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Anthony Donofrio's inside-the-park home run lifts No. 17 UNC baseball to win over Princeton

UNC graduate outfielder Anthony Donofrio (4) steps up to bat during the baseball game against Elon on Feb. 20, 2024 at Boshamer Stadium.

In No. 17 UNC baseball’s (9-2) 11-2 win over Princeton (1-4) on Saturday afternoon, graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio did something the Tar Heels had not done in over five years. His first-inning inside-the-park home run lifted UNC to its fourth consecutive win.

Junior pitcher Shea Sprague took the mound in his first start for UNC. The Tigers pounced on him early with a leadoff double to the base of the right field wall. With runners on the corners and two outs, Princeton catcher Jake Bold beat the shift and singled through the right side to bring in the first run of the game.

UNC responded in the bottom of the inning. Senior first baseman Parks Harber looped in a two-out double to right field, putting two runners in scoring position. Next batter,  Donofrio, sent the ball off the top of the wall in left center. The ball bounced past the leaping center fielder and as Donofrio rounded second, head coach Scott Forbes waved him gome. Donofrio slid in safely for UNC’s first inside-the-park homerun since 2018 to give it a 3-1 lead.

“I don’t think I’ve ever got a career inside the parker,” Donofrio said. “For it to be my first [home run] at UNC, that was really special.”

In the top of the third inning, Princeton cut the lead in half with a leadoff solo blast into right field. Sprague responded by retiring the next three batters in order and keeping UNC in front.

First-year catcher Luke Stevenson answered in a big way in the bottom of the inning. With Donofrio on second and no outs, Stevenson launched an 0-1 pitch into right center for a two-run bomb. The no-doubter went 422’ and traveled over the netting for his first career home run as a Tar Heel. At the end of three frames, UNC led 5-2.

“I was just trying not to force it and just put together good at bats,” Stevenson said. “[I] got a slider over the plate and put a good swing on it.”

Redshirt sophomore pitcher Dalton Pence entered in relief of Sprague to start the fifth. In his first start for UNC, Sprague pitched four innings, gave up two earned runs and six hits, and struck out four.  Pence found himself in a jam in his first inning of relief as Princeton worked runners on the corners and just one out. Pence extinguished the threat by striking out the next two batters, leading to a roar from the UNC faithful at Boshamer Stadium. 

“As a staff, the one thing we didn’t do well is get the leadoff hitter out — I think we only got him out three times out of nine,” Forbes said. “Still, to only give up two runs tells you the quality arms we are running out there.”

The Tar Heels capitalized on a defensive mishap in the bottom of the fifth. Leading off the inning, senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna rocketed a ball into deep center field. The Princeton center fielder tripped while tracking the ball, allowing it to ricochet off the wall and Osuna to stroll into second base. Three RBI singles in the inning brought home three runs and doubled UNC’s lead to 8-2.

UNC’s offensive barrage continued in the sixth when Stevenson singled home Donofrio for his third RBI of the game. The Tar Heels stranded runners on the corners but they held a comfortable 9-2 lead entering the seventh.

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UNC added two more runs in the last two innings, giving the Tar Heels their sixth game of the season with double digit runs. Senior pitcher Connor Bovair and sophomore pitcher Will Simmons shut Princeton down in the eighth and ninth, and UNC clinched the series victory. 

UNC looks to secure its second weekend-series sweep of the season on Sunday at noon.


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