By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Missed calls and missed opportunities have North Carolina facing a rough road to the Chapel Hill Regional title. And now the Tar Heels will miss their head coach for two games.
After a pair of questionable umpire decisions ended early Tar Heels scoring threats, repeated failures with runners on base helped Virginia Commonwealth pull out a 4–3 victory Saturday night before 3,843 fans at Boshamer Stadium to extend the Rams’ win streak to 17 and end UNC’s streak at eight.
UNC (39–20) will have to win three consecutive games to take the regional title, starting with a 1 p.m. elimination game Sunday (ESPNU) against Georgia (31–22) with Will Sandy as the starting pitcher. A win in that game would earn a 6 p.m. Sunday rematch with VCU (42–18), with the Tar Heels needing to win that game and beat the Rams again at 6 p.m. Monday.
UNC left 12 runners on base, but UNC coach Scott Forbes wasn’t around to see most of those opportunities go awry. Plate umpire Jeff Henrichs ejected him in the third inning after the second controversial call got him fired up and, after the game, the NCAA suspended Forbes two games.
“They made pitches when they needed to outlast us there at the end,” UNC assistant coach Bryant Gaines said. “I’m really proud of our guys. We fought to the bitter end. But unfortunately, we had some things not go our way over the course of the game.”
A questionable runner-interference call foiled a golden bases-loaded, one-out Carolina chance in the second inning.
VCU shortstop Connor Hujsak fielded Johnny Castagnozzi’s grounder, but his knee hit UNC baserunner Tomas Frick in the head. The throw to first was late — Castagnozzi would have been safe at first and a run would have scored. But the second-base umpire Mark Wagers ruled that Frick interfered with Husjak, making it an inning-ending double play.
“It stung me a little bit a little bit,” Frick said of the blow to the head, adding that the call surprised him. “I really did think I was just going hard straight into the bag. It didn’t come out that way. I was a little stunned after it, a little shaken up.”
The call wasn’t reversed after a replay review.
Hujsak then led off the bottom of the second with the first of his two home runs to left field, the first run off starter Brandon Schaeffer (7–3) in 11⅔ innings.
That was the only blip for the left-hander, who gave up only two hits and two walks with four strikeouts before coming out with one out in the fifth inning with 79 pitches. He has a 2.22 ERA in his last four starts.
Schaeffer said he felt good when he came out of the game in favor of Gage Gillian, but added it was “a better matchup bringing Gage into that situation. It’s whatever is best on the mound. That’s just how we do it.”
Henrichs ejected Forbes for protesting after an infield-fly rule wasn’t called on a third-inning, one-out play when UNC had runners at first and second.
No infield-fly rule was called on Danny Serretti’s pop-up, and second baseman Marcus O’Malley dropped the ball. VCU turned a double play, getting Mac Horvath running between second and third.
“I didn’t get much of an explanation at all about it,” Gaines said. “As soon as all that stuff happened, we just started to move on and I had to just focus on what was getting ready to happen next. So, I’m not exactly sure what was said.”
It was the second ejection of Forbes’ head-coaching career after getting tossed in the March 5 win against Coastal Carolina.
Here is the explanation from the NCAA:
For a team that battled back from a rough mid-season stretch, UNC kept pushing through the adversity.
“I felt like our guys did a really good job responding to all of that,” Gaines said. “And that’s why we made it really close to the end because we’ve been through those situations before and I felt like, and I know our players felt like, we were still going to win the game until the final out was made.”
UNC reliever Shawn Rapp couldn’t pitch around his throwing error in the seventh inning, as Benzin Cooper dribbled a double down the left-field line to score two runs. Closer Davis Palermo came in to get VCU’s best hitter, Tyler Locklear, looking on a strikeout to end the inning.
Vance Honeycutt hit the first pitch of the eighth inning over the left-center field wall for his 23rd home run of the season but Hujsak quickly got that run back in the bottom of the eighth with his second home run with one out.
Serretti gave UNC hope with a two-out, two-run homer to right field in the ninth inning but Mikey Madej popped up with two on base to end the game.
“We had opportunities,” Gaines said. “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t quite capitalize on it tonight. Unfortunately, that’s the way baseball is at times.”
VCU 4, UNC 3
Chapel Hill Regional
North Carolina 15, Hofstra 4
VCU 8, Georgia 1
Georgia 24, Hofstra 1; Hofstra eliminated
VCU 4, North Carolina 3
No. 2 Georgia (36–22) vs. No. 1 North Carolina (39-20) in an elimination game, 1 p.m., ESPNU
No. 3 VCU (42–18), which wins regional with victory, vs. Georgia-UNC winner, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Monday’s game (if necessary)
Two remaining teams play for the title, 6 p.m.
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications