By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — On a bizarre day with two weather delays, no raindrops but plenty of tears as the day became evening, Carolina’s amazing postseason run ended in a heartbreaking fashion.
Brady Slavens’ RBI single in the ninth inning over a drawn-in infield gave Arkansas a 4–3 victory Sunday night to finish off a two-game sweep of the Chapel Hill Super Regional for the Tar Heels’ fifth loss this season on a game-ending RBI.
“To no surprise, we fought to the end,” UNC coach Scott Forbes said. “And that’s something this team has done from the first pitch. We’ve played all season and that’s why they got us all to this point.”
Carolina’s fielders slumped down at their positions on the field in disbelief as the Razorbacks players celebrated their 11th trip to the College World Series and first since 2019. The Tar Heels made two sensational defensive plays along the way to save runs but came up short in the end.
“Way back in the preseason, nobody on the outside had expectations or thought that they would get anywhere,” Forbes said. “They did. They did get somewhere. They won an ACC championship and won a regional at Boshamer Stadium and they just came up a little bit short.”
It looked like Patrick Alvarez, a third-year sophomore and a seventh-inning defensive replacement at second base, was going to be the hero. His run-scoring single with two outs in the top of the ninth inning gave UNC a brief one-run lead. His first RBI since Feb. 20 against Seton Hall scored Tomas Frick, who led off the ninth inning with a double.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions for a number of different reasons,” shortstop Danny Serretti said. “But, you know, it’s just baseball, I guess. It will rip your heart out. You can feel on top of the world 30 minutes ago and feel like garbage now. It sucks, but hats off to them.”
Serretti and Angel Zarate came back to UNC to have a big season instead of turning pro, and they helped the Tar Heels put one together after a bad patch before the exam break.
“Me and Angel came back for a run like this,” said an emotional Serretti, who likely played his last Carolina game. “It’s been all I can ask for. It didn’t end the way we wanted to, but I had so much fun. This bond that I made with all these guys it’s something that won’t be broken.”
The Razorbacks (43–19) finally got to UNC closer Davis Palermo in the ninth inning, which was his fourth inning of work. After inducing a groundout that scored the tying run, Caden O’Brien (3–1) came on and gave up the game-ending RBI single.
The bad news Saturday didn’t stop for UNC (42–22) with the opening-game 4–1 loss. That evening, sophomore third baseman Mac Horvath had emergency appendectomy surgery. The bad news was that he couldn’t play but the better news is that the procedure was successful.
Forbes had fallen asleep Saturday night when his phone rang. It was baseball trainer Terri Jo Rucinski delivering the tough news that Horvath had gone to the emergency room.
“My heart sank mostly for Mac, obviously and our team, but especially for Mac,” Forbes said. “This is what you work for, to play in a game like that. And I know how badly he missed it. But credit to our guys that still gave us a chance to win that game without one of our best players.”
Forbes said that Horvath was still pretty uncomfortable and watched the game somewhere with his mom.
Horvath’s absence put Johnny Castagnozzi in the lineup for his first college game at third base after spending most of the season starting at first base against left-handed starters. Castagnozzi, a sophomore who played 10 games at third base in the Cape Cod League last season, ranged to his left to make a nice play in the first inning.
After Castagnozzi made a nice back-handed play early in the fourth inning on a force play, Jalen Battles lined an RBI double by him down the left-field line with two outs.
Arkansas had the bases loaded with two outs in the second inning when UNC starter Brandon Schaeffer rallied from a 3–1 count against Zack Gregory to strike him out looking to end the threat.
After a one-hour 46-minute weather delay, which included no rain, Schaeffer looked sharp in retiring the Razorbacks in order with 13 pitches. He threw 37 pitches before the delay.
Schaeffer gave way to Gage Gillian after Braydon Webb lofted a home run to right-center with one out in the fifth.
Carolina broke through to tie it with two seventh-inning runs.
After Mikey Madej led off with a single and Tomas Frick was hit by a pitch, Castagnozzi bunted them to second and third. Pinch hitter Eric Grintz’s one-out RBI groundout scored Madej. Frick sprinted in to score on reliever Brady Tygart’s wild pitch.
Center fielder Vance Honeycutt saved a run with a diving catch of a Slavens liner with a runner on second to end the seventh inning.
“Slavens just caught a piece of it and it was just up in the air for a little bit too long,” Honeycutt said of the catch. “So, I thought being able to hold them was important and then just scratched one [run] and then, at the end of the day, they got us in the ninth.”
With Honeycutt at the plate and one out in the eighth, there was a 68-minute weather delay. Again, lightning in the area triggered the delay and, again, there were no rain drops.
With runners at first and second in the eighth, Serretti made a marvelous play to drag his foot on the second base bag, then throw to first for the inning-ending double play.
Designated hitter Alberto Osuna (top photo) had two of UNC’s seven hits.
Arkansas 4, UNC 3
Chapel Hill Super Regional
Game 1 — Arkansas 4, North Carolina 1
Game 2 — Arkansas 4, North Carolina 3; Razorbacks win 2-0
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications