The opening weekend of the 2021 season was a successful one for North Carolina’s top college baseball teams.
North Carolina, NC State, East Carolina, UNC Wilmington and Charlotte all earned series sweeps while Duke and Wake Forest were among those winning two of their first three games.
The highlight of the weekend was the debut of new Tar Heels coach Scott Forbes.
A longtime assistant to the recently retired Mike Fox, Forbes got off to a winning start with a major assist from resurgent sophomore outfielder Caleb Roberts and dominant starting pitcher Austin Love.
Roberts, who was limited to just eight at bats because of injury last year, hit a pair of homers while Love, a converted reliever, struck out nine over six no-hit innings to lead UNC to an 8-1 victory against James Madison on Friday.
Roberts drove in three more runs Saturday and junior college transfer Justice Thompson went 4 for 5 with a homer to key a 7-4 win before the Tar Heels’ other veteran addition, Davidson transfer Brett Centracchio, helped finish things off by going deep in Sunday’s 3-2 victory.
The Dukes were a late replacement for UNC’s originally scheduled opening weekend opponent Kentucky, which was forced to cancel because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
NC State was also forced to scramble for an opponent after VMI was a late scratch.
Coach Elliott Avent was able to schedule a Sunday doubleheader against Davidson and the Wolfpack wasted little time showing off the depth of its batting order during its 13-3 and 6-4 wins.
State sent 14 men to the plate during a 10-run fifth inning that broke open Game 1. In all, the Wolfpack’s 17 hits were spread among nine different players. Austin Murr and Tyler McDonough then drove home the decisive runs with back-to-back doubles in the bottom of the seventh to secure a come-from-behind victory in Game 2.
In Greenville, ECU had to work overtime on Friday to beat Rhode Island 3-2 on a walkoff single by pinch-hitter Christian Smallwood.
Things got easier as the weekend went on as All-AAC left-hander Jake Kuchmaner pitched five shutout innings and Connor Norby drove in four runs to lead a 7-1 rout of the Rams on Saturday. The Pirates produced an even more lopsided victory on Sunday, winning 12-4 with Skylar Brooks contributing a homer and Carson Whisenhunt struck out 10 in his first career start.
UNCW opened its season Saturday by rallying for three runs in the ninth to beat VCU 5-4 on a bases loaded walk by Chris Thorburn. The Seahawks then swept a Sunday doubleheader with the Rams, winning 4-1 behind the pitching of Luke Gesell and 9-5 on the strength of three hits from Jac Croom.
Charlotte relied heavily on the long ball in its three-game sweep of Morehead State.
The 49ers launched eight home runs, including three by Craig Keuchel and two by Austin Knight in earning wins by scores of 12-4, 18-3 and 4-2.
Of all the in-state teams, Duke had the most challenging opening week assignment by traveling to Myrtle Beach for a series against perennial national power Coastal Carolina.
The Blue Devils won Game 1 12-4 on Saturday with R.J. Schrek’s three hits and three RBI leading the way. They also won Game 3 on Sunday with a wild 10-9 victory in which Chris Davis drove home the winning run with an eighth inning single.
Sunday’s first game was an even wilder affair that saw Duke score four runs in the top of the ninth to take a 7-3 lead only to see the Chanticleers answer with five runs in the bottom of the inning for an 8-7 victory.
Wake Forest, meanwhile, won its first two games against Northeastern — riding a three-run eighth inning homer by freshman Brock Wilken to an 8-6 win on Friday and six shutout innings from William Flemming in a 9-0 shutout Saturday — before committing five errors in a 14-11 Sunday loss.
Among the other opening week results, NC Central began its final season with an impressive three-game sweep of Army. Western Carolina was even more impressive by winning four straight from Towson, scoring 48 runs in the process.
Campbell bounced back from a Friday loss to Liberty to win the next two, UNC Greensboro took two of three from in-state rival Elon while Appalachian State (against Winthrop),
NC A&T (against Charleston), High Point (against Bryant) and Gardner-Webb (against Wofford) all lost two of their first three.