UNC playing ‘freakin awesome’ entering NCAA baseball tourney

North Carolina first baseman Hunter Stokely asked his father for one of those favors, which are harmless enough for him to go along with, but he had no idea why his son wanted it.

Stokely needed a Carolina blue t-shirt with “Freakin’ Awesome” written on the front.

“Coach (Scott) Forbes always says, ‘Today’s a bloody great day,’ so that’s almost why I had it done,” Stokely said, adding that it only cost about $5. “He kept saying it and our team just said it every day.”

The team initially began casually dropping the phrase, just to tease Forbes at practice or batting practice, or even hang out in the players’ lounge. But it’s become Carolina’s reaction to everything.

So Stokely wanted to go one step further.

The heels had no souvenir to recognize winning games. Getting the jersey from his father at Wilson, Stokely finally revealed it during a game when Tomas Frick hit a walk-off double in the bottom of the 10th inning for a 4-3 win over Charlotte last month.

Stokely retrieved it from the dugout and gave it to Frick at the party, and it has been a constant feature of the dugout ever since.

Whenever a player hits a home run, they are greeted with Stokely or someone holding the jersey by the shoulder area so that the black letters on the front of the jersey are clearly visible. Nobody is actually wearing the shirt, they just hold it long enough to take it back to the dugout.

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North Carolina’s Vance Honeycutt (7), wearing the ‘Freakin Awesome’ t-shirt, celebrates with teammates after scoring in the first inning during NC State’s game against UNC at the ACC Baseball Championship at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC, hit a two-run home run , Sunday May 29, 2022. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Carolina has had a 14-2 record since that game, including winning the ACC tournament title.

Forbes, who is leading the Tar Heels in its second season, said his wife and daughters confirmed that he uses the saying a lot. And yes, it’s not a euphemism for the other “F” word, because Forbes warns its players to watch their language because kids are coming to the games.

“I don’t even know, I say that all the time,” Forbes said. “But I’m glad they took it and ran with it because they’re having a great time and that’s important too. You have to have fun.”

It’s not just winning situations that will lead to the adage. They do it when they’re down too.

Batsman-designate Alberto Osuna said he whispered it to himself on the pitch count against Florida State, 2-0, and it calmed him. He hit the walk-off, three-run homer in the first game of their series over the Seminoles.

It’s the kind of approach that was contagious to the heels.

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North Carolina players gather after UNC’s 9-5 victory over NC State at the ACC Baseball Championship at Truist Field in Charlotte, NC, Sunday, May 29, 2022. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

“When you face adversity, you just have to embrace it like, ‘This is freaking awesome,'” UNC outfielder Angel Zarate said. “Ever since that Charlotte game, I’ve felt like it was just a good vibe. And I think that’s where we flipped it.”

The results were undeniable.

Carolina earned 10th place overall in the NCAA tournament that begins Friday with his 2 p.m. game against Hofstra at Boshamer Stadium. Georgia and VCU play at 7 p.m. The regional format is Double Elimination and could potentially last until Monday. Single game tickets are on sale, but Friday’s UNC game is already sold out.

The Heels have amassed a 29-6 record at home this season and are playing with a higher level of confidence than they were a month ago.

“That’s definitely where I pictured this team right now,” said outfielder Vance Honeycutt. “There are a lot of guys in this squad who are insanely talented. The chemistry is like no other and I just think we’re starting to roll at the right time.”

CL Brown reports on the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience, including stints as a beat writer at Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stint with the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he received an APSE award, he had stints at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even attempted to run his own website, clbrownhoops.com.

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