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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 11 UNC baseball falls, 9-8, to N.C. State after Butterworth's walk-off bomb


UNC redshirt sophomore outfielder Casey Cook (16) bats during the Feb. 23, 2024 game in Boshamer Stadium against ECU. UNC beat ECU 2-1.

RALEIGH – In a high-scoring back-and-forth affair, the No. 11 UNC baseball team (29-9, 14-5 ACC) fell to N.C. State (21-14, 11-8 ACC), 9-8, on Thursday. Wolfpack shortstop Brandon Butterworth was the hero for N.C. State in the bottom of the ninth. With the bases clear, Butterworth smoked a high line drive over the wall in left field for a walk-off home run.

It took just 12 pitches for the Tar Heels to get on the board in the first. After Wolfpack starter Sam Highfill retired the first two batters in order, redshirt sophomore left fielder Casey Cook found a 0-1 pitch that he liked. He muscled a ball on the inside of the plate over the wall in right field to give UNC a quick one-run lead.

In the bottom of the inning, a double down the left field line for N.C. State put two runners in scoring position and no outs. First-year pitcher Jason DeCaro appeared to work out of the jam, striking out the next two batters in quick succession, but a single between the outstretched gloves of the first and second basemen brought in two Wolfpack runs to grab their first lead of the game. 

UNC’s outfield trio shined in the next half-inning to regain the lead. After a triple from graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio, junior center fielder Vance Honeycutt smashed a bomb off the top of the batter’s eye in center field to flip the lead back to UNC. Cook matched him in the next bat, hitting a no-doubt home run of his own to extend UNC’s lead to two.

“The game could have been even more out of hand,” head coach Scott Forbes said. “And that's how good our outfield play is.”

The hitter’s duel continued in the bottom of the third, as N.C. State’s leadoff batter homered on the first pitch he saw to cut its deficit in half. An RBI single later in the inning to tie the game was the end of the road for DeCaro, who finished the night with five earned runs. Redshirt sophomore pitcher Dalton Pence who inherited runners on the corners and one out came within a foot of an inning-ending double play, but the Wolfpack hitter was able to beat it out and allow N.C. State to regain the lead.

UNC’s home-run parade resumed in the fifth when senior first baseman Parks Harber stepped up to the plate. On an 0-1 count, Harber powered the pitcher’s offering over the UNC bullpen in left center field to tie the game at five. 

N.C. State would strike right back, though. With two runners in scoring position and two outs, Forbes pulled sophomore pitcher Cameron Padgett for sophomore Kyle Percival. On Percival’s first pitch, Wolfpack catcher Jacob Cozart hammered a deep fly ball to right field. Feet from the foul pole in right, the ball easily towered over the wall, giving N.C. State an 8-5 lead.

“Percival just made a bad pitch,” Forbes said. “He's been really good for us and he threw him a fastball up at his eyeballs and credit to Cozart for taking a great swing with it.”

UNC did not go down without a fight. In the seventh, senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna joined in on the home run derby with a solo shot into left. A two-out RBI single over the shortstop’s head by graduate second baseman Alex Madera became UNC’s first run of the game from within the ballpark and cut N.C. State’s lead to just one. An inning later, the Tar Heels tied it up with a sac fly after Donofrio’s second extra-base hit of the game — a tie that was relinquished in the bottom of the ninth thanks to Butterworth.

“Obviously, if you give up nine runs, it's hard to win no matter who you play,” Forbes said. “So we got to clean that up.”

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The Tar Heels return to Doak Field on Friday for the second game of this rivalry series. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.


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