By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — UNC coach Scott Forbes said last week after his Tar Heels only hit five home runs in their season-opening five-game home stand that the power would come.
It hasn’t taken long for No. 13 Carolina to prove him — as Roy Williams might say — frickin’ right.
Junior catcher Tomas Frick blasted two of the Tar Heels’ five homers in the opener of a five-game homestand as UNC rolled to a 10–4 victory Tuesday over VCU in 2 hours, 33 minutes.
After the bullpen gave up 10 runs in a pair of weekend losses to East Carolina, four UNC relievers combined to toss 4⅔ hitless, shutout innings with eight strikeouts.
Forbes liked seeing three of Tuesday’s blasts come with runners on base after two of three homers Sunday against the Pirates were solo shots.
“We want to try to hit the home runs with guys on base,” said Forbes, congratulating Frick in the top photo. “Frick keeps swinging the bat, and then [Mac] Horvath with two outs, that was a dagger.”
Carolina (5–3) hit back-to-back homers — from Frick and junior DH Alberto Osuna in the second inning — for the first time since opening day against Seton Hall last season.
It was the Tar Heels’ first five-homer game since they did it in the Chapel Hill Regional opener last season against Hofstra. Three players hit homers that day and Tuesday — Frick, Horvath (two-run homer in the sixth inning) and center fielder Vance Honeycutt (three-run shot in the eighth).
Frick only hit three home runs last season, but his second Tuesday shot was his third in five at-bats. The evolution of his hitting has come with hard work in the offseason.
“I’ve always had it in there. I just kind of untapped it now,” said Frick, who hit two home runs in his freshman season. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life right now.”
Forbes said it’s part of Frick’s character to work hard, and the way he looked in the preseason suggested he might have a breakout season.
“He has really committed himself to getting stronger, more physical. He’s also been a better listener,” said Forbes, adding that Frick has had a lot of conversations in the batting cage with assistant coach Jesse Wierzbicki about getting the ball in the air to the pull side.
Forbes said that Frick is keeping the same right-center gap swing, but when he gets a hanging breaking ball or fastball, “instead of just pulling it hard with topspin, [he’s] getting the ball in the air.”
Frick belted a solo shot over the left-field wall to lead off the second inning and a three-run one-out blast to center in the third.
“I’m really thinking right-center, but once I get that pitch in, just kind of reacting and let my hands work,” Frick said.
When Osuna finally played after missing the first three games recovering from a hand injury, he started his season 0 of 13. But he blasted out of that with a homer to left-center after Frick’s first homer.
In the fourth inning, Honeycutt hit such a no-doubt shot that VCU left fielder Cooper Benzin didn’t move as the ball lofted high over him. Horvath gave UNC a five-run lead with a three-run, two-out homer in the sixth.
After throwing 5⅔ shutout, two-hit innings in winning his Carolina debut last Wednesday against Longwood, it didn’t go quite as smoothly Tuesday for junior transfer right-hander Jake Knapp. He struck out six in 4⅓ innings, giving up six hits. Three of the four runs he gave up were earned.
“I thought Jake Knapp was the story of the day,” Forbes said. “They jumped him a couple times on his fastball, but I thought he was outstanding.”
William Bean’s solo homer and Ethan Brooks’ one-out RBI single put up two VCU runs in the fourth. Knapp exited after giving up a one-out RBI single to Will Carlone in the fifth.
Will Sandy, who had been set to start Sunday’s game against ECU before Saturday’s postponement, got out of the inning but not before the Rams added another run on a sacrifice fly.
Junior transfer right-hander Ben Peterson (1–0) struck out four of the six batters he faced in two innings to get the win, effectively mixing his fastball and slider.
“We focused this week on executing in two-strike counts,” Peterson said. “Once we put an emphasis on that, I think guys really locked in with two strikes and that helps.”
Freshman right-hander Matthew Matthijs fanned two in the eighth inning and junior right-hander Matt Poston struck out one in the ninth.
Forbes said he’s still figuring out his bullpen and deciding on his closer between Peterson, Matthijs and sophomore left-hander Dalton Pence.
Starter Zachary Peters (1–1) got tagged for three home runs in three innings for VCU (2–5).
NOTES — The two-game series concludes at 4 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN3), with freshman left-hander Kyle Percival (1–0, 1.80 ERA) starting for Carolina. VCU hasn’t named a starter. … VCU is under the direction of first-year head coach Bradley LeCroy after Notre Dame hired the longtime Rams coach Shawn Stiffler as its head coach. … UNC won for the third time in the last four meetings with VCU. The Tar Heels won two of three from the Rams in last season’s NCAA Chapel Hill Regional, and lead the all-time series 24–8, including a 22–6 mark in Chapel Hill. … UNC has double-digit runs in half of its first eight games. … Junior Johnny Castagnozzi (blood clot) is expected to be cleared Thursday and play in this weekend’s three-game series with Stony Brook.
No. 13 UNC 10, VCU 4
|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