Resilient Tar Heels rally from rough start for huge win over State

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — The maddening pattern of short outings by starters again threw Carolina’s bullpen for a loop. But the resilient Tar Heels, with yeoman work from the relievers, rallied to overcome it this time.

Eric Grintz tied it with a pinch-hit RBI triple to right field in the ninth inning. Colby Wilkerson scored pinch-runner Carter French on a suicide squeeze with one out to give UNC a thrilling 9–8 victory Thursday at Boshamer Stadium. 

“It was a great moment, great team win, so I’m really excited to be part of it,” said Grintz, who came through in only his third at-bat since suffering a rib injury getting hit by a pitch against Notre Dame on April 2.

Grintz got the hit off of State freshman left-hander Dominic Fritton (loser, 3–4), whose fastball was tough for Carolina to get around on as he struck out five in four innings.

“I was trying to get on top of the ball and to put a good at-bat together and give us a chance to win,” Grintz (top photo) said.

Then came one of those tough decisions for coaches.

UNC coach Scott Forbes knew Wilkerson was a good bunter, so he called the suicide squeeze rather than playing it safe. Wilkerson laid it down perfectly to allow French to score.

“You’re the hero or the goat most of the time when you make that call,” Forbes said. “We’ve got speed on third base, and it’s just one of those calls. I felt like, let’s go for it right here. I felt great about it, and, thankfully, he got it down.”

The only time the Tar Heels led was when the game was over after falling behind by five in the first inning. That came after Hunter Stokely led off the ninth inningwith a walk, pinch-runner Reese Holbrook moved to second on a sacrifice and tied it on Grintz’s triple.

It was a joyous capper of a day that included some bad news. The NCAA hit multiple UNC (31–17, 12–11 ACC) players with one-game suspensions because of an incident in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s victory over Gardner-Webb.

“It is what it is; you deal with it,” Forbes said. “I preach to our guys all the time, about 99% of life is dealing what comes your way. We might as well not complain about it. We might as well not be negative about it. They made that decision. It’s not like we can appeal it and so we’ll just figure it out as we go along and deal with it.”

Forbes wouldn’t specify how many would have to serve suspensions, but said that some players weren’t at the stadium on Thursday.

“We play the game the right way,” Forbes said. “And, unfortunately, the rules are the rules. But I believe our guys handled themselves for class. We’ll learn from this, but, if anything, it will rally us and make us even closer.”

It was UNC’s fourth consecutive one-run game and its third consecutive victory.

“It’s kind of been the story of our season, finding the way the last couple weeks to play better and win one-run games,” Forbes said. “Since [losing] the sweep to Boston College, I feel like our guys have responded well. They’ve come together.”

It was UNC’s fifth victory when trailing or tied after the sixth inning this season and 19th come-from-behind victory.

Short outings by starters in ACC series openers have meant relievers being repeatedly overworked, leading to issues throughout the series. It happened again Thursday, leading Carolina to use seven pitchers. Forbes said that he thought his relief pitchers battled well.

Max Carlson, who lost his role as the No. 1 starter because he produced some of those short outings, will start Friday night. In his last outing, the third out of the bullpen, he threw three shutout, hitless innings to pick up a save in the 2–1 win at East Carolina on May 3. He hasn’t started since going 2⅔ innings against Boston College on April 21.

“Our guys believe in Carlson,” said Forbes, who didn’t want to use Carlson on Thursday unless he absolutely had to. “At the end of the day, he’s our guy. I really believe that, for us to get where we want to go, Max Carlson needs to pitch for us, he needs to start and to go deep.”

UNC starter Connor Bovair, a junior right-hander who had pitched well of late, may have been a bit rusty in his first work in nine days. He allowed five consecutive Wolfpack batters to reach after getting the leadoff man out.

The good part is that Bovair threw only 27 pitches and will be available to contribute again during the series.

“Bovair obviously didn’t have his best stuff; ya’ll saw that,” said junior catcher Tomas Frick, who was 4 for 5 with two doubles. “We had guys coming in, picking up the slack.”

Frick said the Tar Heels’ resiliency is huge, a quality last season’s team had when it went on an amazing May run.

“Last year, it was crazy,” Frick said. “And I see a lot of similarities with this team, even though it’s a way different team. I think everyone just believes that we’re gonna win the ballgame. At the beginning of the season, we were losing those one-run ball games, but now we’re starting to figure it out, and starting to believe a little more.”

After running the pitch counts high in a similar situation against Boston College, when the Eagles swept the series, Forbes ensured that most of his pitchers didn’t stay in the game long, with three throwing 18 or fewer pitches.

“I thought that was important because they can all come back and be ready to go the next few days,” Forbes said.

The only reliever who won’t be available Friday will be left-hander Dalton Pence, who threw 41 pitches in getting through 2⅓ innings, giving up two hits and an unearned run.

N.C. State designated hitter Cannon Peebles had the big blow in the first inning with a three-run homer to right. Junior right-hander Ben Peterson relieved Bovair and, after getting a strikeout, gave up a double down the left field line that third baseman Johnny Castagnozzi couldn’t get to, making it 5–0.

It was the first time Castagnozzi has played third in five games, and it was a play that Mac Horvath — who shifted to right field — may have made.

Peterson gave up two hits and a walk while striking out two in 1⅔ innings before giving way to junior right-hander Cameron Padgett.

Carolina sliced State’s lead to one with four runs in the third inning to chase State starter Logan Whitaker. The Heels got two-run doubles to left from sophomore center fielder Vance Honeycutt and Frick and an RBI groundout by junior second baseman Jackson Van De Brake.

State (32–15, 11–13) led off the fourth with two singles to end Padgett’s evening. Kevin Eaise gave up a one-out RBI single to Peebles. Carolina got out of the inning when Peebles popped up and Van De Brake threw out Noah Soles trying to score from third. Padgett gave up two hits and a run with a strikeout in one inning.

Eaise, who gave up three hits and a run in one inning, came out after three of the first four batters in the fifth reached base. Pence gave up a Kalae Harrison sacrifice fly before getting out of the inning as the Pack’s lead expanded to three.

Castagnozzi got hit by a pitch with one out and the bases loaded in the fifth to cut UNC’s deficit to 7–5. But with a chance at a big inning and the bases still loaded, Alberto Osuna struck out on three pitches and Colby Wilkerson popped out to end the inning.

The Pack’s Eli Serrano III reached base on Van De Brake’s fielding error to lead off the seventh and scored on Harrison’s RBI single to left. Freshman right-hander Matthew Matthijs got the last two outs of the inning.

UNC drew within one in the eighth. The Heels got back-to-back doubles from redshirt freshman left fielder Casey Cook and Van De Brake to score a run. Van De Brake took third on a wild pitch and scored when Honeycutt beat out an infield single.

Matthijs pitched 1⅔ scoreless, shutout innings before Matt Poston (winner, 3–2) allowed no hits and one walk in the ninth inning.

NOTES — The series continues at 7 p.m. Friday (ACC Network) with junior right-hander Matt Willadsen (5–3, 2.74 ERA) starting for N.C. State against Carlson. The series concludes at 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3) with right-hander Jake Knapp (3–3, 5.01 ERA) starting for UNC. The Wolfpack hasn’t named a starter for that game. … Cook extended his on-base streak to 37, tying Colin Moran (2011) for the longest since 1999. … UNC leads the all-time series 173–139–1 and has won four of the last five meetings. … It was UNC’s third game won on the last at-bat after Horvath hit a home run on March 3 in a 3–2 11-inning win over Stony Brook and Stokely hit a home run in a 9–8 11-inning win April 14 against Miami. … It was the second-largest come-from-behind win this season, after that Miami game in which UNC trailed by six.

UNC 9, N.C. State 8

(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

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications



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