bullpen,” Forbes said. “When you have that power stuff, you can get away with a mistake more often than you can if it’s 89 or 90 right down the middle. Both of those guys are going to be 92, 94, touching 95. I have a good feeling about them. Those two, they don’t have much experience. They’re starting to get it, and it’s helping them.”

What’s next?

UNC returns to action Friday, when it hosts Miami in the first game of a three-game series. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m.

Voted as the favorite to win the Coastal Division in the ACC preseason coaches poll, the Hurricanes (21-11, 13-10 ACC) are coming off a three-game sweep of Clemson in which they outscored the Tigers 25-7.