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Sunday June 26th

Senior left fielder Mikey Madej's eight RBIs carry Diamond Heels to NCAA Super Regionals

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Following a 4-3 loss to VCU on Saturday, UNC baseball pulled off three back-to-back victories to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals next weekend.

UNC senior Mikey Madej didn’t have to look to confirm what he already knew to be true. 

“I hit it pretty good,” Madej said. “I didn't get all of it, but I knew it was gone.”

Immediately after swinging on the first pitch of his first at-bat, Madej flipped his bat, turned his head and broke into a nonchalant jog. 

In UNC’s regional winner-take-all matchup against VCU on Monday night, Madej’s three-run homer in the first inning propelled the Tar Heels to a four-run lead. North Carolina went on to defeat VCU 7-3 to win the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional. 

While that home run was certainly the highlight of Madej’s weekend, the senior’s quieter contributions in UNC’s journey through the regional losers' bracket deserve equal recognition. Thanks to the left fielder’s eight RBIs in North Carolina's three elimination games, the Diamond Heels advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals.

As a result of his offensive consistency, Madej was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Chapel Hill Regional.

“If there's ever a kid that deserves something like this, it's Mikey Madej,” head coach Scott Forbes said. “Because, first of all, he's a phenomenal teammate. We see what guys do when they're not in the lineup, and that's hard, because all these guys are so good. But Mikey Madej, (he’s) on the front step, he's the first one out of the dugout, and now he's getting rewarded for that." 

There was a time, as recent as this year, when Madej was one of those “good guys” on the bench. After just three starts early in the season, Forbes inserted Madej into the starting lineup in UNC’s series against Virginia Tech. Notably, the senior was placed in left field, despite the fact that he had never played in the outfield before.

Harkening back to his days as a punt returner in high school, Madej said he imagines fly balls as footballs to aid in his putouts in left field. It’s an approach that’s paid off, as this past weekend saw Madej make numerous impressive defensive stops.

In the second inning of UNC’s Sunday matchup against Georgia, Madej ran into a wall making a sliding grab by the left-field foul line.

Fast forward to later that inning, however, and the regional MOP ran into first-year center fielder Vance Honeycutt as the two tracked a fly ball to left-center field. Honeycutt was able to hold onto the ball for the third out of the inning, and as the two hustled into the dugout, Madej shook his head slightly and cracked a smile. 

He’s still learning, and that’s exactly why he was put in left field in the first place.

"He just earned it,” Forbes said. “We couldn't find anybody that was really producing at the time in left field. But, you know, I pay attention, like we should as coaches, and the one thing Mikey kept doing was working. It looked like his BP was getting better. It looked like he was ready, and we put him in there and he gave us that spark.” 

The Diamond Heels were certainly in need of a spark this weekend.

Before Monday, the Tar Heels had never advanced out of a regional loser's bracket, failing nine separate times to climb out of this hole in the past. This year, Madej’s 9-for-24 performance at the plate in the Chapel Hill Regional carried North Carolina through its elimination games to achieve this improbable feat.

“He's just a really special player,” junior left-handed pitcher Brandon Schaeffer said. “He's electric out there and being a switch hitter helps a lot. Just having his presence in the lineup and out there in left field, it just sparks everybody up. He's always got energy, he's always upbeat and pulling for every single person.”

In Monday’s press conference, when asked what was working for him in the regional, Madej simply replied that “the ball was finding grass” before going on to praise teammate Mac Horvath on his own offensive success. When prompted to share his thoughts on his home run, the senior instead shouted out pitcher Gage Gillian for allowing only one hit in his outing on Monday.

However, when Madej was asked about being named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player, the left fielder could barely muster six words. 

The swagger with which he paraded around the bases just hours earlier was suddenly lost. Instead, Madej cracked just a slight grin before leaning into the mic.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” he said. “That’s cool.”

@shelbymswanson 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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