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The Daily Tar Heel

DeCaro dominates as No. 15 Diamond Heels defeat Virginia Tech in first game of series

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UNC First year right-handed pitcher Jason DeCaro (29) pitches during the March 3, 2024 game against Princeton in Boshamer Stadium.

Behind first-year pitcher Jason DeCaro’s best start of his career, the No. 15 UNC baseball team (32-10, 16-6 ACC) took the first game of the series on Friday, defeating Virginia Tech (26-13, 12-10 ACC), 8-1.

DeCaro bounced back from a five-run outing last Thursday with a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning. The Tar Heel bats responded with a run in the bottom of the frame. Graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio led off the inning with a triple just past the outstretched glove of a diving Hokie left fielder, and junior center fielder Vance Honeycutt brought in his 44th RBI of the year with a sac fly to right.

“I think I just had more stuff working today,” DeCaro said. “I felt like I could throw all four of my pitches for strikes, and that's huge. Definitely couldn't do that last week.”

DeCaro continued his dominance into the third inning. After working his way back from a 3-0 count to strike out the second batter of the inning, he struck out Hokie shortstop Clay Grady looking with a backdoor break ball to remain perfect through his first time facing the batting order.

UNC provided more insurance for DeCaro in the bottom of the frame. With runners on the corners and one out, senior first baseman Parks Harber launched one deep into left field. The 416-foot bomb easily cleared the trees beyond the wall and delivered the Tar Heels a 4-0 lead.

“I think the biggest thing was just settling in, getting comfortable,” Harber said about his development during his first year in Chapel Hill. “That kind of frees you up a little bit as a player, and I did that really quick, and that's a credit to the coaching staff.”

The Hokies earned its first base runner of the game in the fourth with a single through the right side of the infield. DeCaro appeared to be affected by the development, walking the next batter on just five pitches. With two runners on and two outs, though, DeCaro induced a pop out to the third baseman in foul territory to keep Virginia Tech scoreless. 

The Tar Heels continued to lay it on in the bottom of the fourth. First-year third baseman Gavin Gallaher standing on first, graduate second baseman Alex Madera drove a liner into left field. The Hokie left fielder misplayed the ball, allowing it to trickle past him and to the wall. Gallaher reached home safely on the play, and Madera slid into third, reaching home himself after a single from Donofrio in the next at-bat.

After UNC added its seventh run of the game in the fifth, DeCaro completed the seventh inning with style. Hokie catcher Henry Cooke at the plate, DeCaro struck him out swinging for his career high eighth strikeout of the game. 

“He's a tough kid,” head coach Scott Forbes said. “Like, he's not one you really have to talk to. He's got that ‘it’ factor.”

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Representative of the Hokies’ defense all night, who finished with four errors, the Tar Heels scrapped another runner across the plate in the bottom of the inning. With a runner on first, Cooke was unable to handle a pitch in the dirt, and the ball was kicked near the Hokie dugout. Virginia Tech’s first baseman picked it up and attempted to throw out the runner rounding second but instead threw the ball into left field, allowing UNC to enhance its lead to 8-0.

DeCaro left the game in the eighth after 105 pitches. His final line was seven innings pitched, zero earned runs, four hits, and eight strikeouts. Inheriting a runner on first and no outs, redshirt sophomore pitcher Dalton Pence retired the Hokies in order to put a bow on the penultimate frame.  

Virginia Tech erased their bagel off the scoreboard with a solo shot to right field in the ninth, but Pence closed the door with a strikeout to earn the seven-run victory.

UNC will look to find similar success on Saturday at 2 p.m., hoping to clinch the series victory against Virginia Tech.

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com