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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 15 UNC baseball clinches series over Wagner College

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UNC graduate student infielder Alex Madera (1) celebrates a home run during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

Powered by three five-run innings, the No. 15 UNC baseball team (2-0) took down Wagner College (0-2) on Saturday, 16-5, in game two of its opening weekend series.

Both pitchers settled in nicely to start the game. A walk for senior first baseman Parks Harber was the lone baserunner either team could muster up in the first inning. 

Senior pitcher Ben Peterson eliminated an early threat in the second after relinquishing a leadoff hit. Moving to his right, senior shortstop Colby Wilkerson collected a ground ball with his backhand and turned an inning-ending double play.

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UNC senior right-handed pitcher Ben Peterson (25) pitches the ball during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

In the bottom of the frame, first-year catcher Luke Stevenson earned the first RBI of his collegiate career. With a runner on second, Stevenson lined a single up the middle to put UNC up early. 

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UNC first-year catcher Luke Stevenson (44) swings at the ball during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

The second-inning onslaught from UNC did not stop there, though. Graduate second baseman Alex Madera roped an RBI single into left field in his first at-bat of the year. Next batter, Wilkerson, pulled the ball into right to earn an RBI single of his own. RBIs from redshirt sophomore shortstop Casey Cook and graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio put a cap on the inning, and UNC entered the third leading 5-0.

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UNC redshirt sophomore outfielder Casey Cook (16) sprints toward first base during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday,Feb. 17, 2024.

“We have power throughout the lineup and speed,” UNC head coach Scott Forbes said. “When you get guys on and you got that combination, you got a chance to have a big inning.”

Wagner responded quickly. A walk and a single into right center gave the Seahawks runners on the corners with no outs. An unorthodox sequence gave Wagner its first run of the game. The runner on third came home on a slow roller to the plate and was originally called out when the pitcher threw the ball home. On replay, though, the call was overturned. Wagner brought home two more runs in the inning, narrowing UNC’s lead to 5-3.

After two walks in the fourth inning, Peterson was pulled for redshirt sophomore pitcher Dalton Pence. Inheriting runners on first and second with just one out, Pence could not extinguish the threat. He quickly retired the next batter but the third walk of the frame loaded the bases. Wagner capitalized, punched a single through the left side to bring in two and tie the game at five. Pence settled in after the hit, though, retiring the next nine batters he faced and tying his career high with five strikeouts.

“Heater was working really well, and the cutter was working good against the left handed hitters,” Pence said. “I felt like I had good command of it, working that lower, outer part of the plate.”

The Tar Heel bats backed him up in the sixth. A leadoff double from Cook just past the diving glove of the centerfielder got the inning going for UNC. Harber, the next batter up, matched him with a triple that also was inches from being caught by a diving outfielder. He was immediately brought home by a Donofrio single to right. Senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna capped off the inning with thunder, hitting a no-doubt 404-foot blast into right center field and giving UNC its second five-run inning of the game. 

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“I was like, ‘finally [I] squared one up’ — now I know that I’m all good,” Osuna said.

Junior center fielder Vance Honeycutt joined in on the home run party in the seventh. After starting the game 0-4 from the plate, Honeycutt smashed a solo shot over the right field wall, extending UNC’s lead to six. UNC could not produce any more runs in the inning, though, as an Osuna flyout stranded the bases loaded.

The Tar Heels delivered the bookend of their high-powered afternoon in the eighth. A Cook three-run bomb to left center and four total hits for UNC amounted to five more runs and a 16-5 lead. Senior pitcher Connor Bovair shut the door in the ninth, cementing UNC’s second win of the year. 

The Tar Heels return to Boshamer Stadium tomorrow afternoon, looking to earn the sweep against Wagner. 

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsportssports@dailytarheel.com