Sophomore pitcher Matt Davenport will be keeping a weekly journal where he will document his thoughts and experiences during the baseball season. Here, in his second entry of the season, Matt describes the Tribe pitching staff’s approach in the win over North Carolina.
#11 UNC Goes Down
We had had our ups and down as a team going into the game against North Carolina, especially the weekend before against Seton Hall. In that series we struggled to score runs for the first time all season. We even put up numbers on the scoreboard against LSU, but something about Seton Hall’s starters really put us off balance. They were consistently throwing off-speed pitches for strikes, which enabled them to pitch backwards (throwing curveballs, sliders, etc. early in the counts); however, we were still able to come away with two wins in the series, one of which ended in exciting fashion in the bottom of the ninth courtesy of freshman Ryan Brown. In the end, even with the struggles we had, the weekend let the team know that we can still improve and that we can find different ways to win when we are not playing our best.
The bus ride to UNC was brutal to say the least. For a full team of thirty-one players, coaches, trainers, and media personnel, one relatively small bus is no source of comfort. Plus, the bus driver got lost in Chapel Hill, and we arrived too late to take on-field batting practice. Looking back on the situation, I believe I can say that all of that actually helped us in the end. Everyone was eager to play, but not nervous. Everyone had an extra gear of focus in order to prepare and everyone knew, especially after the experience of LSU, that we could compete.
Enough cannot be said about the way Cole Shain started the game. Last season Cole struggled with the development of some pitches, control, and some minor arm issues that even carried into some of the summer. But in the first start of the season, Cole found his time to shine. His fastball had movement, especially late sink, and he was able to throw his breaking ball for early strikes and as chase pitches late in counts. A quality start is a huge help for any reliever. Cole’s start made it easy to see that the UNC hitters were relatively free swinging late in counts—meaning they would swing at some pitches out of the zone—and that the hitters were mostly selective at the beginning of at bats. As a relief pitcher, I look at this and know that coming into a game I can set the tone of my outing simply by getting ahead in the count early. Another thing I noticed was the trouble the right handed UNC hitters were having with the late sink on Cole’s fastball.
The same was true when R.J. Archer came out of the bullpen. R.J. posted a great outing in his first collegiate pitching experience and showed some real veteran poise on the mound when he threw a full-count slider on the back hip of a left-handed hitter for the strike out in a key situation. When I came into the game, the game plan didn’t change. The first batter hit a single between first and second and shortstop Derek Osteen made a great play up the middle with runners on second and first to get out of the inning. The next inning went a little quicker and smoother with some quick outs. In the bottom of the ninth, the tough part of the UNC lineup was back at the plate. As it had been all game, attacking the strike zone early was key. I struck the first batter on a curveball out of the zone, as we had seen they would chase that pitch earlier in the game. Third baseman Ryan Williams made a great play when he caught a foul ball leaning over the fence for the second out and for the final out, Osteen made another Top-10 play up the middle.
There is nothing better than the feeling throughout the team after a win of that caliber. After coming so close against LSU, the win against UNC was proof that we can play with any team in the nation, and an instant source of confidence to take into our games the rest of the season.
Tribe 3 – UNC 0