By R.L. Bynum
Carolina’s incredible 35-day run from 8–13 in the ACC with five consecutive league series losses to conference champion is complete. And the Tar Heels capped it with complete domination.
The unstoppable No. 8-seed Tar Heels won their seventh consecutive game, beating No. 10-seed N.C. State 9–5 in the ACC Tournament championship game Sunday in Charlotte for their first league title since 2019.
UNC (38–19) is playing like a runaway train and flattened the Wolfpack (35–21), which came into the game with lots of momentum.
The Tar Heels will host the Chapel Hill Region, which starts on Friday. The pairings will be announced at noon Monday (ESPN2). It’s the 12th time UNC has been a regional host.
Coach Scott Forbes couldn’t remember a stretch in his coaching career like the last month but said it was all about working through the earlier struggles, which he learned from former Coach Mike Fox.
“When you go through something like that, all the eyes are going to one person and that’s you — the head coach,” Forbes said. “You have to control your emotions; you have to stay positive with these kids and continue to work really, really hard.”
Even after getting swept at Virginia, the team didn’t lose its focus.
“One thing that I felt like that our players never did, even when we were going through that tough stretch, is I felt like they still played hard and they didn’t quit,” Forbes said. “Never quit a game, even though it was tough and I thought that would serve them well. We just need to find a way to win a couple close games.”
UNC has the sort of momentum that the men’s basketball team took into the NCAA tournament, but has a league title that that team didn’t get.
“You guys saw with our basketball team, momentum is extremely important. You’ve got to keep it, and I like the fact that it’s Sunday and we play again on Friday,” said Forbes, adding that he liked that his players before the game saw it as just another step. “They know what they want and they know how important their recovery is and to keep that momentum for us to play well. You don’t celebrate but so much. You enjoy it and you get ready for hopefully hosting a regional.”
Carolina center fielder Vance Honeycutt, the tournament MVP, continued his torrid run with two home runs to give him 11 in the last 15 games.
“It was awesome. It was really cool,” Honeycutt said. “This team just always works. We just kind of got in that groove and we were able to step up.”
Whenever Honeycutt has seen the pitch he wants in the recent games, he crushes it.
“You’re able to get your pitch and not chase and if you’re able to do that, and find a barrel and good things happen,” Honeycutt said.
Carolina got yet another solid performance from its starting pitcher, this time from Max Carlson, who was pitching on four days’ rest after beating Clemson in pool play on Tuesday. Carlson scattered six hits and gave up one run, walked one and struck out six.
Forbes told Carlson Saturday night that he was going to start.
“I told him I wanted the ball and four days’ rest, that’s a big-league rotation,” Carlson said.
State (36–21) struck first with Josh Hood’s RBI single to left in the first inning. UNC limited the damage with an inning-ending double play.
Honeycutt powered UNC into the lead with a two-run home run to left field after Angel Zarate’s leadoff single in the first.
“I think the first one, I think he might have hit a breaking ball that was up in the zone and I think he got three breaking balls that at-bat,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “He’s a good hitter. He doesn’t chase much.”
In the second inning, the Tar Heels padded the lead with Zarate’s two-run single, Danny Serretti’s RBI double down the right-field line and Honeycutt’s three-run homer.
“Our entire lineup, all of them can do damage. And it’s really a pleasure to have him out there in center field and all the other eight guys on the baseball field because they hold it down for us,” Carlson said of Honeycutt and his other teammates.
Mac Horvath walked and later scored on a wild pitch in the fourth.
State pushed across two runs in the sixth inning on J.T. Jarrett’s double down the left-field line. The Pack added two in the ninth inning on Devonte Brown’s RBI double and LuJames Grover’s RBI single.
Zarate, Serretti and Brandon Shaeffer joined Honeycutt on the All-Tournament Team.
No. 8 UNC 9, No. 10 N.C. State 5
Photos courtesy of the ACC