Young UNC pitchers continue to impress as No. 12 Heels win blowout

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — Carolina’s young pitchers continue to be impressive in the first few games of the season, and the offense keeps piling up the runs.

Freshman left-hander Kyle Percival threw together the Tar Heels’ best start of the young season as No. 12 UNC blew out Radford 14–2 Tuesday at Boshamer Stadium on a beautiful spring-like day.

UNC coach Scott Forbes said Percival’s performance was just what he needed after the three weekend starters averaged only 3⅓ innings.

“That’s about as good as you could have as a debut as a true freshman, and I thought that was big for our team,” said Forbes, whose team takes a 3–1 record into Tuesday’s 4 p.m. home game against Longwood (ESPN3).

Percival (in top photo) struck out six with one walk, only giving up three hits, including a solo home run. Four relievers combined to strike out nine more and give up only one hit. The entire staff has been solid since Friday’s loss to Seton Hall, giving up only one earned run since the first inning of Saturday’s victory.

Percival was 11–0 with a school-record 143 strikeouts for Andrew Jackson High School in Lancaster, S.C., last season to earn state 2–A player-of-the-year honors. The higher level of competition didn’t seem to faze him.

Percival, who mixed a fastball with a slider and a curveball, said he didn’t have any nerves before his college debut after a pregame discussion with pitching coach Bryant Gaines.

“[He] just talked about hitters, and then, after that, he said, ‘just relax and do what you do.’ He said, ‘that’s why we got you here. … Just be who you are, so that’s what I went out and did.”

Gaines told Forbes before the game that Percival looked good in his pregame bullpen session and was ready to go.

“That’s what we expect from Kyle,” Forbes said. “[When] we recruited Kyle, he always threw a ton of strikes, and he was a big-game pitcher, and he would have some velocity.”

Percival showed a strong mound presence after Radford right fielder Zack Whitacre started the fourth with a solo home to left field and the next batter walked. Percival elicited a fly out and struck out two in a row to get out of the inning.

“College ball, you’re gonna give up hits; you’re gonna give up home runs,” said Percival, who said the coaches have talked about a “dry bullpen” approach to any adversity. “Whenever you give up something bad, just going back and just looking at it and then go on to attack the next hitter.”

He got plenty of experience facing his teammates during the fall season, making his regular-season college debut less daunting.

“Those hitters are some of the best in the country, and that lineup is just so strong that I feel like it helped all of our pitchers,” Percival said. “We faced them probably once a week. For that long, they’re going to figure it out, and you have to be able to get better and find pitches that they can’t hit to try to get better.”

Growing up in a state with two colleges — Clemson and South Carolina — that have rich baseball traditions, Percival said that UNC was always his dream school.

“I wanted to be different and who wouldn’t want to wear this UNC jersey? I dreamed about it since I was a little kid,” he said.

During the Seton Hall series, UNC got good bullpen outings from three freshman right-handers who didn’t give up any runs — Justin Szestowicki (redshirt freshman; 1⅓ innings Friday and an inning Sunday), Cameron Padgett (4⅓ innings in getting the win Saturday) and Matthew Matthijs (⅓ of an inning Friday).

“You want to put guys in and you hope, early on, they can also get some confidence,” said Forbes, who called on some young pitchers with small leads against Seton Hall.

Freshman right-hander Will Simmons, in his college debut, yielded an unearned seventh-inning run but struck out two and allowed only one hit. Matthijs struck out three in one inning Tuesday.

Percival said that the members of UNC’s freshman class almost feel like brothers.

“[We] see each other every day, been together with each other since the summer,” he said. “Talk, mess around with each other and just have fun.”

UNC collected 11 hits, the Heels’ second double-digit hit game, and have 39 walks against 24 strikeouts through four games.

Second baseman Jackson Van De Brake, a junior college transfer, continues to be impressive on defense and offense. He was 2 for 4 with two RBI Tuesday after hitting a three-run homer Sunday.

It’s obvious that with De Brake at second, Colby Wilkerson at shortstop, Vance Honeycutt in center field and Tomas Frick catching, the Tar Heels are going to be solid up the middle defensively. A boost so far this season is that Wilkerson, who has gone back to switch-hitting, is getting on base a lot.

“To win, we need him to be a factor offensively; he’s got the big bats behind him,” Forbes said. “If his on-base percentage is high in that nine hole, that means Vance is coming up, that means that  [Mac] Horvath is coming up.”

Wilkerson got on base five times with a single, three walks, three runs and an RBI. He said that he’s changed his approach at the plate compared to when he was younger and only trying to get a hit. He said it’s about trusting the hitters in front of him and the hitters behind him.

“I listen to what the coaches are saying; I’m sticking to my approach a lot better in the box and just trying not to give any at-bats away,” said Wilkerson, who has drawn eight walks this season, with a .611 on-base percentage.

Carolina sent 11 batters to the plate and scored six in the second inning to end Radford starting right-hander Foster Seitz’s day after two innings. The Heels scored on Van De Brake’s bases-loaded opposite-field two-run single down the right-field line, Patrick Alvarez’s RBI single, Honeycutt’s two-run double and Casey Cook’s sacrifice fly.

The third pitcher for Radford (2–2), Luke Calveric, left after walking the bases loaded in the sixth inning, with 13 balls on 20 pitches. His relief, Ty Burton, promptly gave up a two-run single to Cook and an RBI single to center field to Frick.

Sophomore third baseman Joe Jaconski, in his first plate appearance of the season, drove in a sixth-inning run with a sacrifice fly to left field.

After three one-out walks in the eighth inning, UNC tacked on two unearned runs.

NOTES — Carolina plays host to Longwood (0–4) at 4 p.m. Wednesday, with UNC right-hander Jake Knapp (14–1, 2.12 ERA last season for Walters State) opposing Lancers right-hander Cole Taylor (1–2, 8.95 ERA last season). Longwood lost 26–2 to No. 19 Virginia on Tuesday. … Junior DH Alberto Osuna (.265, 20 homers, 57 RBI last season) had been ruled out for the game while recovering from a left hand injury, but felt good in batting practice and came off the bench to go 0 for 2. Forbes said Osuna will start Wednesday at DH. … Ten Tar Heels had hits against Radford. … Junior infielder Johnny Castagnozzi (.257, 10 homers, 33 RBI) is expected to be out through the weekend series with No. 11 East Carolina, which starts at 5 p.m. Friday in Greenville (ESPN+). … UNC leads the all-time series with Radford 5–1.

No. 12 UNC 14, Radford 2

(current rank)
17Friday10–8 LSeton HallHome0–1
18Saturday11–2 WSeton HallHome1–1
19Sunday4–2 WSeton HallHome2–1
21Tuesday14–2 WRadfordHome3–1
22Wed.10–0 WLongwoodHome4–1
24Friday6–5 LNo. 15 East CarolinaGreenville4–2
26Sunday6–5 LNo. 15 East CarolinaHome4–3
28Tuesday10–4 WVCUHome5–3
1Wed.14–10 WVCUHome6–3
3Friday3–2 W
11 innings
Stony BrookHome7–3
4Saturday7–5 WStony BrookHome8–3
5Sunday15–4 WStony BrookHome9–3
7Tuesday8–4 W,
5 innings
Western CarolinaHome10–3
8Wed.15–5 WPenn StateHome11–3
10Friday7–3 LNo. 11 VirginiaHome11–4,
0–1 ACC
11Saturday8–4 LNo. 11 VirginiaHome11–5,
0–2 ACC
11Saturday6–0 WNo. 11 VirginiaHome12–5,
1–2 ACC
14Tuesday16–3 WCharlotteCharlotte13–5
15Wed.16–2 WHigh PointHome14–5
17, 18Friday,
17–7 WPittsburghPittsburgh15–5,
2–2 ACC
21Tuesday6–4 WN.C. A&THome16–5
23Thursday6–3 WDukeHome17–5,
3–2 ACC
24Friday8–5 LDukeHome17–6,
3–3 ACC
25Saturday5–3 WDukeHome18–6,
4–3 ACC
28Tuesday12–7 LNo. 9 Coastal CarolinaHome18–7
31Friday10–8 WNotre DameSouth Bend, Ind.19–7,
5–3 ACC
2Sunday5–2 WNotre DameSouth Bend, Ind.20–7,
6–3 ACC
2Sunday9–1 LNotre DameSouth Bend, Ind20–8,
6–4 ACC
4Tuesday5–0 LSouth CarolinaCharlotte20–9
6Thursday8–1 WGeorgia TechAtlanta21–9,
7–4 ACC
7Friday10–6 WGeorgia TechAtlanta22–9,
8–4 ACC
7Friday8–4 LGeorgia TechAtlanta22–10,
8–5 ACC
11Tuesday10–6 WQueensHome23–10
13Thursday5–4 LNo. 8 MiamiHome23–11,
8–6 ACC
9–8 W,
11 inn.
No. 8 MiamiHome24–11,
9–6 ACC
15Saturday4–3 LNo. 8 MiamiHome24–12,
9–7 ACC
18Tuesday5–3 WCharlotteHome25–12
21Friday9–8 L,
10 inn.
Boston CollegeHome25–13,
9–8 ACC
22Saturday9–4 LBoston CollegeHome25–14,
9–9 ACC
23Sunday6–2 LBoston CollegeHome25–15,
9–10 ACC
25Tuesday18–2 WUNCWHome26–15
28Friday7–0 LVirginia TechBlacksburg, Va.26–16,
9–11 ACC
29Saturday12–8 WVirginia TechBlacksburg, Va.27–16,
10–11 ACC
29Saturday13–7 WVirginia TechBlacksburg, Va.28–16,
11–11 ACC
2Tuesday6–5 LNo. 11 CampbellHome28–17
3Wed.2–1 WNo. 15 East CarolinaGreenville29–17
9Tuesday5–4 WGardner-WebbHome30–17
11Thursday9–8 WN.C. StateHome31–17,
12–11 ACC
12Friday9–3 WN.C. StateHome32–17,
13–11 ACC
13Saturday12–2 WN.C. StateHome33–17,
14–11 ACC
16Tuesday8–6 LNo. 9 Coastal CarolinaConway, S.C.33–18
18Thursday14–7 LNo. 3 ClemsonClemson, S.C.33–19,
14–12 ACC
19Friday5–4 LNo. 3 ClemsonClemson, S.C.33–20,
14–13 ACC
20Saturday3–1 LNo. 3 ClemsonClemson, S.C.33–21,
14–14 ACC
ACC tournament
23Tuesday11–5 WGeorgia TechDurham34–21
25Thursday10–2 WNo. 11 VirginiaDurham35–21
27Saturday10–4 LSemifinal vs.
No. 3 Clemson
JuneNCAA tournament
Terre Haute Regional
2Friday5–4 LIowaTerre Haute, Ind.35–23
3Saturday5–0 WWright StateTerre Haute, Ind.36–23
4Sunday6–5 L,
13 innings
Iowa Terre Haute, Ind.36–24
Rankings according to D1Baseball

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications


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