On the whole, this year’s North Carolina baseball team has been good, but they sure do know how to make things difficult along the way.
In the regular season, an extended mid-season slump threatened to knock them out of the NCAA Tournament entirely. Last weekend in the regional, they had to battle their way out of the loser’s bracket. In those cases, a late season run not only got them in the tournament, but got them a national seed. In the regional, they won three-straight games when they had no room for error, advancing to this weekend.
Well, now they’re in super regionals, and once again they’re going to have to fight their way back. In Game One of the Chapel Hill Super Regional, UNC fell 4-1 to Arkansas. While the Tar Heels’ pitching wasn’t lights out, the hitting failed to take enough of their chances, scoring just one run despite eight hits. As a result, Carolina now trail the best-of-three series 1-0 and once again have no room for error if they want to go to the College World Series.
After the amount of runs UNC and Arkansas both put up in their respective regionals, this had the potential to be a high-scoring affair. However early on, it was a pitcher’s duel. While both teams had their chances, starters Max Carlson and Connor Noland exchanged scoreless frames for the first four innings. The Razorbacks eventually broke that deadlock, and did so in a way that ended up being a killer blow.
To start off the fifth inning, Peyton Stovall led off with a home run, getting Arkansas on the board. Carlson then labored a bit, walking one hitter, allowing a single to another, and then putting them both into scoring position with a wild pitch. A Brady Slavens single and a Cayden Wallace sacrifice fly scored another two runs before Carlson induced a double play to finally get out of the inning.
Carlson ended up coming out for the sixth inning, but after issuing a one-out walk, he would be removed. In his 5.1 innings, Carlson allowed three runs on six hits and two walks.
Arkansas added to their lead in the seventh, picking up a run after a couple hits off relievers Nik Pry and Caden O’Brien.
Meanwhile, Razorbacks’ starter Noland kept putting up zeroes. Finally after a two-out Colby Wilkerson hit in the seventh, he exited the game. He ended his day with a final line of no runs on six hits and a walk in 6.2 innings, striking out six.
UNC eventually got themselves on the board in the eighth, via the man that’s come up huge for them so many times. Vance Honeycutt gave Carolina a lifeline with his two-out solo home run. It was his 25th of the season, breaking the program single-season record.
Down to their last three outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Heels got off to a perfect start when Mikey Madej reached on a single. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t lead to anything further as Arkansas’ reliever Hagen Smith shut the door, retiring the next three hitters after that.
Good news is, UNC has seemed to play their best when they have their backs against the wall. They’re going to need to do so again or else a trip to Omaha will have to wait for another year.