Cook’s spectacular homer-stealing catch sparks UNC as it rolls to gain doubleheader split, give Virginia its first loss

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — With one spectacular, unconventional play, right fielder Casey Cook swiped the momentum No. 14 North Carolina needed to hand No. 17 Virginia its first loss of the season.

After Cook stole a home run from Virginia’s Kyle Teel in the fifth inning, the Tar Heels quickly took the lead and rolled to a 6–0 victory. That earned a doubleheader split to salvage a game from their three-game series to open ACC play.

Virginia (14–1, 2–1), which won Friday’s series opener 7–3 and Saturday’s first game 8–4, couldn’t overcome dominant Carolina pitching in the finale from junior right-handed transfers Jake Knapp and Matt Poston.

Cook, a redshirt freshman, reached above the top of the right-center field wall and flipped the ball away with his glove.

“I might have caught it initially, and then ejected it,” said Cook, who retrieved it with his throwing hand as fell and rolled onto the ground to end the fifth inning and save a run.

“It was a line drive right at me, so I couldn’t really tell how hard it was,” said Cook, who could hear center fielder Vance Honeycutt yelling for him to go back on the ball. “I didn’t know where I was because I was going back. So, I jump up and I get hit by the wall; kind of shoots the ball up. Then I’m just looking up — because I don’t know where the ball is. It’s right on top of me, so I just grabbed it with one hand.”

Carolina right fielder Casey Cook steals a home run from Virginia’s Kyle Teel in the fifth inning of Saturday’s second game.

Cook, who had only played shortstop and second base before this season, was all smiles as he ran back to the dugout after banging his back on the wall to earn the No. 1 spot in Top 10 Plays on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

“I kind of shocked myself. It’s a big moment,” said Cook, who remembers big offensive moments, but nothing like this. “That was just so bizarre. It’s unique.”

He had to sweat a replay review, which confirmed that it was a catch. It wouldn’t have been a catch had the ball hit the net or the wall.

“I didn’t think it hit the wall. But it happened so fast, I didn’t know,” said Cook, whose father Jason played shortstop at Virginia from 1990 to 1993.  

UNC coach Scott Forbes felt like his team was against the wall facing a possible series sweep against the Cavaliers for the second consecutive season, but Cook’s catch changed the game.

“That was the biggest play of the game,” Forbes said. “When you’re trying to avoid being swept, big plays like that, and you get some momentum and you come in and score a couple of runs, you feel pretty good about it.”

Starter Knapp, a Walters State transfer, struck out four and gave up three hits in 4⅓ innings, and Poston took it from there. Poston (2–0), the most impressive UNC reliever this season, struck out three and gave up two hits in 4⅔ innings.

Poston, a from Florence-Darlington Tech transfer, is the only UNC pitcher who hasn’t given up a run, doing it in 13⅔ innings over seven outings.

“Just throwing a lot of strikes, letting them put in play and defense just coming back behind me making good plays like Casey did tonight,” said Poston, who baffled the Cavaliers with his fastball and splitter.

It was an impressive turnaround for the UNC staff to get a shutout after Virginia scored 15 runs in the series’ first two games.

“I knew Knapp wasn’t your average Sunday starter,” Forbes said. “I think he can pitch on Friday. He might pitch on Friday for us. I felt good that our bullpen was rested, and we had some options. I didn’t think we’d do it with two pitchers. I thought it’d be like five or six.”

UNC threw out baserunners at the plate in the third inning and at third base in the fifth inning, when Cook made his catch worthy of “SportsCenter” Top 10 Plays.

After Cook’s one-out walk in the fifth, UNC went up 2–0 as Honeycutt and junior third baseman Mac Horvath laced RBI singles to left field.

Listen to Casey Cook talk about his catch starting at 5:01 in the above video.

Junior catcher Tomas Frick hit a soaring pop up near the mound to lead off the sixth. It turned into a fortunate double when third baseman Jake Gelof missed the ball. Frick took third on a wild pitch and scored on Johnny Castagnozzi’s double-play grounder.

The Heels got insurance with Horvath’s team-leading eighth homer, a two-run shot to left, with two outs in the seventh inning, and Castagnozzi’s solo blast in the eighth, his first homer and second hit of the season.

“That’s a big win, a character win,” Forbes said. “I tip my hat to Virginia, I thought they played well. I thought that last game we played a complete game. The margin in this league is so razor thin, if you don’t play a complete game you won’t win.”

Forbes talked to his team after losing Saturday’s first game and liked the way they responded.

“I talked to them about playing loose and being aggressive and I really liked everything that I saw,” Forbes said. “And our older guys, look at Mac stepping up and having a great game. He had struggled and he and Vance got two big hits.”

Heels can’t hold early lead in opener

Back-to-back doubles to right-center by Jackson Van De Brake and Frick, and Alberto Osuna’s RBI single to left field gave UNC a 3–0 lead in the first inning of the opener.

Junior right-hander Connor Bovair (1–1) gave up 11 hits, five runs (three earned) with one walk and three strikeouts in 6+ innings and took the loss. 

He pitched out of trouble in the first inning (one on, one out), second (two on, one out), third (leaving two on) and fourth (leaving bases loaded) before Virginia broke through with two unearned runs in the fifth.

“I thought Bovair threw good,” Forbes said. “In that one inning where they scored some, we didn’t make plays that we have to make at this level.”

The Cavaliers tied it at 3 on Ethan O’Donnell’s two-out solo homer in the sixth that barely cleared the left-center field fence. Junior right-hander Ben Peterson relieved Bovair with no outs and runners at the corners in the seventh. Ethan Anderson hit a two-run double just fair down the left-field line, and Harrison Didawick hit a sacrifice fly. The Cavs added two runs off Peterson in the eighth inning.

UNC could only muster Cook’s sacrifice fly after loading the bases with no outs in the eighth inning.

NOTES — After games Tuesday at Charlotte (4 p.m., ESPN+) and at home Wednesday against High Point (6 p.m., ESPN3), the Tar Heels visit Pittsburgh in an ACC series running Friday through Sunday. Charlotte is 6–9 after losing at home Saturday to Old Dominion 11–2. High Point is 5–8 after beating Louisiana 5–1 on Saturday. Pittsburgh is 7–8, 0–2 ACC after Saturday’s 5–3 loss at Florida State. … UNC ended a six-game losing streak against Virginia, getting its first win over the Cavaliers since a 2–1 home victory on Feb. 26, 2021. … Carolina leads the all-time series 189–118–4. … UNC is 2–4 against teams with winning records. … It was the first time since a 6-0 win on May 19, 2011, that UNC has shut out Virginia, which was last shut out since a 3–0 loss to Notre Dame last season on May 27 in the ACC tournament.

No. 17 Va. 8, No. 14 UNC 4 (1st game)

No. 14 UNC 6, No. 17 Va. 0 (2nd game)

(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 courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications



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