By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — The first month of the season has been a power trip for No. 18 North Carolina, which is hitting home runs at a school-record pace and piling up runs.
That continued Wednesday with three home runs, as the Tar Heels scored double-digit runs for the ninth time and at least 14 for the sixth time. UNC collected 17 hits in a 16–2 rout of High Point on a chilly evening at Boshamer Stadium for its third win in a row.
Chris Maples’ 23 home runs led the 2002 Tar Heels, who finished 41–21, to hit a school-record 108 home runs with 1.77 home runs per game. This season’s Heels (15–5) have already hit an ACC-leading 39 homers, averaging 2.05 per game, with nine players going deep and six with multiple homers.
“That’s a good thing because home runs are good,” said UNC coach Scott Forbes, whose team won at Charlotte the night before 16–3. “Like Earl Weaver said, pitching and defense and a three-run home run, those things will let you win a lot of games.”
Against High Point, sophomore center fielder Vance Honeycutt (a leadoff first-inning blast for his seventh homer), junior DH Alberto Osuna (two-run shot to left-center in the fifth; four homers and 11 RBI in the last 12 games) and junior Hunter Stokely (three-run home run to right in the seventh) launched longballs.
The team hasn’t shown its full power potential, considering junior Johnny Castagnozzi got a late start to the season because of blood clots and only has one homer after hitting 10 a year ago.
Forbes credits strength coach Greg Gatz and his players for putting in the work to get noticeably bigger and stronger each season. From there, they are taking the right approach under the guidance of hitting coach Jesse Wierzbicki.
“Coach Weirz spends a lot of time working with our guys about getting that A swing off,” said Forbes, congratulating Osuna in the top photo. “When you swing, you should be swinging hard. You’re hunting your pitch and you’re trying to do damage. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to hit some singles. We’re trying to drive the baseball, one through nine, even [nine-hole hitter] Colby [Wilkerson].”
Forbes said this team probably has the most power since the College World Series teams in 2006 and 2007 and the 2008 team. The latter included seniors Chad Flack, Seth Williams and junior Tim Federowicz.
“I don’t know that we’ve had it as much top to bottom,” Forbes said. “Guys, not with just home-run power, like over-the-net home-run power. It’s one thing to have power, but it’s also an added bonus when you have some guys that know what they’re doing at the plate and they have a good approach.”
After Honeycutt’s first-inning blast, the Tar Heels made it 5–0 in the second when Castagnozzi and sophomore left fielder Reece Holbrook hit back-to-back RBI singles, with Castagnozzi scoring on a wild pitch. Honeycutt hit a drive in the same direction as his first-inning homer later in the second, but it was caught at the wall for a sacrifice fly.
“The approach is good right now,” said Honeycutt, explaining the power throughout the lineup, also crediting Gatz and Wierzbicki. “Them getting us ready to play is really important.”
Honeycutt’s homer was his first to the opposite field this season. It comes after he talked to Wierzbicki about trying to hit the ball to all fields.
“It’s just timing and just getting comfortable,” Honeycutt said.
Castagnozzi was 3 for 5 with two RBI, and Holbrook went 2 for 4 for his first career multiple-hit game.
As a pinch hitter most of his career, Holbrook said it was a good sight to get multiple hits.
“I’ve always thought the more at-bats you get, the more comfortable you get. And that was the case tonight getting four at-bats,” Holbrook, who got his third start of the season in left field.
Forbes said that Holbrook looked good at the plate, praising him for his hard work, and said he’s not just a singles hitter.
“I think hit the ball in the gap, his speed is his speed,” said Forbes, who called Holbrook raw when he arrived in Chapel Hill. “He’s a better baseball player. That’s a credit to him. He’s coachable. But his strength is clear when you watch him take BP and the whip in his bat. Having him in there gives us that speed factor.”
Senior left-handed reliever Will Sandy (1–0), who gave up three hits and a run with five strikeouts in 2⅔ innings, escaped a bases-loaded one-out jam in the third with an unearned run, leaving two on with an inning-ending strikeout. Freshman left-hander Kyle Percival started, giving up two hits and one run in 2⅓ innings .
Carolina sophomore left-hander Dalton Pence (two innings, one walk, three strikeouts), freshman right-hander Will Simmons (one inning) and sophomore right-hander Carson Starnes (one inning, one strikeout) combined to hold the Panthers hitless in the last four innings.
UNC added three runs in the third. The Heels got RBI singles in the six-run seventh from Honeycutt, freshman pinch hitter Bryce Blaser and Castagnozzi.
It was a bullpen game for High Point (6–10), which used 12 pitchers, with none going more than an inning.
NOTES — UNC plays its first games outside of North Carolina this weekend with a three-game ACC series at Pittsburgh starting Friday. Pitt (8–8) will have had five days rest since losing two of three at Florida State last weekend. … Carolina leads the all-time series against High Point 18–1. … Junior catcher Tomas Frick hit his nation-leading 13th double. … UNC has scored at least 16 runs in consecutive games for the first time since doing it four games in a row in 2016.
No. 18 UNC 16, High Point 2
|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