By R.L. Bynum
DURHAM — North Carolina took the first step toward repeating as ACC champion and is a win away from a berth in the ACC tournament semifinals.
No. 7-seed UNC jumped out to a big lead early and rolled to an 11–5 victory Tuesday over No. 11 Georgia Tech at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in a push for the title unlikely to include star center fielder Vance Honeycutt.
Carolina (34–21), which snapped a four-game losing streak, gets a day off before facing No. 12-ranked and No. 2-seed Virginia (44–11) at 3 p.m. Thursday for a berth in Saturday’s second semifinal. The Coastal Division-champion Cavaliers face the Jackets (30–25) at 3 p.m. Wednesday, but that outcome won’t change the stakes of Thursday’s game with UNC.
Honeycutt, who remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury, is doubtful to play in the ACC tournament. The sophomore (No. 7 in top photo) was limited to being a cheerleader Tuesday, missing his fifth consecutive game.
“We didn’t get the news that we wanted [Tuesday] morning,” UNC Scott Forbes said of Honeycutt. “I have talked to Vance quite a bit just to prepare him that, even if he told me he could play, I had to really think about it because I felt like we had done enough to be a lock in the NCAA tournament. I guess you never know.
“I did feel like our body of work was really good,” Forbes said. “And as bad as we want to win the ACC tournament, I know that rest is the best healer, and I didn’t want him to have a setback. And I felt like this morning, it just confirmed that he needs more rest. And, hopefully, we can get him back in the NCAA tournament.”
Freshman Carter French played center field, his fifth start of the season and second in center field. Junior Mac Horvath started at third base and hit a mammoth eighth-inning home run. Junior Johnny Castagnozzi made his first start as the designated hitter, going 2 for 4 with an RBI. Junior Patrick Alvarez, who Forbes called “Paddy Knuckles,” made his 16th start in left field, going 3 for 5 with three RBI. Junior catcher Tomas Frick was 3 for 5 with two RBI.
Horvath’s eighth-inning blast that went 380 feet and off the building beyond left field ignited a four-run eighth inning to put the game away.
“It felt good,” said Horvath, who hit his 22nd home run so hard that it bounced back into left field. “I think that kind of jump-started that inning and got the other guys rolling.”
With two runners on in the sixth inning, Casey Cook hit a single to left field but was out trying to go to second because Castagnozzi stopped at third base in a baserunning error. Junior second baseman Jackson Van De Brake had a huge two-run single later in that inning to give UNC a five-run lead.
“I thought the biggest hit of the game was after we had our baserunning blunder; Van De Brake stepping in there and getting that big hit,” Forbes said. “Against a team like Georgia Tech, you just need some space because they’re so good at top to bottom.”
UNC jumped out to a lead with three two-out runs in the first inning after Horvath got hit by a pitch and stole second with one out. Frick scored him with a single to left, junior first baseman Hunter Stokely doubled to left field, and Alvarez hit a two-run single to center field.
After a rough outing at Clemson, UNC junior right-hander Max Carlson looked closer to the dominant pitcher he was against N.C. State early on.
Forbes said that since Carlson is two years past Tommy John surgery, his velocity will tend to vary, explaining some of the uneven late-season efforts. Forbes said Carlson could definitely come back and pitch later in the tournament.
“We just reminded him that he’s always had control,” Forbes said of Carlson. “Mechanically, he’s got to get his arm up in his slot, but the changeup doesn’t play as good and his ball flattens out. So him and [pitching] Coach [Bryant] Gaines worked on it all week. They had throwing sessions, and they had a good plan on how to attack Georgia Tech hitters.”
Carlson allowed a base runner in each of the first three innings, but UNC turned two double plays and he struck out the side in the other inning. He worked out of another jam in the fourth inning, but came out after giving up three consecutive singles to start the fifth inning.
Junior right-hander Ben Peterson (winner, 3–0) relieved Carlson, who yielded six hits and one run with two walks and four strikeouts in 4+ innings. The third hit off Carlson, a Jad Jackson single to center field, scored the first Georgia Tech run. Peterson struck out his first batter, and retired the next two Jackets to avert further damage.
Peterson gave up a two-out John Giesler solo home run, lofted over the Blue Monster in left field, before striking out Jackson Finley to get out of the sixth inning.
Carolina pulled away in the bottom of that inning, as Van De Brake’s two-run, two-out single highlighting the three-run inning.
Fifth-year right-handed reliever Kevin Eaise took over for Peterson — who gave up two runs, two hits and no walks with three strikeouts in two innings — after he gave up a lead-off Jack Rubenstein double in the seventh inning.
Two of the four batters Eaise faced doubled, with the second one from Jake DeLeo scoring two runs, before he came out with two outs. Junior right-hander Matt Poston gave up a long drive to drive to his first batter, Angelo Dispigna, that French caught at the wall.
Poston, who earned his fifth save, struck out two Jackets in the eighth inning as they were retired in order for the first time.
“I felt like we attacked them really good, made some really good pitches,” Frick said of UNC’s pitchers. “They got a couple of bloop hits, and I felt like that didn’t really bother us. I felt like we just continued to attack, and we played great defensive behind them.”
Horvath’s homer highlighted a four-run eighth inning. UNC got an RBI single from Frick, an RBI double from Alvarez and an RBI single from Castagnozzi in the inning.
DeLeo hit an RBI single off Poston in the ninth inning. Poston gave up two hits and one run with three strikeouts in 2⅓ innings.
With the day off, Forbes said that every pitcher he used Tuesday, except for Carlson, should be available against Virginia.
NOTES — No. 1-ranked Wake Forest will try to become the first No. 1 seed to win the ACC tournament under its current format. … In other games Tuesday, No. 6-seed Boston College beat No. 10 Virginia Tech 11–7 and No. 9 N.C. State topped No. 5 Duke 8–7 in 11 innings. … UNC won ACC titles in 2013 and 2019 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and a title at Durham Athletic Park in 1984. … Boston College beat Virginia Tech 11–7 in the tournament opener. The Eagles are with Clemson in Pool C, which will be matched with the winner of UNC’s Pool B in Saturday’s semifinals. … It’s Carolina’s second consecutive victory at Durham Bulls Athletic Park over Georgia Tech after the Tar Heels beat the Yellow Jackets 10–2 in the 2019 championship game. … UNC won three of four games against the Jackets this season. … UNC is 5–4 as a No. 7 seed in the ACC tournament after also being the No. 7 seed in 1992 and 2014 and not making the semifinals either season. In the double-elimination event in Greenville, S.C., in 1992, the Tar Heels lost their opener to Georgia Tech 5–4, beat Wake Forest 7–3, and were eliminated with a 7–3 loss to Florida State. At the 2014 event in Greensboro, UNC split its round-robin games under the current format, beating N.C. State 4–3 and losing to Florida State 7–1. … Carolina is 90–71 in ACC tournament play, including 6–1 under Forbes.
No. 7 UNC 11, No. 11 Georgia Tech 5
At Durham Bulls Athletic Park
All games on ACC Network
No. 6-seed Boston College 11, No. 10 Virginia Tech 7
No. 7 North Carolina 11, No. 11 Georgia Tech 5
No. 9 N.C. State 8, No. 5 Duke 7, 11 innings
No. 12 Pittsburgh 9, No. 8 Notre Dame 5
No. 2 Virginia 15, No. 11 Georgia Tech 1, 7 innings
No. 3 Clemson 14, No. 10 Virginia Tech 5
No. 1 Wake Forest 10, No. 12 Pittsburgh 2
No. 7 North Carolina 10, No. 2 Virginia 2
No. 4 Miami 4, No. 9 N.C. State 2
No. 3 Clemson 4, No. 6 Boston College 1
No. 4 Miami 7, No. 5 Duke 6
No. 1 Wake Forest 7, No. 8 Notre Dame 5
No. 3 Clemson 10, No. 7 North Carolina 4
No. 4 Miami 7, No. 1 Wake Forest 2
Sunday’s championship at Durham Bulls Athletic Park
No. 3 Clemson 11, No. 4 Miami 5
FINAL POOL PLAY STANDINGS
Wake Forest 2–0
Notre Dame 0–2
North Carolina 2–0
Georgia Tech 0–2
Boston College 1–1
Virginia Tech 0–2
N.C. State 1–1
|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|
Top photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications