Van De Brake brings solid defense to UNC, finds power since arrival, hits 2 HRs as Heels win slugfest

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — Second baseman Jackson Van De Brake brought outstanding defense to Carolina but didn’t seem to find his power stroke until he got to Chapel Hill.

The junior transfer hit one home run in two seasons at Tacoma Community College but already has four this season. He blasted a pair of homers and drove in five runs as No. 13 UNC (6–3) outslugged VCU 14–10 Wednesday to complete a two-game series sweep.

“I’ve stayed patient,” said Van De Brake, who is playing through a torn labrum in his throwing arm. “I’ve never really worried about power numbers. Even right now, it’s not something I’m really thinking about. I’m just putting quality swings on balls and that’s what happens when you do.”

His three-run blast to left field in the third inning gave Carolina the lead for good and his two-run shot to left-center in the eighth inning gave the Heels a bit of a cushion. Coming along with all his home runs have been texts from his old teammates ribbing him about already passing his career total.

One factor that is helping Van De Brake is that he played with wooden bats both seasons at Tacoma. The adjustment to aluminum bats has been productive.

“A lot more forgiveness, you can miss balls and get a lot more out of them,” Van De Brake said. “With woods, you have to hit the barrel. And I think that was honestly good for me, learning how to swing a baseball bat for real, getting the middle of the barrel.”

UNC’s program was the kind of place he thought would be a good next stop when he was playing in Tacoma.

“This is kind of the place in the back of your head … ‘I want to go somewhere like that,’ ” said Van De Brake, who was impressed when Carolina assistant coach Jesse Wierzbicki missed the Tar Heels’ game with South Carolina last season to see him play. “That kind of showed me something. They’re gonna do that for me? Talking for about a month before they offered and they offer. With the coaching staff culture? Easy choice.”

UNC coach Scott Forbes admitted he didn’t think he was getting a power hitter when he welcomed Van De Brake.

“We felt like we might need another infielder and he was just a good ballplayer,” Forbes said. “We didn’t get enough sample size to see whether or not he even that type of hitter, but he just thought he was a good ballplayer.”

Van De Brake played shortstop until this season. With Colby Wilkerson taking over there, Van De Brake is smoothly adjusting to being a second baseman.

“At this point, I have gotten a lot of work at second base and I’m starting to kind of get a feel for it, “Van De Brake said. “But it was definitely an adjustment for a while.”

Van De Brake is getting a lot of fastballs in a lineup that is dangerous from top to bottom, with Wilkerson at the bottom of the order setting up Vance Honeycutt and Mac Horvath at the top.

“We’re talking about eight, nine getting on base for one and two, and that’s definitely the game plan,” Van De Brake said. “We have guys on base, anybody at the plate can get those guys across and we’re confident that we will do that.”

Van De Brake said the ball got away from him a bit when he made a throwing error on an A.J. Mathis grounder to start the game, leading to a run. It was his first error of the season. 

But he soon had plenty of company as UNC’s infield suffered uncharacteristic struggles. Third baseman Horvath and Wilkerson, usually solid fielders, also had throwing errors.

Junior transfer Jackson Van De Brake is hitting .387 with four home runs and 11 RBI for Carolina.

“One of my coaches just said that was a ball game, not a beauty contest. So that’s about the description that I can say for that ball game,” Forbes said. “We did not play well, especially defensively, but our guys, give credit to them, they found a way to win the game.”

Carolina used a season-high seven pitchers, the most since six in the opening-game loss to Seton Hall.

Freshman right-hander Ben Peterson (1⅓ innings, one hit, one strikeout), junior left-hander Nelson Berkwich (⅔ of an inning, no hits, one strikeout), freshman right-hander Matthew Matthijs (1 inning, one hit, two strikeouts) and freshman right-hander Cameron Padgett (⅔ of an inning, no hits, one strikeout) all yielded no earned runs.

Carolina scored three in the second on left fielder Patrick Alvarez’s bases-loaded fielder’s choice grounder and Wilkerson’s two-run, two-out double to center field. That gave him five RBI after driving in only nine in his first two seasons.

After throwing five innings and giving up only three hits and a run in his UNC debut, freshman left-hander Kyle Percival gave up two hits and an unearned run. He had to work around a couple of errors and left with 51 pitches issuing a leadoff walk in the third inning.

His relief, senior right-hander Nik Pry, walked the next batter. After a strikeout, VCU right fielder Logan Amiss hit a three-run homer to right-center. Pry gave way to senior transfer right-hander Kevin Eaise (1–1), who got out of the inning, pitched 2⅓ innings, giving up three hits and a run, and got the win.

Mathis led off the fourth with a solo homer, but UNC quickly got that run back in the bottom of the inning when Horvath doubled to left field and later scored on an error.

Will Carlone’s two-run single to right off junior right-hander Ben Peterson cut VCU’s deficit to one in the sixth inning. Again, UNC quickly got the run back, this time on Honeycutt’s one-out, solo shot to give him a homer in three consecutive games. Honeycutt added a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

After VCU (2–6) added an unearned run in the eighth, the Heels responded again. Van De Brake’s second homer came in the four-run eighth inning that included catcher Eric Grintz’s two-run double down the left-field line.

The Rams reached double-digits with pinch hitter Scottie O’Bryan’s two-run homer in the ninth inning.

Justin Walton (0-1) took the loss, giving up three runs on three hits in ⅓ of an inning.

NOTES —  The Tar Heels face Stony Brook in a three-game weekend series, with games at 2:30 Friday (moved up earlier because of the weather forecast), 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday (all streamed on ESPN3). The Seawolves, who were 27–25 last season and won the America East regular-season title, are 0–6 after getting swept in a pair of three-game series against Cal State Northridge and Troy. … As part of Fan Appreciation Day, fans can attend Saturday’s game free. … UNC, which faces Western Carolina (2–7) on Tuesday, won’t face another team currently with a winning record until meeting Penn State (4–2) next Wednesday. … Carolina leads the all-time series with VCU 25–8, including a 23–6 in Chapel Hill.

No. 13 UNC 14, VCU 10

(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

Photos by Anthony Sorbellini courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications


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