By R.L. Bynum
With three rested pitchers, North Carolina got its best overall pitching performance in weeks on a night that the Tar Heels needed it to win.
UNC collected a season-low three hits, but they were enough as the Tar Heels got a huge 2–1 victory Wednesday at a soldout Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville over No. 14 East Carolina to snap a three-game losing streak against the Pirates.
Three Carolina pitchers combined for a four-hitter with five strikeouts and three walks to give the Tar Heels nine road wins, their most since 2018.
“We’ve lost so many one-run games; we just needed to find a way to win one,” said UNC coach Scott Forbes, whose team is 3–6 in one-run games. “It’s how [pitching] coach [Bryant] Gaines and I scripted it out; we just didn’t know if it would go like that; but because they performed, it went like that.
“I’m so happy for our players because these guys are an unbelievable group,” Forbes said.
Right-hander Connor Bovair got the good mound work started by giving up three hits and one run with four strikeouts and no walks in a four-inning start. Left-hander Dalton Pence (winner, 4–1) took over from there, striking out one in two shutout innings, yielding only a single and a walk. Right-hander Max Carlson finished off the victory with three shutout, hitless innings with a walk and two strikeouts to earn his first save.
“Max Carlson is a big-game pitcher, and he’s not scared of anybody,” Forbes said after Carlson retired the final eight batters he faced. “That’s the guy you want out there to end the game, and he got it done.”
Paced by sophomore center fielder Vance Honeycutt’s solo home run in the fourth inning, Carolina (29–17) earned its fourth win over a current Top 25 team in 17 tries, with two of the previous losses both coming by 6–5 scores against ECU (31–14) in February.
Honeycutt’s blast against the wind to left field with one out in the fourth inning off ECU starter Garrett Saylor gave UNC the lead.
ECU quickly tied it when Jacob Starling led off the fourth with a single, stole second and scored on Jacob Jenkins-Cowart’s one-out single to right field.
Carolina took advantage of some shoddy Pirates defense to push across a sixth-inning run. Jackson Van De Brake led off with a walk, moved to second on left fielder Luke Nowak’s fielding error and scored on Hunter Stokely’s fielder’s-choice grounder in which he beat a close play at first.
Stokely’s game-winning RBI was the fifth by a Tar Heel in the sixth inning or later this season with UNC trailing or the game tied and second for him. His first was the game-ending home run in the 11th inning of the 9–8 victory over Miami on April 14.
UNC had only one hit in the last 5⅔ innings with four strikeouts.
NOTES — Carolina is off for final exams until facing Gardner-Webb at Boshamer Stadium at 6 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN3). The Bulldogs got swept in a three-game series while giving up 50 runs (22 in one game) last weekend at Georgia Tech. Gardner-Webb takes a 27–16 record into a three-game home series against USC Upstate beginning Friday. … Honeycutt’s 12th home run was his first since April 22 against Boston College. … UNC moved to 4–15 when getting outhit. … Carolina’s previous low hit total was five in Friday’s 7–0 loss at Virginia Tech. … The three Carolina hits were its fewest since a 3–2 home win on Feb. 21, 2021, over James Madison, and the fewest in a road game since a 3–1 win over Pittsburgh on April 22, 2017. … UNC catcher Tomas Frick threw out two Pirates attempting to steal second base. … That was UNC’s first win in five games this season with two or fewer runs. … UNC is 26–6 when leading after six innings. … Carolina moved to 11–0 when holding opponents to two or fewer runs. … D1 Baseball’s new NCAA tournament projection has Carolina the No. 3 seed in the Conway, S.C., regional. … Redshirt freshman Casey Cook was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning to extend his on-base streak to 35 games, two short of Colin Moran’s 37 as the most by a UNC freshman since 1999. … UNC leads the all-time series with ECU 54–34.
UNC 2, No. 14 ECU 1
|17||Friday||10–8 L||Seton Hall||Home||0–1|
|18||Saturday||11–2 W||Seton Hall||Home||1–1|
|19||Sunday||4–2 W||Seton Hall||Home||2–1|
|24||Friday||6–5 L||No. 15 East Carolina||Greenville||4–2|
|26||Sunday||6–5 L||No. 15 East Carolina||Home||4–3|
|4||Saturday||7–5 W||Stony Brook||Home||8–3|
|5||Sunday||15–4 W||Stony Brook||Home||9–3|
|8||Wed.||15–5 W||Penn State||Home||11–3|
|10||Friday||7–3 L||No. 11 Virginia||Home||11–4,|
|11||Saturday||8–4 L||No. 11 Virginia||Home||11–5,|
|11||Saturday||6–0 W||No. 11 Virginia||Home||12–5,|
|15||Wed.||16–2 W||High Point||Home||14–5|
|17–7 W||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||15–5, |
|21||Tuesday||6–4 W||N.C. A&T||Home||16–5|
|23||Thursday||6–3 W||Duke||Home||17–5, |
|24||Friday||8–5 L||Duke||Home||17–6, |
|25||Saturday||5–3 W||Duke||Home||18–6, |
|28||Tuesday||12–7 L||No. 9 Coastal Carolina||Home||18–7|
|31||Friday||10–8 W||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||19–7, |
|2||Sunday||5–2 W||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||20–7, |
|2||Sunday||9–1 L||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind||20–8, |
|4||Tuesday||5–0 L||South Carolina||Charlotte||20–9|
|6||Thursday||8–1 W||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||21–9, |
|7||Friday||10–6 W||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||22–9, |
|7||Friday||8–4 L||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||22–10, |
|13||Thursday||5–4 L||No. 8 Miami||Home||23–11, |
|9–8 W, |
|No. 8 Miami||Home||24–11, |
|15||Saturday||4–3 L||No. 8 Miami||Home||24–12, |
|Boston College||Home||25–13, |
|22||Saturday||9–4 L||Boston College||Home||25–14, |
|23||Sunday||6–2 L||Boston College||Home||25–15, |
|28||Friday||7–0 L||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||26–16, |
|29||Saturday||12–8 W||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||27–16, |
|29||Saturday||13–7 W||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||28–16, |
|2||Tuesday||6–5 L||No. 11 Campbell||Home||28–17|
|3||Wed.||2–1 W||No. 15 East Carolina||Greenville||29–17|
|11||Thursday||9–8 W||N.C. State||Home||31–17, |
|12||Friday||9–3 W||N.C. State||Home||32–17, |
|13||Saturday||12–2 W||N.C. State||Home||33–17, |
|16||Tuesday||8–6 L||No. 9 Coastal Carolina||Conway, S.C.||33–18|
|18||Thursday||14–7 L||No. 3 Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||33–19, |
|19||Friday||5–4 L||No. 3 Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||33–20, |
|20||Saturday||3–1 L||No. 3 Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||33–21, |
|23||Tuesday||11–5 W||Georgia Tech||Durham||34–21|
|25||Thursday||10–2 W||No. 11 Virginia||Durham||35–21|
|27||Saturday||10–4 L||Semifinal vs.|
No. 3 Clemson
|Terre Haute Regional|
|2||Friday||5–4 L||Iowa||Terre Haute, Ind.||35–23|
|3||Saturday||5–0 W||Wright State||Terre Haute, Ind.||36–23|
|Iowa||Terre Haute, Ind.||36–24|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications