The NCAA Baseball regional round is one of the most punishing in college sports. Because of the quirky nature of baseball, you have to lose twice in order to advance to a best-of-three super regional series. Thus, you inevitably have to beat a team twice in order to advance, and if you lose at any point your pitching depth is tested more than it is at any other point in the season, including the College World Series.
Thus, once the Tar Heels lost in controversial fashion on Saturday night, they were facing a three-games-in-two-days set in order to advance out of their home regional.
First up, the Tar Heels had to play the region’s two seed, Georgia. The Bulldogs were fresh off a whooping of Hofstra, and with the bats having gone cold the previous night for the Tar Heels, and given Scott Forbes’ suspension, there has to have been a fear the season would end quickly. However, the bullpen threw a masterful game as seven pitchers combined to pitch 8 fantastic innings for the Heels, and the offense woke up to put six runs on the board. It seemed like the Tar Heels would cruise into the nightcap.
Then in the ninth, Georgia’s bats woke up one more time. Down 6-2, Georgia quickly got two players on base, and then Chaney Rogers belted a homer over center to get it to 6-5. The next at-bat, Georgia looked like they had it tied, but Vance Honeycutt happened.
Georgia would sit down after that, and the Tar Heels were on to the night game. Mikey Madej was the star of the first game, going two for five but driving in three runs, half of their total. Tomas Frick had the only homer for the Tar Heels in the opener.
There was no rest for the weary, though, as the second game was scheduled to start at 6 PM and it wasn’t pushed ahead at all. VCU started hot, shelling Connor Ollio for two runs thanks to a Tyler Locklear homer. Ollio was able to get out of the inning without any other damage, but after the bats for Carolina went cold Saturday night, fans were rightfully fearful that it was going to be a rough night.
Instead, the Tar Heels batted around in the bottom half of the first, plating seven runs, punctuated by two homers scoring five runs by Vance Honeycutt and Johnny Castagnozzi. In fact, it took until the seventh batter of the inning, Thomas Frick, before the Tar Heels even recorded an out.
With a five run cushion, the Tar Heels seemed safe…until Ollio loaded the bases in the top of the second. At that point, Ollio was lifted and Nik Pry came in to try and clean up the mess. Pry uncorked a wild pitch and another run scored on a fielder’s choice, but given that he took the mound with bases loaded and no outs, to only give up two seemed like a win.
Alberto Osuna raked another homer in the bottom of the inning to get those runs back, and then Caden O’Brien came in for the Tar Heels, pitched four scoreless innings, and the game was effectively over. By the time VCU plated another run, the Tar Heels had 16. They would go on to win 19-8.
Angel Zarate and Mac Horvath had monster nights at the plate, both getting four hits, and setting the table for the heart of the lineup throughout the game. Seven Tar Heels recorded at least one RBI, and four Tar Heels homered.
Thus it all comes down to a Monday night game in Boshamer. The winner moves on to the winner of the Stillwater Regional; the loser sees their season end. If Oklahoma State holds serve against Arkansas after an insane comeback last night, the Heels will travel to Stillwater; if Arkansas can put the Cowboys away, Chapel Hill will host a Super Regional. UNC begins action at 6 PM (the Stillwater final starts at 6 Central, or an hour later), and Boshamer looks like it’s going to be lit:
The Heels have a chance to get out of the loser’s bracket for the first time since the current format was implemented, and momentum is going their way, but they’re running low on arms. Let’s make some noise for the Heels, one last time before the next round of this postseason! If you can’t make it to the game, it will be on the ACC Network streaming on the ESPN App.