By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Underdog Hofstra was no match for Carolina’s power-driven offense Friday.
Mac Horvath hit two of the Tar Heels’ five home runs as they rolled to a 15–4 win over the Pride in the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional opener for their season-high eighth consecutive win and 13th in the last 14 games.
“I think hitting is contagious,” Horvath said. “So, once one guy kind of gets going, the next guy behind him follows, and that kind of showed today. I hit a home run and then everyone else started barreling up balls and it was just that’s a recipe for success.”
No. 1 regional seed Carolina (39–19), which piled up 17 hits, faces No. 3 VCU (41–18) at 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+). The Rams, who have lost once since April, defeated No. 2 Georgia 8–1 on Friday night for their 16th consecutive victory. No. 4 Hofstra (30–22), making the school’s first NCAA appearance, faces the Bulldogs (35–22) at 1 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game.
The expectations have shot up for the Tar Heels after winning the ACC title, but Horvath said the team is doing a good job of handling them.
“We really weren’t putting any pressure on ourselves to live up to it,” Horvath (top photo) said. “We were just going out there, playing like in the ACC tournament and the games before that. Just another day for us; just going out there and enjoying the game.”
UNC coach Scott Forbes said nerves are expected in an NCAA tournament game but he told his team to just take deep breaths and that they could deal with any pressure they felt, particularly after Hofstra took a 1–0 first-inning lead.
“Mac coming back and getting that home run was huge for us to answer almost every time made a difference and we also made a lot of great plays,” he said after Horvath’s first home run tied it in the first inning.
Center fielder Vance Honeycutt stayed hot with a home run for the third consecutive game, a three-run shot to left in the seven-run seventh inning, for his 12th home run in the last 16 games.
You knew it was the Tar Heels’ day when their ninth-place hitter, second baseman Colby Wilkerson, who took a .116 average into the game, got three hits and drove in two runs. That equaled his season RBI total entering the game.
“One thing about Colby is that his average doesn’t reflect the at-bats he’s had,” Forbes said. “If you hit-and-run, he can hit a fastball. So, we feel good about him down there and you look at one of the biggest things we did today was we generated a run with the safety squeeze, and he couldn’t put it down better.”
The teams traded solo first-inning home runs, with Hofstra’s Kevin Bruggeman’s going to left field with two outs and Horvath’s to left-center field with one out.
In the second inning, both teams hit drives to right-center that barely went over the wall for home runs despite nice leaping attempts from outfielders to make catches.
The Pride’s was a leadoff shot from Santino Rosso (who also homered in the eighth) that UNC right fielder Angel Zarate couldn’t snag. Hofstra center fielder Anthony D’Onofrio just missed catching a drive from UNC’s Tomas Frick that went for his second homer of the season.
Horvath hit a two-run shot to left in the third inning and Wilkerson laid down a nice bunt to the right of the mound in the fourth to score Frick from third.
“I was just looking for a fastball, trying to hit a line drive somewhere and it happened to carry out,” Horvath said of his homers.
Horvath became the first Tar Heel to hit two home runs in a regional game since Garrett Gore did it in a 12–1 win over Kansas in 2009. The last UNC player to do it in an NCAA tournment game was Aaron Sobato, who hit two in Game 3 of the 2019 Super Regionals against Auburn.
Serretti swatted a long home run to right field in the fifth on the first pitch he saw. Hofstra senior starter Brad Camarda (8–2) exited one batter later, giving up six runs after never previously giving up more than four in a game this season.
Carolina starter Max Carlson (4–2) had given up four home runs in his previous 13 starts before giving up two in the first two innings as Hofstra pounced on his fastball. It’s the third time this season he gave up two homers in a game (a 13–9 win at Louisville on April 8 and a 4–2 loss at Virginia on April 22).
“Carlson didn’t have his best stuff. But he recovered and he made big pitches when he needed to. That’s what you have to do,” Forbes said. “He realized quickly that he can’t throw that heater by those guys today because they’re on it. And he made some really good off-speed pitches.”
Carlson came back strong after those first two innings, scattering three hits the rest of the way before leaving after giving up a two-out single to Ryan Morash in the sixth. Morash scored on Michael Florides’ single off of reliever Gage Gillian.
UNC made big plays to close out innings and prevent runs while the game was still close.
“That’s one thing that the entire staff has been doing really well down the stretch, is just making big pitches and get done what needs to get done,” Carlson said.
Carlson got strikeouts to close out the first (with one on) and the second (with two on), Zarate made a nice sliding catch for the third out of the fourth inning (with a runner on third) and Carlson induced a groundout with runners (with runners at first and second) in the fifth.
Carolina made it a rout as Wilkerson hit a two-run single over the left side of a drawn-in infield in a seven-run inning and Honeycutt hit his three-run home run. Wilkerson’s three hits were his most since collecting four against Duke on April 12, 2021.
UNC improved to 30–5 at home this season and 10–1 in regional openers in Chapel Hill.
The 15 runs were the most by Carolina in a regional game since scoring 16 against Liberty in 2019.
UNC 15, Hofstra 4
Chapel Hill Regional
North Carolina 15, Hofstra 4
VCU 8, Georgia 1
Georgia 24, Hofstra 1; Hofstra eliminated
No. 1 North Carolina (39-19) vs. VCU (41–18), 7 p.m., ESPN+
No. 2 Georgia (36–22) vs. UNC-VCU loser in an elimination game, 1 p.m.
UNC-VCU winner (wins regional with victory) vs. Sunday afternoon winner, 6 p.m.
Monday’s game (if necessary)
Two remaining teams play for the title, 6 p.m.
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications