The Tar Heels started in a hole and never completely climbed out of it.
In the first matchup of the 2023 NCAA Baseball Championship, the regional 3-seeded Tar Heels matched up against the Iowa Hawkeyes in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Hawkeyes started the game with some timely two-out hitting, as Sam Hojnar was able to belt a single on the first pitch from Jake Knapp and do something Carolina just failed to do all game-and to some extent a bunch of the season-take advantage of early baserunners.
Carolina started the second with a baserunner as Patrick Alvarez belted a singled and ended up at second thanks to a throwing error. He advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and then...stayed there as Carolina weakly failed to convert. Iowa made them pay with another run in the bottom of the frame.
Knapp would only get one out in the bottom of the third before being lifted, and the much-maligned bullpen managed to hold Iowa to no more runs all the way until the eighth inning, when, again, Carolina failed to convert with an early hit. A single by Hunter Stokely was immediately wasted as Alvarez lined a pitch directly into the glove of the second baseman, who was able to catch Stokely at first in time. In the bottom of the inning Iowa stretched the lead to 5-1.
The Tar Heels did mount a furious rally in the ninth. Alberto Osuna rocketed a two run homer to nudge the Heels back to 5-3, and then Jackson Van De Brake would nail a double with two on that would only score one run. There was only one out at the time and the Tar Heels had second and third. Unfortunately, Tomas Frick would let strike three sail by without a swing for the second out, and Hunter Stokely swung at the third strike to end the game.
Carolina would ultimately leave ten men on base, and while Iowa stranded nine themselves their ability to cash in on opportunities early and late made all the difference in the game.
The loss puts Carolina in immediate elimination mode, which in the NCAA Regionals means they will have to win four straight in order to advance to the Super Regionals next weekend. The most daunting of that is that they would have to win two games tomorrow against two different teams, and then beat the second team again on Monday. It is possible, as Carolina was on the brink of elimination last season after a Saturday loss to VCU, and thus had to win three straight. The big difference was UNC having the home field, and at some point it’s likely they'd have to beat the home field Indiana State Sycamores to do so this season.
You can’t win four in a row without winning the first, and that starts today at Noon against Wright State. The game is available on the ACC Network.
- Time: Noon ET
- Location: Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium, Terre Haute, IN
- TV: ACC Network
- Radio: The game will as part of the Tar Heel Sports Network on the flagship, WCHL 97.9 Chapel Hill, and also on WBAG 1150 AM Burlington and WOHS 1390 AM Shelby. Dave Nathan will provide the call.
- Streaming: The ACC Network broadcast can be streamed on Watch ESPN.