After a dominant win over No. 8 East Carolina on Tuesday, the No. 11 North Carolina baseball team (13-7, 8-5 ACC) dropped the series opener, 9-2, against N.C State (6-9, 2-8 ACC) in the rivalry’s first matchup since 2019, and head coach Scott Forbes’ first as UNC's skipper.
Looking to improve on his 4-0 record, sophomore pitcher Austin Love started on the mound for UNC, while Reid Johnston, a junior with a 1-0 record and a 2.93 ERA, started for the Wolfpack.
After Love struck out Austin Murr, the Wolfpack’s leadoff hitter, N.C. State got on the board in the top of the first as sophomore fielder Tyler McDonough sent the first pitch of his at bat over the right field wall to give the Wolfpack a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the first, sophomore center fielder Justice Thompson reached base for the Diamond Heels and was able to steal second, but the Wolfpack’s defense held strong and didn’t let him advance any further to preserve the lead.
The first mound meeting of the game came in the top of the second after Love allowed the first three N.C. State batters to reach base, but it didn’t seem to slow down the Wolfpack’s hot bats.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, N.C. State’s Vojtech Mensik drove a ball deep into left field over Angel Zarate’s head for a grand slam, putting his team up big early. Shortly after, McDonough drove in Murr with a single into center field.
The Wolfpack were threatening to score even more runs, but a leaping grab by first-year Johnny Castagnozzi at second base kept the score at 6-0.
In the next inning, a UNC throwing error brought home another run, and N.C. State led, 7-0.
The Tar Heels were able to get their first run of the contest in the bottom of the third. After Thompson reached second base, redshirt sophomore Danny Serretti singled to knock in a run, putting the score at 7-1 in favor of the Wolfpack.
In the fourth inning, UNC gave up another run to McDonough, but turned a double play to keep the lead at seven. The score remained the same through the sixth inning until the Wolfpack tacked on another insurance run in the seventh.
Despite the 9-1 deficit, Tar Heel fans still cheered throughout Boshamer Stadium as the game headed into the bottom of the ninth. First-year Hunter Stokely rewarded those fans with a late home run into right field, but the Wolfpack held on to secure a 9-2 win.
Who stood out?
McDonough was influential for the Wolfpack on Friday, logging three hits in four at-bats while chipping in two RBIs.
Although the Tar Heels mostly struggled at the plate — collecting only seven hits as a team — redshirt sophomore Caleb Roberts was a bright spot, going 2-3 and reaching base three times.
When was it decided?
Though it was early in the contest, Mensik’s grand slam became the deciding factor in clinching the win for the Wolfpack.
UNC hitters were struggling at the plate, and although the defense was eventually able to gain its footing, the Tar Heels were unable to come back from the large deficit.
Why does it matter?
Before Friday, it looked like UNC might have been catching its rivals at the right time.
N.C. State has faced a very challenging schedule so far that featured multiple top-20 teams and an almost two-week-long COVID pause. After this game, however, it seems as though the Wolfpack could be trending in the right direction.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will look to bounce back and even the series on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Boshamer Stadium.
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