By R.L. Bynum
It doesn’t seem to matter who the red-hot Carolina baseball team faces, the Tar Heels are going to take care of business. They’re doing it convincingly and got one of the best pitching performances by a Tar Heel in recent memory on Friday.
Against Virginia Tech, the No. 2-ranked team in the country, UNC poured on the offense early with four home runs in the first four innings and rolled to a 10–0 Friday win in Charlotte to earn a trip to the ACC Tournament semifinals.
No. 8-seed UNC (36–19), which has won 10 of its last 11 games, will play No. 4-seed Notre Dame (35–13) at 1 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network) in their first meeting of the season. No. 10-seed N.C. State (35–20) faces No. 11-seed Pittsburgh (29–26) in the second semifinal.
During Carolina’s five-game winning streak, it has outscored opponents 47–11.
The Tar Heels’ potent offense has been there all season long, but left-hander Brandon Schaffer (7–2) continued their consistent pitching.
The Hokies (41–11) had scored 18 runs the night before against Clemson, but the left-handed junior transfer from WVU Potomac State College scattered six hits, walked none, struck out six and needed only 102 pitches to get the shutout.
“At the ACC tournament, we’ve had some really good ones but against that type of offense to throw a complete-game shutout, this definitely ranks at the top, obviously,” said UNC coach Scott Forbes, comparing that performance to games by past aces such as Alex White, Zac Gallen, Matt Harvey and Robert Woodard. “But that’s a tough lineup. One of the best in baseball and so it’s gonna rank up there pretty high.”
It was his longest outing of the season after going 7⅓ innings in a 12–3 May 14 win over Wake Forest. It was the first scoreless game for the Hokies this season.
His recent performances come after it didn’t go so smoothly for Shaeffer earlier in the ACC season.
“I had a bit of a rude awakening coming into this league. I wasn’t throwing as good as I would like to. I lost a little bit of confidence in myself,” Schaeffer said, adding that the confidence is back. “I really trusted in myself and in my defense and the guys behind me.”
When Carolina was struggling, the pitching was a big negative but that’s changed in recent weeks.
“Pitching is just like hitting, you can have a pitching slump and that’s kind of what we were in,” Forbes said. “We were thin and, all of the sudden, our guys started stepping up that’s been cool to see.”
UNC took control early with four runs in the first inning on Danny Serretti’s sacrifice fly, Vance Honeycutt’s two-run homer to right-center and Tomas Frick’s RBI single up the middle. Hokies ace Drue Hackenberg (10–2) didn’t make it to the second inning in his shortest outing of the season.
Angel Zarate, who started the first inning with a double and scored, hit a solo homer in the second inning. Honeycutt added a homer to left in the second and Serretti hit a solo homer in the fourth.
Honeycutt, who had a terrific eighth-inning catch in center field, scored again in the seventh inning on an error after singling, and Frick laced an RBI double to center field to make it 9–0.
Hunter Stokley drove in Carolina’s 10th run with one-out double off the center-field wall in the ninth inning.
“It’s a tough loss,” Virginia Tech coach John Szefc said. “We really haven’t experienced anything like that since I can remember. So, it’s kind of a tough pill to swallow.”
UNC is 8–3 in the Charlotte Knights’ home stadium.