UNC began the season strong, going 4-2 in February.
We began the year with a trip to sunny Gainesville, Florida on the first weekend of the month. In game 1, the Heels ran into a hot starting pitcher, who kept their bats quiet for much of the game. The Gators struck for four early runs in the first three innings against Jackson Hicks, before Hicks settled down and held Florida scoreless the rest of the game. UNC scored two late runs, but were unable to bounce back, losing 4-2. In game 2, the Heels roared back behind a stellar performance from Shugo Tanaka on the mound. Tanaka needed less than 60 pitches to throw a complete-game shutout, and the Carolina bats came alive. Cade Darnell drove in three runs and Jacob Fuller added two more RBIs with a monster double. Colin Schilly, Garrett Howerton, and Alan Baker also had multi-hit performances as the Heels took advantage of some Florida errors to win 10-0. In the rubber match, the Gators started strong with 3 early runs off starter Austin Turner but Brian Fornatoro and Troy Vulpis kept Florida in check through the middle innings. The Heels were able to plate 2 runs but were unable to get a clutch hit to draw level. Florida tacked on four more runs in the 9th to claim the series with a 7-2 win.
The Heels were back in action the next weekend with their home opener against South Florida. In Game 1, USF plated two in the first inning, but were unable to score again as Hicks and Nick Mignogna shut them down. The Heels' bats quickly came alive, thanks to two two-run hits from rookie Jake Dennis in his first two at-bats in front of the home fans. Howerton, Landon Burr, and Anthony Castellano all added base hits, while Darnell and Fuller drove in a run apiece, helping the Heels to a comfortable 7-2 victory. In Game 2, Tanaka turned in another vintage performance, throwing his second complete-game shutout of the season. Again, Tanaka needed under 70 pitches on his way to striking out 5 Bulls. USF's pitcher was also dealing, however, and the Heels struggled to score. That changed thanks to aggressive base-running from Carter Mozingo, who sprinted home from second on an infield groundout, plating the game's only run as UNC won 1-0. In Game 3, the Heels went for the sweep with Troy Vulpis making his first career start on the mound. Vulpis stepped up, throwing four shutout innings as the Tar Heels took an early 1-0 lead. USF stormed back in the sixth with four straight base hits to take the lead 2-1. That set the stage for late-game heroics by Jacob Fuller, who drove in three runs with a double down the right field line in the 7th. Spencer Maranto and Austin Turner slammed the door as the Heels took the sweep and improved to 4-2 on the year.
The month ended on a sour note as rain got in the way of series against Maryland and Elon and a game against William Peace. But the Heels will be back in action this weekend for a three-game series against NC State at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary.
February Pitcher of the Month
Shugo Tanaka: Shugo dominated this month, going 2-0, with 0.00 ERA as he threw two complete-game shutouts. For the month, Tanaka had 13 IP, 0 R, 7H, 1BB, 7K.
February Player of the Month
Colin Schilly: Though he missed the USF series, Schilly still led the team with 5 hits on the month, hitting .455 through three games in Florida. Schilly also chipped in with a run, an RBI, and 2 stolen bases from the leadoff spot.