The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday June 25th

With series sweep of No. 20 Florida State, UNC baseball revitalizes postseason hopes

First-year center fielder Vance Honeycutt (7) runs the bases after getting the first home run for UNC of the day. UNC won 10-4 against FSU at home in the second game of the three-game series on Friday, May 20, 2022.
Buy Photos First-year center fielder Vance Honeycutt (7) runs the bases after getting the first home run for UNC of the day. UNC won 10-4 against FSU at home in the second game of the three-game series on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Four weeks ago, the postseason wasn’t in the picture for the North Carolina baseball team.

Not just the NCAA Tournament, but the postseason in general, as the Tar Heels sat on the edge of the 12-team ACC Tournament field.

But, with a sweep of No. 20 Florida State in its final series of the regular season, North Carolina has locked a spot into the conference tourney and is well on its way to the big dance.

In a matter of three games, the Tar Heels successfully overcame a near season-ending stretch — which included five-straight series losses — that suggested an early end to the season.

So, what changed?

“We started playing every game like it was the postseason,” redshirt junior Angel Zarate said.

This newfound sense of urgency was evident from Zarate's very first swing on Saturday.

In the bottom of the first inning, UNC's leadoff batter geared a meaty swing on the very first pitch he saw, launching the ball high over the right field netting and onto the walking path parallel to Karen Shelton Stadium.

Cheers erupted.

The feeling, though mostly absent for the latter half of the season, was nothing new to those at Boshamer Stadium over the weekend. UNC secured the series’ first two games in dramatic fashion. 

In Thursday's game, sophomore designated hitter Alberto Osuna sent a walk-off home run past the left-center field wall. Friday’s 10-4 victory was sealed by a grand slam from junior shortstop Danny Serretti in the eighth inning.

Paired with the festivities of former head coach Mike Fox's number retirement, the Diamond Heels and head coach Scott Forbes had a special three days.

“This weekend is at the top for me,” Forbes said. “I wouldn’t be here without the man whose jersey we retired.”

With the series already won come Saturday, a third game might have appeared meaningless. But it wasn’t, as UNC honored its 11 graduating players in the team’s final home game of the regular season with a resounding 11-0 win.

“It was huge to play for them on this special night,” first-year center fielder Vance Honeycutt said. “It doesn’t matter what year you are, you want to win (for them).”

The path to victory for the Diamond Heels wasn’t easy, however, as it traveled through Florida State redshirt sophomore pitcher Bryce Hubbart. Coming into the contest, the Seminoles’ ace held one of the top ERAs in the conference.

To counter, UNC deployed a small-ball hitting tactic — laying down timely sacrifice bunts and flyouts to slowly tack on runs throughout the game. By the seventh inning, the Diamond Heels had scored six runs on just four hits. 

After a near three-hour weather delay, North Carolina put a cap on its first series sweep since early March, as Honeycutt and sophomore third baseman Mac Horvath both went the distance in a pivotal five-run seventh inning for UNC. 

With the sweep, the Tar Heels’ mid-year struggles appear to be far behind them, but are a time still remembered as a learning curve for the players.

“During that stretch, I saw everything, including doubt,” Honeycutt said. “It’s hard to play the game that way, so we kept trucking.”

And with its persistence, North Carolina has come out victorious in seven of its last nine conference games with weekend wins over N.C. State, Wake Forest and Florida State — teams that have all been nationally ranked at some point this year.

Now as the team looks towards the ACC Baseball Championship in Charlotte, the Diamond Heels sit as a team playing its best ball at the right time.

“This group’s in a good place right now,” Forbes said. “They’re extremely confident in themselves.”

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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