North Carolina’s leadoff hitter Angel Zarate reached on a walk in the top of the first inning against Boston College baseball on Friday. A handful of pitches later, he broke for second when Mason Pelio lifted his left foot out of the dirt. By the time Zarate was halfway to second, the pitch had been called ball four, but instead of walking to second, Zarate started running even faster. He turned through the bag and kept going toward third, and BC didn’t notice. Thanks to sloppy BC baseball, Zarate took third and set up runners on the corners with one out.
Ultimately, his stealing two bases didn’t matter, as UNC’s next batter cleared the bases on a three-run shot, but it set the tone for a night of messy play by the Eagles. When the final BC batter sat down in the ninth, No. 14 UNC had beat the No. 21/ 24 Eagles 9-3.
BC allowed UNC to get out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, and the Eagles struggled to put up a crooked number in response until the eighth when it was already too late.
“When you play sloppy baseball against a good team you get thumped,” BC head coach Mike Gambino said. “We’ve just got to tighten up a little and get back to playing baseball the way we can and the way we have been.”
Similar to Pelio’s last start, walks plagued the Eagles on Friday. Four by Pelio, one by Joey Ryan, and three by John West totaled eight BC walks. An additional three hit batters bumped that number to 11. Wild pitches from BC also contributed to UNC’s win. As the Eagles found out Friday, you can’t defend against a walk.
“We have got to cut down on our walks,” Gambino said. “We just have got to get a little bit cleaner and attack the zone a little bit more.”
When BC attacked the zone, it limited UNC’s ability to score. The Tar Heels combined for just seven hits and left 11 runners on base. BC held UNC to four scoreless innings and struck out nine of its batters.
Despite the high score and walk total, BC’s pitching performance still had its highlights. Three of the four runs Pelio allowed came from one swing of the bat. Had he located that pitch better, his outing would have looked different.
“Up until that point, he was throwing the ball great,” Gambino said of Pelio. “He left a fastball touch up, [Danny] Serretti hit that ball hard, and it got into the jet stream a little bit. … He made really two mistakes. One to Serretti that he hit out and the rest of his outing was good and clean. You’re starting to see Mason turn into Mason again.”
The BC ace allowed just three hits over five innings while totaling six strikeouts. After UNC scored its runs in the first, Pelio responded by sitting down nine straight Tar Heel batters. Command was an issue, but it was his only issue in an otherwise successful outing.
Pelio’s start was followed by three freshman relievers: Charlie Coon, Ryan, and West. Each allowed at least a run, but they also sat down three UNC batters on strikes in their combined four innings of relief.
“We have some trust in those guys,” Gambino said. “Chucky [Coon] has been good for us, but he got hit. He made a mistake, left the ball up, and got hit hard. … Joey [Ryan] was awesome and Westie [West] is [6-foot-9] and he’s got a lot of moving parts. … When you talk about the future of the staff, those three guys are going to be really, really good.”
Offensively, the Eagles struggled to produce runs. They out-hit UNC with eight total, but also stranded eight baserunners. This stat is partially due to BC’s tendency to produce two-out hits. In fact, half of BC’s total hits came with two outs.
Following the theme of too little too late, BC’s most productive inning came when the Eagles were already almost out of chances. In the bottom of the eighth, as the sun finished setting and the frigid mid-March Boston weather fully set in, Luke Gold stepped up to the plate.
He didn’t stay there for very long, as he hammered an inside pitch to left-center for a solo shot.
“Kid can hit, huh,” Gambino said. “He’s so strong. That ball got in off the label just a touch and he still drove it out of the park to almost dead center. … We talked about it last year. We thought he was a legitimate middle-of-the-order power bat. We had said that going into the season as a freshman, and we thought it this year, and he’s shown that.”
Each of Gold’s at-bats Friday resulted in hits. On top of that, he also stole his second base of the season. Gold currently leads BC in home runs, on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), RBIs, and total bases. Sal Frelick trails Gold for second in each of those categories, and Gold is in second behind Frelick in batting average and hits.
Gold and Frelick have led BC’s offense throughout most of this season, and Friday was no exception, as Frelick’s one-out double in the fifth was BC’s second-biggest hit of the night. He eventually scored, representing the Eagles’ only run through the first seven innings.
Part of the reason Frelick and Gold have had to do it all for the Eagles is the absence of star infielder Cody Morissette. He hit .277 in the first twelve games of the season but has since missed time with an injury.
“We’re hoping for Clemson,” Gambino said when asked about Morissette’s return. “It’s a hand injury and he’s making progress. … It’ll be nice to have him back.”
Featured Image Courtesy of BC Athletics