By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — It was a lights-out performance from leadoff man Vance Honeycutt and No. 14 North Carolina on Tuesday.
An 8–4 lead over Western Carolina after five innings was enough for the Tar Heels (10–3) to claim a shortened victory after the Boshamer Stadium lights wouldn’t come on because of a power issue. With the skies getting darker, officials called the game a little before 7 p.m. after a 48-minute delay.
“I feel really bad about it because I wanted to finish the game,” UNC coach Scott Forbes said after his team’s sixth consecutive victory. “But we can’t find another day to play. So it’s like a storm hit us and it counts as a win in our book. So what do you do? You take it and you move on.”
The losing pitcher for Western Carolina, who gave up three runs in an inning of relief was, of course, named Corey Bright (0–1). The lights were on and working fine at Karen Shelton Stadium beyond the right-center field fence, where no game was being played.
Honeycutt began the season with power issues of his own, going without a home run in his first six games. But Carolina’s sophomore center fielder has been on a powerful tear. He belted a two-run shot in the fourth inning for his fifth home run in the last seven games.
“It’s how the game goes. So, I wasn’t focusing on that,” Honeycutt said of going without a homer in the first few games. “We were winning our games early and that was all we’re always trying to do. I guess the power comes and goes, and that’s fine.”
He hit 25 homers during his freshman season, going deep every 9.8 at-bats. The homers have come every 6.4 at-bats in the last seven games.
“He’s such a worker,” said Forbes, noting that Honeycutt also worked through an 0-for-13 stretch at the plate. “His approach is better than it was last year.
“This time, he’s a better player than he was,” Forbes said. “He’s stronger; he’s going to hit some more home runs. And I think all of his home runs this year have been pulled. So, when he really gets going, he’ll start hitting them opposite field as well.”
Ahead of Honeycutt in the nine-hole is junior shortstop Colby Wilkerson (.302), who is like a second leadoff man after the first time through the order.
“He’s a great guy to have in the nine hole right there,” Honeycutt said. “He has good at-bats. He’s patient; he’s getting the pitches he wants to hit and he’s hitting it well right now.”
Junior third baseman Mac Horvath (.353, seven homers) hits after Honeycutt, with junior transfer Jackson Van De Brake (.341, 6 homer) and junior catcher Tomas Frick (.358, four homers) next in the order.
“It’s been a situation just knowing when you come to the plate, you have guys behind you, so you don’t have to put a lot of pressure on yourself,” Honeycutt said.
Forbes said it creates challenges for opposing pitchers, particularly with the tear that Horvath has been on.
“So, what do you do? You pick your poison,” Forbes said. “The top of the order is really good, so you can’t pitch around Vance. When the bottom of the order is getting on base, there’s nowhere to put him.”
The hitting talent around Honeycutt is helping him deal with opponents pitching him a little differently, given the hype surrounding him coming into the season.
“Obviously, they’re more aware of who he is, and that’s where he just has to take some walks,” Forbes said. “When teams aren’t giving him good pitches, we don’t want him to get himself out. Vance is the type of guy, he doesn’t care about the hype. He just wants to get better.”
Honeycutt admits that it’s hard to ignore the publicity surrounding him, with many saying he could be a top draft pick in the 2024 draft.
“You see it, but you obviously have to kind of block it out,” he said. “You just kind of focus on the team. Every day, you’re just working to get better, and try to get a win that day.”
Both teams scored a pair of one-out, first-inning runs. Western Carolina took advantage of a fielding error by UNC freshman starting left-hander Kyle Percival, and got a two-run homer to left from Pascanel Ferreras. Junior Carolina catcher Eric Grintz tied it with a two-run double to left.
The Catamounts added a run in the second inning on a one-out fielder’s-choice grounder with runners at the corners after James Hinson drew a leadoff walk.
Alberto Osuna tied it with a two-out home run well over the left-field wall in the third inning, and UNC took a three-run lead when Honeycutt’s blast highlighted a three-run fourth inning.
Percival (2–0) exited after giving up a one-out home run to Zach Ketterman in the fifth. Percival gave up three hits, four runs (two earned) with three walks and three strikeouts. After freshman right-hander Cameron Padgett gave up a single and a walk, UNC junior left-hander Nelson Beckwich got out of a two-on, two-out jam on a strikeout on three pitches.
UNC scored a pair of two-out runs in the fifth when Wilkerson hit an RBI single to left and redshirt freshman right fielder Casey Cook scored on a wild pitch.
“I’m just glad that we played well enough,” Forbes said. “I didn’t think we played great. But, again, there’s no such thing as an ugly win. I’ve never seen one, so we’ll take it.”
NOTES — Carolina won its 13th consecutive game against Western Carolina (5–8) and leads the all-time series 16–2. … UNC slipped one spot to No. 14 in the D1Baseball Top 25, thanks to Louisville (10–1) jumping from No. 14 to No. 9. … Van De Brake was one of Collegiate Baseball’s national players of the week after hitting four home runs, driving in 10 runs and going 7 of 17. … UNC will start senior left-hander Will Sandy (0–0, 4.15 ERA) against Penn State (7–3) at 1:30 Wednesday (ESPN3) as the Tar Heels continue an 11-game homestand. The game was moved up because of Tuesday’s power issues. … This is the first meeting since 2007, and Carolina leads the all-time series 7–6. The Nittany Lions come off eight consecutive games in Cary, including a 15–2 win Monday win over Holy Cross. … Penn State is only the second UNC opponent with a winning record (No. 12 East Carolina, 8–3 after Tuesday’s 5–2 win at Queens, is the other)… Carolina opens ACC play with a weekend home series Friday through Sunday against No. 17 Virginia (11–0).
No. 14 UNC 8, WCU 4, 5 innings
|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