By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Suddenly, Carolina’s previously struggling starting pitching is tough to beat, although N.C. State did all that it could to stop right-hander Jake Knapp on Saturday.
Before the fourth inning, the Wolfpack requested that the umpires check Knapp’s cap, glove and hands for sticky substances. The short investigation produced a smile and a laugh from Knapp but no substances. And he resumed sticking it to State batters in the junior’s best outing as a Tar Heel.
Carolina (33–17, 14–11 ACC) backed the 6–5 Knapp with relentless offense as the Tar Heels rolled to a 12–2 senior day victory Saturday over N.C. State at Boshamer Stadium. It completed a weekend sweep of the Wolfpack for UNC’s fifth consecutive victory and seventh win in the last eight games. It was UNC’s first sweep of an ACC series this season.
“I just laughed,” Knapp (top photo) said when the umpires did the inspection. “I thought maybe they should check the bats those guys were hittingwith all weekend. I knew I had nothing on there, and I just thought it was funny that it was a last-ditch effort to get under our skin. The umpires were very good about it. Never happened to me before.”
The Wolfpack (31–18, 10–16) obviously hadn’t followed how UNC reacted to provocations by opponents, first at Virginia Tech late last month, then by Gardner-Webb on Tuesday.
“I think a couple of the kids were telling me that’s when my velo was the highest, that fired me up a little bit,” Knapp said of the speed of his pitches in that fourth inning.
When Carolina coach Scott Forbes saw Knapp laughing, he knew there would be no problem.
“I kind of liked it after it happened because I knew our guys. I was actually calming them down a little bit,” Forbes said. “Some teams might be [doctoring the baseball], but at North Carolina, we ain’t doing it. And our guys know that if were, they’d have to answer to me.”
There was no doctoring the baseball, just a lot of Knapp (4–3) consistently locating his fastball, getting a first-pitch strike against 17 of 24 batters.
“Knapp completely set the tone for us,” Forbes said. “He threw a ton of strikes, moved the ball on both sides [of the plate], pitched off his fastball and some velocity. He’s getting better, better and better, which is good for us.”
It was the longest outing as a Tar Heel for Knapp, who pitched two complete games last season for Walters State but remembers those as being shortened five-inning games. In a UNC-high 6-plus innings, he gave up five hits, including a pair of solo home runs, with no walks and three strikeouts, throwing 83 pitches.
Knapp saw how successful Max Carlson was against the Wolfpack on Friday with the fastball and just kept that momentum going.
“We weren’t going to change that until they started hitting it,” said Knapp, who started his college career at UNCW. “Early and often with the fastball and mixing in a couple of sliders and changeups just to keep them off balance.”
It was the deepest he’s pitched in a game since coming out after the sixth inning on March 25 in his last previous win, 5–3 against Duke.
Knapp said that regaining his fastball command was the key to ending a stretch where he hadn’t gone more than 4⅔ innings between the Duke game and Saturday.
“I think that’s where everything starts with me,” Knapp said. “When I command my fastball, I feel like everything else goes along with that.”
The good pitching was also helped by outstanding defense, including a few impressive plays.
“Obviously, it starts and ends with pitching, defense,” Forbes said. “I thought our defense this weekend was phenomenal. I thought we made unbelievable plays.”
Getting the first ACC sweep of the season was huge, but getting it over the rival Wolfpack made it even bigger.
“That’s awesome,” said third baseman Johnny Castagnozzi, who went 2 for 4 with two RBI Saturday and 4 of 10 with six RBI in the series. “It means a lot for these guys around here, and it means a lot for this team, and that’s going to help us down the stretch this last week and then getting into the tournaments.”
Redshirt freshman left fielder Casey Cook and junior second baseman Jackson Van De Brake each had three hits, and five others had two hits as Carolina collected 18. Junior right fielder Mac Horvath extended his hitting streak to a career-long 10 games.
“I think the biggest thing for us is we were being patient and waiting for our pitch, not hitting their pitches,” Castagnozzi said. “They made a lot of mistakes throughout, and we capitalized on them.”
Carolina quickly got to N.C. State starter Sam Highfill (loser, 5–2), sending nine batters to the plate in the first inning with five hits and three runs after Pack second baseman Payton Green’s fielding error on a ball hit by Cook to lead off the inning.
Driving in the runs were Horvath and junior first baseman Hunter Stokely on singles and Castagnozzi on a sacrifice fly. Highfill avoided further damage as Colby Wilkerson flied out with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Van De Brake singled in the first two innings, scoring on Horvath’s sacrifice fly in the second inning.
In the third, Castagnozzi doubled off the center field fence and scored on Wilkerson’s two-out RBI single to right. Honeycutt hit a two-run single.
Carolina added three more in the fourth on RBI singles from Wilkerson and Van De Brake. Stokely hit a double off the left-field fence in the fifth and scored on an error.
Knapp gave up a pair of leadoff home runs, with blasts from right fielder Noah Soles in the sixth inning and first baseman Eli Serrano III in the seventh. Right-hander Ben Peterson relieved him after the latter, retiring the next three batters.
In their final regular-season home appearances, senior left-hander Will Sandy gave up one hit, only facing three batters in the eighth inning, and senior right-hander Nik Pry pitched the ninth inning, only giving up a walk.
NOTES — Carolina plays its last regular-season non-conference game at 6 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN+) at No. 8 Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers (32–17), who lost to Clemson 13–6 on Wednesday, beat South Alabama on Saturday 14–11 and and also play the Jaguars on Sunday. Coastal won 12–7 in Chapel Hill on March 28. … UNC has clinched a spot in the ACC tournament. … Forbes said that “a little bit over half” of the players the NCAA suspended for one game have served their suspensions. “We’re getting there,” he said. … UNC’s last ACC series at Clemson runs Thursday through Saturday next weekend. … Carolina was 10 of 20 with runners in scoring position, with seven two-out RBI. … It was the 14th time this season that UNC has scored double-digit runs and the fifth time in ACC play. … That was UNC’s first sweep of State since 2018 and the first in Chapel Hill since 2006. … Carolina has won five in a row against N.C. State for the first time since a streak from the 2001 to 2002 season. … This was only Carolina’s third ACC series with every game played at the originally scheduled time, along with home series against Duke and Boston College. Every other series featured either suspended games, canceled games or doubleheaders because of bad weather. … Cook extended his on-base streak to 39 games. … Before the game, UNC honored seven players who graduate this weekend or graduated last year in a senior day ceremony: Patrick Alvarez, Kevin Eaise, Eric Grintz, Alberto Osuna, Pry, Max Reimer and Sandy. … UNC leads the all-time series 175–139–1, winning five in a row and six of the last seven meetings.
UNC 12, N.C. State 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. 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