A game featuring two of the hottest teams in the country was predictably close the whole way through, but the Tar Heel bats just couldn’t get going enough to get through a deep VCU bullpen as the regional hosts lost the 1-0 game of the Chapel Hill Regional, 4-3. VCU, as the 2-0 team in the regional, will get a day off today, while UNC and Georgia, who clobbered Hofstra in the loser’s game 24-1, will face off at 1:00 PM.
The game was marked by some controversy early, to put it lightly. In the second inning, Tomas Frick tried to reach second on a grounder from Johnny Castagnozzi, but was called for interference as he slid for second while the VCU shorstop, Conner Hujsak, squared up to complete the double play to first. The play was reviewed, and while it didn’t look like Frick had done much, the call stood and ended the inning for the Heels. Hujsak then added insult to injury by depositing a Brandon Schaeffer pitch over the left-field wall in the bottom of the second, putting the Rams up 1-0.
The umpiring drama didn’t stop there, though. With one out in the top of the 3rd, Danny Serretti hit a pop-up behind the VCU pitcher with runners on first and second, which the second baseman dropped on a sliding attempt and used to turn an easy double play at 2nd and 3rd. It was the kind of play that the infield fly rule is in existence to prevent, but the umpires deemed the slide to be more than “ordinary effort” per the rulebook, allowing the play to stand. Scott Forbes was ejected for arguing the call with the umpire (there may have been some incidental contact), receiving no further explanation. Judge for yourself:
Here's the popup from the third inning of tonight's UNC-VCU game that resulted in a 4-6-5 double play and led to Scott Forbes' subsequent ejection and two-game suspension. pic.twitter.com/q6w0tJHHaV— Pat James (@patjames24) June 5, 2022
From that point on, it was a pitcher’s duel marked by UNC’s ability to get runners on base and subsequent inability to cash them in. The Heels stranded 9 runners without scoring through 7 innings, wasting a fine performance by Brandon Schaeffer. The pitcher shook off the early home run to put together a very good start, going 5.1 innings with 4 hits, 4 Ks, 2 walks, and an undeserved loss to his record. At the bottom of the 7th, though, things started to get hairy after a rare fielding error by Danny Serretti and a bad pickoff throw from Gage Gillian put VCU runners on the corners with nobody out. A double by Cooper Benzin scored both, extending VCU’s lead to 3-1. With two outs and runners on the corners again, Davis Palermo came in to face VCU’s All-America candidate Tyler Locklear, and was able to strike him out looking at a 96 mph heater, but UNC had a steeper hill to climb with just 2 innings to go.
Vance Honeycutt, who’d been quiet to that point, took the first pitch of the 8th over the wall at left-center to open the scoring for UNC, but that would be it, as a runner on 2nd was stranded by an Eric Grintz strikeout. Hujsak then answered Honeycutt’s blast with another one of his own, pushing the Rams’ lead back to 3 and his personal count of home runs in the Chapel Hill regional to 4. In their last bid to tie or take the lead, UNC took two early outs before Danny Serretti absolutely crushed a two-run blast to right field, cutting the Heels’ deficit to one. Honeycutt and Alberto Osuna both walked, putting the tying run in scoring position, but, in a cruel bit of irony, the Heels’ comeback attempt ended with runners stranded. Mikey Madej popped up to 3rd to end the game and put VCU through to the regional final.
Things didn’t get better after the game for the Heels, as the NCAA announced that Forbes would be suspended for UNC’s next two games for his confrontation with the umpire back in the third inning. As of this writing, we’re still waiting on further explanation of what looked like a pretty routine conversation and request for explanation. The Heels will have to win three straight now to get out of their regional; they haven’t gotten out of the losers’ bracket in a regional since this double-elimination format was adopted. Their bid to change that history will start at 1 PM against Georgia on ESPN+, with Will Sandy starting for the hosts. If there’s any team who can reverse that history, it might well be these Heels.