By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — What was supposed to be an easy tune-up for North Carolina ahead of a big weekend series with N.C. State turned into an unexpected battle with heated words exchanged.
UNC’s 5–4 come-from-behind victory over Gardner-Webb at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday night marked the 100th victory as head coach for Scott Forbes, while junior third baseman Mac Horvath blasted into program history. But the craziness of the seventh and eighth innings — with Carolina getting the game-winning run on a balk in the latter — made for a wild Bark at the Bosh night.
After Gardner-Webb reliever Grant Vega struck out Jackson Van De Brake for the final out of the seventh inning, Vega yelled at Van De Brake, appearing to tell Van De Brake, “f*** you,” as he headed to the dugout.
Van De Brake reacted emotionally, stepped toward and yelled at Vega, but UNC first base coach Jason Howell and plate umpire Tony Carilli held him back as the dugouts and bullpens cleared. Forbes and Gardner-Webb coach Jim Chester also exchanged heated words.
“I saw what happened, and I wasn’t surprised because Jackson’s ultra-competitive,” said Forbes, who called Van De Brake classy and level-headed. “He’s the younger sibling of brothers, so you know he’s got a lot of fight in him. And he’s a first-year player, but he’s one of our leaders. And you try to teach your kids to keep their emotions under control. And I still think he did. But he did about what any of us would do in the middle of the heat of the moment and went after the kid.”
It was the second time in the last 11 days that an opponent has yelled profanities at a Carolina player or players. In the second game of UNC’s doubleheader sweep of Virginia Tech on April 29, Hokies DH Carson DeMartini had profane words for the Carolina dugout after hitting a home run. Unlike in that game, Vega got ejected.
“You’ve gotta love that fight in our guys,” said Forbes, whose team moved to 4–6 in one-run games. “You don’t ever want to clear benches and get into that. I can tell you this, if one of our guys does something like, I’m gonna be out there before the other hitter is because we ain’t doing that at UNC.”
Junior right-hander Matt Poston, who retired Gardner-Webb (27-20) in order in the ninth inning with a strikeout to pick up his fourth save, said the guys in the bullpen didn’t realize what was going on until they saw Van De Brake running toward Vera.
“We all just hopped the fence and [were] going at it,” Poston said. “I think that changed a lot for us. I think that just helped us get on top in the eighth and carried over to the win.”
Forbes said the seventh-inning sequence may have adjusted his team’s attitude.
“I don’t want to say it woke them up,” Forbes. “They were kind of a little bit on their heels, and it put them on their toes. I thought they were playing a little bit with a fear of losing.”
Horvath, whose 20th home run made him the second player in program history with at least 20 home runs and at least 20 steals in one season, said the exchange in the seventh inning motivated the team.
“We are responding the right way,” said Horvath, who has 21 steals. “The same thing happened over at VT. And I think when that happens, that gives us a lot of energy. And I think it’s good that our guys are not going to take anything from anyone, no matter who you are because we try to do things the right way around.
“When we feel like we’re getting shown up, our guys gonna say something about it,” Horvath said. “Just kind of shows that these guys are all in and working toward the one goal that we have.”
Sophomore center fielder Vance Honeycutt singled and Horvath doubled (with Bulldogs left fielder Nate Armstong losing track of the ball) to lead off the eighth inning, and junior catcher Tomas Frick was intentionally walked with one out to load the bases. Sophomore left fielder Reece Holbrook hit an easy bouncer to G-W reliever Phil Fox, whose throwing error allowed Honeycutt to score. Fox then balked to score Horvath for the game-winning run.
“I think it was a game that they expected, coming off exams, to roll through, and, at the end of the day, then you’re in a barnburner,” Forbes said.
UNC (30–17) opens a three-game home series against the Wolfpack at 7 p.m. Thursday, with the Friday and Saturday games sold out.
Horvath’s no-doubt 400-foot two-run home run to left field in the third inning was also his 43rd career blast, putting him alone in third place on the all-time program home run list, passing Chad Flack.
Honeycutt, the first 20-20 Tar Heel after collecting 25 home runs and 29 steals last season as a freshman, greeted Horvath at the plate (top photo).
“It’s pretty cool,” Horvath said of the 20-20 accomplishment after collecting 18 home runs and 19 steals last season. “It was kind of a goal of mine coming into this season because I was short of it last year. Honestly, I’m just glad we won today. Because if I got it today and we lost, I probably wouldn’t be too happy.”
Forbes (100–66) earned his 100th career head-coaching victory in 166 games, the third-fastest at UNC behind Mike Fox (139) and Mike Roberts (149).
In UNC’s first game in a week after the exam break, Forbes wanted to give some work to a few pitchers.
Starting junior right-hander Jake Knapp, scheduled to start Saturday against N.C. State, was the first of five Tar Heels to pitch. Right-handed reliever Kevin Eaise (winner, 3–3) struck out three and gave up a hit in two shutout innings.
After 2⅓ shutout innings and five strikeouts in 41 pitches from Knapp, the next two relievers — sophomore left-hander Dalton Pence and junior right-hander Ben Peterson — combined to give up only four hits, but all four were solo home runs.
Pence inherited two runners with one out in the third inning after a single and a hit batsman but induced a groundout and got a strikeout to get out of the inning.
After Horvath’s two-run shot in the third, Gardner-Webb seized the lead with consecutive fourth-inning home runs from Alec Burns, Trevor Burns and Humberto Torres off Pence. Pence gave up only those three hits while striking out one in 1⅓ inning before Peterson came on to get the last out of the inning.
Horvath led off the sixth inning with a single to left, took third on first baseman Hunter Stokely’s single up the middle and tied it on Holbrook’s safety-squeeze bunt. Torres quickly untied it with his second home run, a blast off Peterson to left-center field, to lead off the seventh inning.
Peterson exited in favor of junior right-hander Kevin Eaise after only yielding that home run and a walk with two strikeouts in 2⅓ innings.
NOTES — The Wolfpack (31–15, 10–13 ACC) won two of three last weekend at Notre Dame, then had its Tuesday game at Richmond canceled because of inclement weather. … Junior right-hander Connor Bovair (4–2, 4.11 ERA) will start Thursday’s opener against N.C. State against Pack right-hander Logan Whitaker (3–3, 4.81 ERA). … Junior third baseman LuJames Groover III leads N.C. State, hitting.344 average with 43 RBI and 10 home runs. Sophomore second baseman Payton Green has 10 home runs and 42 RBI, hitting 283. … It was the fifth win this season for UNC when it either trailed or the game was tied in the sixth inning or later and the 18th come-from-behind win. … Redshirt freshman Casey Cook extended his on-base streak to 36 games, one shy of Colin Moran’s 2011 streak of 37 as the most by a UNC freshman since 1999. … Gardner-Webb pitcher Kojima Kazuya, from Yokohama, Japan, is a former Tacoma (Wash.) Community College teammate of Van De Brake. … It was the Bulldogs’ seventh consecutive loss since beating Western Carolina on April 25, their longest skid since losing nine in a row in 2017. … Gardner-Webb fell to 0–4 against ACC teams after Georgia Tech swept a three-game series April 28–30. … UNC is 19–2 all-time against Gardner-Webb, including 13–5 in Chapel Hill. … Carolina is 12–2 in midweek home games.
UNC 5, Gardner-Webb 4
|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
The first pitch of the next inning should have been high and tight!