By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — A different Max Carlson took the mound Friday in his first start after three weeks in the Carolina bullpen. N.C. State couldn’t handle this version, but not that many teams could have.
The junior right-hander showed the talent that made him the No. 1 starter heading into the season and got plenty of offensive support as UNC pounded rival N.C. State 9–3 Friday at a sold-out Boshamer Stadium for its fourth straight win to earn a second consecutive series victory over the Wolfpack.
UNC coach Scott Forbes moved Carlson to the bullpen after he gave up five runs (three earned) in 2⅔ innings on April 21 against Boston College. Carlson got his fastball and change-up over for strikes consistently in a dominant outing, returning to his early-season form when he pitched seven shutout innings (two hits, nine strikeouts) at East Carolina on Feb. 24.
In a career-high 7⅔ innings and 100 pitches, he gave up three hits, including a pair of solo home runs, with no walks and four strikeouts.
“It’s been a while; I’ve had some struggles recently and it’s really good to be out there and help my team win,” Carlson said. “The most important thing is I want to be in a position where I can help the team win, no matter where it is. And that was the bullpen the last couple of weeks. Got time to work on things … Lot of emotions; felt really good.”
Carlson (5–3) didn’t give up a hit until right fielder Mac Horvath just missed making a diving catch on Noah Soles’ drive to lead off the fourth inning. Then, junior catcher Tomas Frick threw Soles out trying to steal on a strike-him-out, throw-him-out inning-ending double play.
Through his detour to bullpen duty, Carlson changed his mental approach, and that’s changed his fortunes.
“I think over the last couple of weeks, I’ve just learned to have fun. And that’s the most important thing about this game. It will keep me loose,” said Carlson, who said he never had any doubts.
N.C. State catcher Jacob Cozart in the seventh inning and first baseman Eli Serrano III in the eighth got the only runs off Carlson, with home runs to center field. Kevin Eaise relieved Carlson after the Serrano blast.
When Carlson struggled earlier in the season, he was getting beat by his slider, which he said he didn’t throw once against N.C. State.
“We still feel like he is an elite guy who can match up with anybody,” said Forbes, who signed a five-year contract extension earlier on Friday. “I’m really proud of him. He’s a team guy. He goes to the bullpen; he doesn’t bat an eye. He helped us win that one-run game at East Carolina because his attitude is good. And then he gets rewarded to be back into rotation.”
UNC (32–17, 13–11 ACC) went through a stretch where it struggled with runners in scoring position, but five of its first six runs Friday came with two outs.
“I thought we stung a lot of balls; we look balanced,” said Forbes, who liked how his hitters attacked the changeup of State starter and loser Matt Willadsen (5–4). “We went up there and we had the right approach and, over time, it paid off.”
Forbes said his batters are going to the plate with a better approach than when his team struggled.
“Guys were just trying to be the hero instead of just having a great at-bat,” Forbes said.
Carolina broke through with two outs when redshirt freshman left fielder Casey Cook doubled just inside the left-field line and scored on junior second baseman Jackson Van De Brake’s single to left. Cook went 3 for 5 for his seventh three-hit game of the season.
Cook is hitting a team-leading .421 in conference games this season, compared to .321 overall.
“Maybe I raise my level, which shouldn’t be the case,” Cook said, trying to explain his success in league games. “You should have it for every game, but obviously there’s more energy on the weekends. Being in leadoff spot, I want to do my job.”
Junior third baseman Johnny Castagnozzi, out of lineup for five consecutive games before this series, got his second hit since April 21, a two-run, two-out single to left in the fourth, after leadoff singles from Horvath and Frick. Cook scored Castagnozzi with a single up the middle. Castagnozzi also made an outstanding play on a hard grounder in the sixth inning.
“Big, big swing of the bat for us, but also looked great defensively,” Forbes said of Castagnozzi.
Horvath’s solo home run with one out in the fifth, a 416-foot shot to left field, was his seventh home run in the last nine games for his 20th home run, which is second in the ACC.
Cook hit a two-out RBI single to left field in the sixth before UNC scored three runs off three bases-loaded walks in a 28-minute bottom of the seventh.
State notched another run in the seventh on shortstop Kalae Harrison’s RBI single off Eaise, who pitched the final 1⅓ innings, giving up only a hit and a walk.
N.C. State fell to 31–17 and 10–15 in the ACC, and is in danger of missing the ACC tournament.
NOTES — 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, but it likely will be junior right-hander Sam Highfill (5–1, 3.63 ERA). … Carlson’s start was the longest for UNC against N.C. State since Austin Bergner went eight innings on April 28, 2018, in an 8–6 win in Raleigh. … Horvath stole his ACC-leading 22nd base. … Cook reached base for the 38th consecutive game, the most by a freshman since 1999, surpassing Colin Moran (37 in 2011). … There was a long line at the box office before the game to buy standing-room tickets. … Eric Grintz started at designated hitter for UNC instead of Alberto Osuna after getting the huge ninth-inning triple on Thursday night, going 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a walk. … Frick took a foul tip off his mask in the eighth inning but stayed in the game. … The 1973 Carolina team is having a reunion this weekend, and UNC honored Mickey Hickerson, a member of that team, before the game. He was the first black player in program history and played one season in the Chicago White Sox’s minor-league system. … UNC leads the all-time series 174–139–1, winning four in a row and five of the last six meetings.
UNC 9, N.C. State 3
|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. 15 East Carolina||Greenville||4–2|
|26||Sunday||6–5 L||No. 15 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. 11 Virginia||Home||11–4,|
|11||Saturday||8–4 L||No. 11 Virginia||Home||11–5,|
|11||Saturday||6–0 W||No. 11 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||12–7 L||No. 9 Coastal Carolina||Home||18–7|
|31||Friday||10–8 W||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||19–7, |
|2||Sunday||5–2 W||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||20–7, |
|2||Sunday||9–1 L||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind||20–8, |
|4||Tuesday||5–0 L||South Carolina||Charlotte||20–9|
|6||Thursday||8–1 W||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||21–9, |
|7||Friday||10–6 W||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||22–9, |
|7||Friday||8–4 L||Georgia Tech||Atlanta||22–10, |
|13||Thursday||5–4 L||No. 8 Miami||Home||23–11, |
|9–8 W, |
|No. 8 Miami||Home||24–11, |
|15||Saturday||4–3 L||No. 8 Miami||Home||24–12, |
|Boston College||Home||25–13, |
|22||Saturday||9–4 L||Boston College||Home||25–14, |
|23||Sunday||6–2 L||Boston College||Home||25–15, |
|28||Friday||7–0 L||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||26–16, |
|29||Saturday||12–8 W||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||27–16, |
|29||Saturday||13–7 W||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||28–16, |
|2||Tuesday||6–5 L||No. 11 Campbell||Home||28–17|
|3||Wed.||2–1 W||No. 15 East Carolina||Greenville||29–17|
|11||Thursday||9–8 W||N.C. State||Home||31–17, |
|12||Friday||9–3 W||N.C. State||Home||32–17, |
|13||Saturday||12–2 W||N.C. State||Home||33–17, |
|16||Tuesday||8–6 L||No. 9 Coastal Carolina||Conway, S.C.||33–18|
|18||Thursday||14–7 L||No. 3 Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||33–19, |
|19||Friday||5–4 L||No. 3 Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||33–20, |
|20||Saturday||3–1 L||No. 3 Clemson||Clemson, S.C.||33–21, |
|23||Tuesday||11–5 W||Georgia Tech||Durham||34–21|
|25||Thursday||10–2 W||No. 11 Virginia||Durham||35–21|
|27||Saturday||10–4 L||Semifinal vs.|
No. 3 Clemson
|Terre Haute Regional|
|2||Friday||5–4 L||Iowa||Terre Haute, Ind.||35–23|
|3||Saturday||5–0 W||Wright State||Terre Haute, Ind.||36–23|
|Iowa||Terre Haute, Ind.||36–24|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications