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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 7 Diamond Heels defeat Pitt, 12-2, in first game of ACC tournament

Parks Harber & Casey Cook ACC tournament
North Carolina plays Pitt in pool play in the 2024 ACC Baseball Championship tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, May 23, 2024. Photo courtesy of Neil Redmond from ACC Media.

CHARLOTTE — With junior center fielder Vance Honeycutt not in the lineup due to back spasms, the No. 1-seeded UNC baseball team defeated the No. 12-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers on Thursday, 12-2, to open ACC tournament play. 

“If [Honeycutt] can rest it a little bit, get treatment, the chances are pretty good [he’s] going to be ready to go the next day,” head coach Scott Forbes said. “It was more my call than Vance's.”

The Tar Heels seized the lead right away and never relinquished it. Graduate center fielder Anthony Donofrio, who moved from right to center with Honeycutt’s absence, led off the game with a 366-foot home run to right field. 

From there, it was bombs away. Redshirt sophomore right fielder Casey Cook and senior first baseman Parks Harber both hit balls into the seats to go back-to-back-to-back to start the game. Two batters later, senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna sent a bomb off the scoreboard in left field for UNC’s fourth home run in its first five batters. First-year pitcher Jason DeCaro took the mound in the bottom of the inning with a 4-0 lead. 

“I've seen a lot of things playing baseball,” Cook said. “But not any team starting off a game like that.”

After the fireworks in the first, UNC’s bats went quiet. The Tar Heels stranded a runner on second in the second inning, and a tailor-made double play from Osuna ended any potential threat in the third. 

A two-out double into the left-field corner gave Pitt its first scoring opportunity in the bottom of the third. With the Panthers’ first run of the game standing 90-feet away after a wild pitch, DeCaro fired an 0-2 fastball past the Pitt batter to keep the Panthers scoreless.

Donofrio continued to find success in the leadoff spot of the lineup in the fourth. Senior third baseman Jackson Van De Brake positioned on second, Donofrio roped a single through the left side. Van De Brake rounded third and slid into home plate just before the tag, extending UNC’s lead to five.

The Panther bats finally came alive in the bottom of the fourth off DeCaro. Senior right fielder C.J. Funk got the inning started with a first-pitch 404-foot solo blast into the seats in left center field. Back-to-back extra base hits off the wall later in the inning brought home another run, bringing the score to 5-2.

“In a place like this, the ball is going to leave the yard — got to accept that,” DeCaro said. “But [you are] just trying to go after them and not really change your mindset and just attack the hitters.”

Cook took the two runs back in the sixth. With a runner positioned on first, he sent his second home run of the game out of the ballpark in right field. It was UNC’s fifth blast of the game and first since the first inning. An RBI groundout later in the frame by Osuna gave the Tar Heels its largest lead of the game at 8-2. 

Sophomore pitcher Kyle Percival relieved DeCaro of his duties to start the eighth. DeCaro struck out six and walked just one in his seven innings of work, retiring his last eleven batters. Percival found similar success out of the bullpen, shutting the Panthers down in the eighth with just 13 pitches.

The Tar Heels put an exclamation point on the game in the ninth, adding four to extend its lead to double digits. Donofrio capped off the inning with a three-run missile into right field, giving him two homers and five RBIs on the afternoon. Senior pitcher Connor Bovair got the final three outs in the bottom of the inning, securing the victory. 

The Tar Heels will return to Truist Field on Friday for a 7 p.m. game against No. 8-seeded Wake Forest. The winner will win Pool A and advance to the ACC tournament semifinals.

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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