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First-year pitcher Jason Decaro dominates in No. 17 UNC baseball's win over VCU

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UNC first-year right-handed pitcher Jason DeCaro (29) pitches the ball during the baseball game against VCU at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.

Ignited by six innings of one-run ball by first-year pitcher Jason Decaro, the No. 17 UNC baseball team (6-2) grabbed the lead early and never relinquished it in an 8-2 victory over VCU (4-4) on Tuesday.

After a one-hour delay, Decaro took the mound for UNC. He had his fastball working early, topping out at 95 mph and retiring the side in order in the first inning.

After UNC loaded the bases in the bottom of the first, graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio capitalized with a little-league grand slam. Doubling through into the right field corner, the VCU right fielder kicked the ball around that allowed all three runners to score. When the relay throw reached home, Donofrio attempted to take third base and appeared to be out by a mile. The VCU catcher, though, sent the ball back to Richmond, throwing it over the third baseman’s head and into left field. Donofrio reached home safely, giving UNC a 4-0 lead in the first inning.

With runners on the corners and no outs in the third, senior third baseman Jackson Van De Brake grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, ending any further threat for UNC but scoring a run in the process.

With the 5-0 lead, Decaro shined against the Rams. To leadoff the fourth inning, Madera robbed VCU of its first hit by stretching to his right and bringing in a line drive while tumbling to the ground. Decaro retired all 12 batters that he faced through four innings, striking out three.

The Tar Heels provided Decaro more insurance in the bottom of the inning. After retiring the first two batters, VCU walked first-year designated hitter Gavin Gallaher. Another first-year, catcher Luke Stevenson, brought him home with a 402-foot triple off the top of the center field wall, extending UNC’s lead to six.

Reflecting on the hit after the game, Stevenson thought he had a home run initially, but “got to show off the speed instead.

Decaro’s perfection ended through 4.2 innings when VCU designated hitter Eli Weisner worked a nine-pitch walk for the Rams’ first base runner. Decaro retired the next batter and became the first UNC starter since Opening Day to pitch at least five innings.

“We needed somebody to show us that they have the capability to go out there and throw five plus innings,” UNC head coach Scott Forbes said.

UNC’s offense found more two-out magic in the bottom of the fifth. The Tar Heels once again worked a walk with two outs and nobody on, and redshirt sophomore left fielder Casey Cook cashed in with an RBI triple of his own down the right field line. Senior first baseman Alberto Osuna brought in Cook and UNC’s eighth run of the game two at-bats later, capitalizing off the shift to narrowly beat out an infield RBI single up the middle.

Decaro’s no-hit bid ended in the sixth with a leadoff single by VCU center fielder Cooper Benzin. The Rams brought him home with a single into center to end UNC’s shutout. Decaro completed the sixth and final inning of his outing with a groundout to shortstop, walking off the mound to a standing ovation from the sparse Boshamer crowd. 

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“[I] definitely built off my outing last week and improved on certain areas that I had to improve in and really happy with how today went,” Decaro said.

With an 8-1 lead behind them, the Tar Heels cruised to their sixth victory of the season. VCU added a run in the eighth, but senior pitcher Connor Bovair shut the Rams down 1-2-3 in the ninth and secured the six-run win.

“I thought that was probably the most complete game that we played all season, top to bottom,” Forbes said.

 UNC returns to Boshamer Stadium on Wednesday for another midweek game against Longwood.

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com