Your UNC Tar Heels are headed to the Super Regional round of the 2022 NCAA Baseball Championship! The Heels completed their comeback out of the losers’ bracket by beating VCU for the second time, 7-3, winning a regional from the loser’s bracket for the first time in UNC history. The Heels got unbelievable performances from starter Brandon Schaeffer (W, 3.2 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 5 K, 1 BB), pitching on just one full day of rest, and reliever Gage Gillian (4.1 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 4 K, 3 BB), who’d pitched in both games yesterday, on a day where most expected UNC to go through most of the bullpen because the Heels had pitched 18 innings yesterday. And the offense got going early to give them a lead to work with for the whole game. Here’s how it happened:
UNC was designated as the visiting team, so they went up to bat first, and quickly put the Rams in a hole, as 2 of UNC’s first four batters hit singles, then Alberto Osuna flared one to center field to drive Danny Seretti in. Mikey Madej followed that up with a 3-run blast down the left field line, putting the Heels up 4-0 in the first inning in a near-repeat of last night’s game. Schaeffer got into a jam early, loading the bases with just one out after a balk, but induced a groundout and a strikeout looking on the next two at-bats to get out of it with just one run.
The second inning went by quickly for both teams. In the third, Honeycutt got to show off his wheels: After getting hit by a pitch to get on base, he took advantage of an errant pickoff throw to take 2nd and 3rd with Osuna at bat, and the Heels’ designated hitter made the Rams pay with another single to center that scored Honeycutt, but the Heels stranded two runners. Schaeffer allowed just one hit in the bottom of the inning, getting out of it in just 14 pitches. The Heels then added two more insurance runs in the fourth with a Danny Serretti 2-run shot to right, putting them up 7-1, but the Rams quickly got those back with five straight VCU batters making useful contact against Schaeffer, the last two being a sacrifice bunt and a groundout RBI. Gillian induced a flyout for the last out of the inning, and from there a pitcher’s duel was on.
The Rams finally found some consistent pitching from Jack Masloff, who came in for the sixth inning and quieted the UNC bats, allowing just four hits over four scoreless innings to finish the game. Fortunately, Gillian was every bit up for the challenge, even after having thrown in both games the previous day, and threw 4.1 scoreless innings of his own before coming out for closer and Chapel Hill native Davis Palermo in the ninth. Palermo, who’s got significantly more heat than either Schaeffer or Gillian, used his fastball topping out at 95 to retire the side in order and clinch the win for the Heels, who are headed to the program’s 10th Super Regional appearance.
The Heels await the winner of the Stillwater Regional, which is ongoing at the time of this writing (Arkansas is on top 5-1 with two outs at the top of the seventh). If Arkansas wins, the Heels will host a Super Regional. If Oklahoma State comes back, the Heels will travel to Stillwater for a three-game series against the #7 national seed. Either way, UNC will be back in action on Friday.