The University of North Carolina baseball team capped its torrid run through the losers’ bracket of the Chapel Hill regional on Monday with a 7-3 win over VCU, returning to the NCAA Super Regional round for the first time since 2019, and 10th time in school history.
The Rams (42-20) beat the Tar Heels on Saturday, but the Tar Heels then won three in a row — including two over VCU — to advance.
The Tar Heels will face Arkansas in Chapel Hill in the Super Regional round, which begins June 10. The Razorbacks upended Oklahoma State in the Stillwater Regional late Monday night.
North Carolina (42-20) improves to 7-2 all-time in elimination games in the Chapel Hill regional. They are now 33-6 as regional hosts. UNC has won 14 regionals.
Back in the stadium for the first time in two games was head coach Scott Forbes, who returned from a two-game suspension. Forbes was assessed a two-game suspension for extensively arguing a call on Saturday.
He had to be thrilled with what he saw on his return. Carolina hit 16 home runs in the regional round, including two on Monday. The Heels have hit 100 home runs this season.
“My girls would tell me this is the first time I’m kind of lost for words,” Forbes said after the win. “To see the joy on these guys’ faces today is, after where we were, it’s really unbelievable.”
For the second straight game North Carolina got off to a hot start in the first inning. After recording seven runs in Game 2 on Sunday, they got four against the Rams on Monday.
Alberto Osuna drove in a run with a single. That set the stage for Mikey Madej, one of the hottest bats in the regional round. Madej, the Chapel Hill Regional MVP, hit his fourth home run of the season, a three-run shot to left field. The Tar Heels ended the first with a 4-0 lead.
VCU countered with one run in the bottom of the first, when Ben Nippolt came home on a fielder’s choice.
Osuna drove in one more run in the top of the third, scoring Vance Honeycutt, making it a 5-1 UNC advantage.
Brandon Schaeffer started on the mound for UNC, going 3.2 innings, giving up six hits and three runs, while striking out five. He was relieved by Gage Gillian in the bottom of the fourth after the Rams cut the lead to four. Schaeffer was back after one day of rest, getting a call from Forbes and pitching coach Bryant Gaines early Monday morning.
“I was excited,” Schaeffer said. “That’s why I came here to play in the biggest moments in the biggest games. I just put the face that I was on one days rest in the back of my head and I treated it like any other start. I wanted to give the team a chance to win and Gage came in there and carried us.”
Jacob Selden and Marcus O’Malley each drove in runs off of Schaeffer before the change. Gillian did his job as the first batter he faced, Nippolt, popped out, leaving one runner on. VCU appeared to be getting some momentum, at least defensively, forcing UNC to go three up, three down in the top of the fifth.
The Carolina defense got that momentum back. First, it forced a double play in the field, then Schaeffer struck out Connor Hujsak.
Gillian earned the win, going 4.1 innings, surrendering no runs on one hit and striking out four.
VCU rolled into Chapel Hill as one of the hottest teams in the country, riding a 17-game winning streak. The Tar Heels ended the Rams season by handing them their first back-to-back losses since April 24th and 26th.
In April, Carolina was heading into a different direction after a sweep by UVA, and sat 8-12 in ACC play. The Heels turned things around with a 2-1 series win over NC State and didn’t drop another ACC series the rest of the way. They swept FSU to end the regular season and blazed through the ACC Tournament.
Now Carolina, winners of 18 of its past 21, sits a three-game series win away from a trip to Omaha for the first time since 2018.
“We’re not done yet,” Madej said. “This wasn’t the goal, there’s nothing to celebrate. We’ll celebrate in Omaha.”
This story was originally published June 6, 2022 9:01 PM.