By R.L. Bynum
It’s a big week for Carolina baseball with five games in six days, including a three-game weekend series against No. 11 East Carolina.
The No. 12 Tar Heels (2–1), who took two of three games in the opening series against Seton Hall, will prepare for the challenging series with the ECU (3–0) by playing two teams that finished near the bottom of the Big South Conference last season.
UNC rebounded from a 10–8 opening-game loss Friday by beating Seton Hall 11–2 Saturday and 4–2 Sunday.
Junior college transfer Jackson Van De Brake hit a three-run homer in the finale, when three relievers — sophomore left-hander Dalton Pence, redshirt freshman right-hander Justin Szestowicki and junior right-hander Ben Peterson — combined to pitch 5⅓ innings of shutout relief. The trio combined for 10 strikeouts and give up only three hits.
“Our starters didn’t go as deep as we would have liked them to [in the series], but that can be normal early in the season,” UNC coach Scott Forbes said. “We’re not big on going 100, 110 pitches early.”
Four starters are hitting over .300 — junior catcher Tomas Frick (.455), junior third baseman Mac Horvath (.375, No. 10 in photo), sophomore center fielder Vance Honeycutt (.364) and redshirt freshman right fielder Casey Cook (.308, with a team-leading four RBI). Horvath has a 1.125 slugging percentage with a double, a triple and a home run.
In 4 p.m. home games (both streamed on ESPN3), Carolina meets Radford (2–1) on Tuesday and Longwood (0–3) on Wednesday, with a pair of 6–5 pitchers starting in their UNC debuts.
Freshman Kyle Percival will make his first college start against Radford. The 225-pound left-hander was 11–0 with a school-record 143 strikeouts with 19 walks in 70 innings as a senior at Andrew Jackson High School in Lancaster, S.C. A two-time all-state pitcher, he earned state 2–A player of the year honors while leading his team to the state 2–A title.
Radford will start sophomore right-hander Foster Seitz, who was 1–0 with a 6.91 ERA last season with 11 walks and 22 strikeouts. Steitz pitched two shutout relief innings, giving up one hit and striking out two, in Radford’s 9–2 Saturday victory over Iona.
Walters State transfer Jake Knapp will start against Longwood. The 255-pound junior right-hander from Greensboro tied for the most wins of any junior college pitcher last season, going 14–1 with a 2.12 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 22 walks in 80⅔ innings. He struck out at least 10 in four games, including a season-high of 11.
Longwood will start fifth-year right-hander Cole Taylor, who was 1–2 with an 8.95 ERA last season. He walked as many as he struck out (25) in 34⅓ innings, giving up six home runs and hitting a team-high 11 batters.
Junior infielder/DH Alberto Osuna (.265, 20 homers, 57 RBI last season) won’t play against Radford or Longwood as he recovers from breaking a hamate bone in his left hand. Junior infielder Johnny Castagnozzi (.257, 10 homers, 33 RBI) isn’t expected to play in any of the five games this week as he recovers from an injury.
Radford, which won two of three weekend home games with Iona, finished 10th in the 11-team Big South last season, going 15–33 overall and 8–15 in the league. The Highlanders got one first-place vote but were picked in the preseason league poll to finish last.
Longwood lost all three weekend home games against Mount St. Mary’s, with the Lancers outscored 26–15. Longwood, eighth in the league last season (20–33, 10–14), is picked to finish sixth in the conference. They play at Virginia on Tuesday.
The caliber of competition ramps up significantly this weekend when Carolina visits the Pirates at 5 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday, with both games streaming on ESPN+, before the series concludes at Boshamer Stadium at 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPN3).
Junior right-hander Max Carlson, who gave up four runs with five strikeouts in 4⅓ innings in the opening-game loss, will start Friday’s game for UNC in Greenville.
Carolina won two of three from ECU last season. The Pirates won the American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles last season, going 46–21 overall and 20–4 in the league before losing a Super Regional series to Texas.
East Carolina, which swept its opening three-game home series over George Washington (9–5, 11–3 and 23–5), plays at Campbell on Tuesday.
For some notes on UNC’s opening series, check out Pat James’ Twitter thread.
UNC’s attendance for the three-game series was 8,263, the largest since 2000, and Saturday’s crowd of 3,049 was the largest for a February game in more than two decades. Despite the Sunday game starting at the same time as the men’s basketball game at N.C. State, it drew 2,632 fans.
|17||Friday||10–8 L||Seton Hall||Home||0–1|
|18||Saturday||11–2 W||Seton Hall||Home||1–1|
|19||Sunday||4–2 W||Seton Hall||Home||2–1|
|24||Friday||6–5 L||No. 8 East Carolina||Greenville||4–2|
|26||Sunday||6–5 L||No. 8 East Carolina||Home||4–3|
|4||Saturday||7–5 W||Stony Brook||Home||8–3|
|5||Sunday||15–4 W||Stony Brook||Home||9–3|
|8||Wed.||15–5 W||Penn State||Home||11–3|
|10||Friday||7–3 L||No. 5 Virginia||Home||11–4,|
|11||Saturday||8–4 L||No. 5 Virginia||Home||11–5,|
|11||Saturday||6–0 W||No. 5 Virginia||Home||12–5,|
|15||Wed.||16–2 W||High Point||Home||14–5|
|17–7 W||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||15–5, |
|21||Tuesday||6–4 W||N.C. A&T||Home||16–5|
|23||Thursday||6–3 W||Duke||Home||17–5, |
|24||Friday||8–5 L||Duke||Home||17–6, |
|25||Saturday||5–3 W||Duke||Home||18–6, |
|28||Tuesday||4 p.m.||No. 19 Coastal Carolina||Home||None|
|31||Friday||6 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN3|
|1||Saturday||3 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN3|
|2||Sunday||1 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN3|
|4||Tuesday||7 p.m.||No. 9 South Carolina||Charlotte||ESPN3|
|6||Thursday||6 p.m.||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||SECN+|
|7||Friday||6 p.m.||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||ESPN3|
|8||Saturday||1 p.m.||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||ACCN|
|13||Thursday||7 p.m.||No. 23 Miami||Home||ACCN|
|14||Friday||6 p.m.||No. 23 Miami||Home||ESPNU|
|15||Saturday||2 p.m.||No. 23 Miami||Home||ESPN3|
|21||Friday||6 p.m.||No. 14 Boston College||Home||ESPN3|
|22||Saturday||2 p.m.||No. 14 Boston College||Home||ESPN3|
|23||Sunday||1 p.m.||No. 14 Boston College||Home||ESPN3|
|28||Friday||7 p.m.||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||ESPN3|
|29||Saturday||7 p.m.||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||ACCN|
|30||Sunday||1 p.m.||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||ESPN3|
|3||Wednesday||5 p.m.||No. 8 East Carolina||Greenville||ESPN+|
|11||Thursday||7 p.m.||N.C. State||Home||ESPN3|
|12||Friday||6 p.m.||N.C. State||Home||ACCN|
|13||Saturday||2 p.m.||N.C. State||Home||ESPN3|
|16||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Coastal Carolina||Conway, S.C.||ESPN3|
|18||Thursday||6 p.m.||Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||ESPN3|
|19||Friday||6 p.m.||Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||ESPN3|
|20||Saturday||1 p.m.||Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||ACCN|
|TBA||NCAA Super Regionals||TBA|
|TBA||College World Series||Omaha, Neb.|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications