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Cody Roberts Pushes North Carolina One Step Closer To Omaha

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A month ago, Cody Roberts wasn’t sure he’d be here.

On May 13, the North Carolina catcher suffered one of the more brutal injuries that can be sustained on a baseball field when he took a foul tip to the groin, sending him to his knees and then later to the hospital to have surgery.

Roberts had to watch the final week of the regular season—and the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament—from afar until he was finally cleared to play last weekend in the Chapel Hill Regional.

The very second head coach Mike Fox got that clearance, he inserted Roberts back into the starting lineup. He knew just how important Roberts is to the Tar Heels, and he also knew that if anyone on this UNC team could regroup after a blow like that, it’s Roberts.

The junior catcher is emblematic of the kind of toughness that position typically entails—a hard-nosed, high-motor, gritty player who produces far more than his stats might indicate. Roberts has never put up crooked slash lines (.276/.376/.402 this spring), but he’s a premier defender with a plus throwing arm and someone who simply finds ways to contribute to Tar Heel wins.\

On Friday, in Game 1 of the Chapel Hill Super Regional against Stetson, Roberts did that with one swing.

Facing the No. 14 overall pick in this year’s draft in Stetson ace Logan Gilbert, the righthanded Roberts walloped a hanging curveball over the left-field wall in the fifth inning, driving in three runs and breaking open what had been a tied game at one run apiece.

The Tar Heels didn’t turn back from there, defeating Stetson, 7-4, to move one win closer to their first Omaha trip since 2013.

For Roberts, he was thrilled—and fortunate—to even be able to stand in the batter’s box.

“Having that injury was tough,” Roberts said. “I knew for sure I was gonna be out at least that first weekend and the ACC Tournament, and I was kind of stressing that I wouldn’t be able to get back for the regional. But we have good doctors here, and we stayed on top of things, and I was able to recover pretty quickly.

“So to be able to come back and be part of that regional was obviously pretty awesome, and to be able to come out today and help my team win today was a pretty cool experience.”

All signs had pointed toward a pitchers' duel. After UNC junior righthander Cooper Criswell and Gilbert traded rocky, one-run first innings, both pitchers seemingly settled into grooves, throwing up zeroes until the fifth. Criswell did it more with command and guile; Gilbert did it with power, throwing a fastball that touched the mid-90s.

But UNC hitters saw the ball well off Gilbert, going in with an approach of laying off pitches high in the zone and locking in on fastballs. The Tar Heels squared up several line drives through the first few frames that were hit directly at fielders, but Roberts made sure no fielder would track down his drive.

An 11th-round draftee of the Orioles, Roberts is lauded by scouts for his arm and his defense but rarely for his bat. He’s been a different player this season, though, filling a bevy of roles for the Tar Heels, including playing in right field, where he started Friday. He’s also been a force at the plate at times this season, batting leadoff earlier in the year and batting in the third-hole Friday—showing just how much confidence his team has in him.

He justified it.

“Everybody was happy for him,” sophomore first baseman Michael Busch said. “The work ethic, the energy he brings each and every day, it’s hard not to feel good for him when he does something like that. To come back from an injury like that in a couple weeks and almost not even missing a step is unbelievable to me.

“If you don’t get that big inning or that big swing of that bat you don’t know how the rest of the game plays out. And to get the ball rolling with that swing of the bat was huge.”

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Stetson didn’t go down quietly. In the top of the seventh, the Hatters scratched across two runs, taking advantage of a pair of UNC miscues—an errant throw on a bunt attempt and a wild pitch by reliever Josh Hiatt. But Busch responded with a big swing of his own in the bottom half of the frame, clubbing a towering two-run home run over the wall in right.

Still, the Hatters weren’t finished.

After recording two quick outs in the ninth inning, Hiatt walked a batter, hit another, then allowed an RBI single and was replaced with hard-throwing sophomore starter Austin Bergner. Bergner walked his first batter, which brought up Stetson’s best hitter, Brooks Wilson, as the go-ahead run with the bases loaded.

Wilson muscled a ball deep to left field, but it hung up just long enough for Ashton McGee to catch it at the wall.

The ending was far more interesting than Fox had hoped it would be, but the confident Heels showed little panic.

“We all have faith in our pitchers, whether it was Hiatt or Bergner or anyone else in the bullpen,” Roberts said. “But I knew we were gonna win, because we had a good lead.”

Roberts made sure of that.

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