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The Daily Tar Heel

Vance Honeycutt comes up big for No. 15 Diamond Heels with grand slam in 8-7 win over Elon

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UNC junior outfielder Vance Honeycutt (7) bats during the baseball game against Elon on Feb. 20, 2024 at Boshamer Stadium.

The No. 15 Tar Heels (4-0) took down the Elon Phoenix (1-3) at Boshamer Stadium on Thursday afternoon, 8-7.

In the last three matchups between North Carolina and Elon, the Tar Heels limited the Phoenix to just one run per game. On Thursday, the Tar Heels gave up more than double the last three Elon encounters combined, despite having an errorless game.

UNC first-year pitcher Jason DeCaro saw his first career start, striking out his first batter but then allowing the Phoenix to load the bases with just one out. Elon’s Connor Offshack sent a line drive to UNC’s graduate second baseman Alex Madera who made the catch then turned two at second to take the Tar Heels to their first at-bat. UNC loaded the bases against Elon’s pitcher Ben Sieracki but was unable to score.

North Carolina forced three quick outs at the top of the second inning. Then, redshirt sophomore outfielder Casey Cook singled to left field in the bottom of the frame, sending Madera across the plate for UNC’s first run of the game. Junior outfielder Vance Honeycutt and Cook also scored, putting the Tar Heels up 3-0.

DeCaro finished out his third inning with no runs allowed after picking off Elon’s Kenny Mallory Jr. at second. The Phoenix brought Christo Garrelts to the mound, and the Tar Heels did not score any runs.

UNC made a pitching change of its own in the fourth inning. After giving up a home run by Vince Fattore and sitting with just one out and bases loaded, sophomore pitcher Kyle Percival came in to relieve DeCaro.

“I thought DeCaro, for a 17-year-old and his first start, was really good,” said UNC baseball head coach Scott Forbes.

UNC sophomore pitcher Matthew Matthijs then came in and closed out the top of the inning. Garrelts again allowed zero runs, leaving UNC at a 4-3 deficit going into the fifth.

After earning three quick outs on the field and with Itai Spinoza now pitching for Elon, North Carolina managed to seemingly sneak the ball right through the seams of the Phoenix infielders’ gloves during the fifth inning, loading the bases up for the Tar Heels. 

According to the next batter in the lineup, Honeycutt, Forbes told him to “just get out there and compete” and to “take all of the other mechanical things out of it.”

Honeycutt then stepped into the batter’s box and sent one flying over the right field wall with a grand slam, bringing in 4 runs for UNC and putting the Tar Heels up 7-4. 

With sophomore Cameron Padgett pitching for UNC — facing two outs and bases loaded — the Tar Heels brought in senior pitcher Matt Poston who allowed one run to score off a grounder. North Carolina struck out twice and fouled out once to end the inning.

Junior pitcher Aidan Haugh pitched the Tar Heels through the seventh. Elon switched pitchers twice more in the inning, and Cook singled through the right side to earn one RBI.

With bases loaded in the eighth, North Carolina’s senior pitcher Connor Bovair was brought in to relieve Haugh, giving up two hits and two runs. 

Finally, redshirt sophomore pitcher Dalton Pence was brought in to close the game. 

“I really don’t feel pressure in that situation,” Pence said. “I’m out there playing the game of baseball and playing for the guys that are backing me up in the field behind me.”

Pence held Elon to seven runs, successfully closing out the game for the Tar Heels with one flyout and two strikeouts.

“And Dalton, you know, that’s why he’s our closer,” Forbes said plainly. 

The Tar Heels will face the East Carolina Pirates back in Boshamer this Friday, with the first game of that series starting at 4 p.m.

@lydiakampe

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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