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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 7 Diamond Heels rout No. 11 Duke, 14-6, to clinch last series of the regular season

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UNC redshirt sophomore outfielder Casey Cook (16) speaks with head coach Scott Forbes during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. UNC won 16-5.

DURHAM, N.C. — Behind a high-scoring third inning and redshirt sophomore left fielder Casey Cook's five RBI afternoon, the No. 7 Diamond Heels (41-12, 22-8 ACC) routed the No. 11 Duke Blue Devils (35-18, 16-14 ACC), 14-6, to clinch the last series of the regular season in Durham on Saturday afternoon. 

Behind going three up, three down to open the inning, the Tar Heels found themselves with two outs and bases loaded in the bottom of the first. 

Following a meeting at the mound after junior right-handed pitcher Aidan Haugh allowed three free passes, Duke’s Devin Obee stepped to the plate. 

With a 2-2 count, Haugh pushed North Carolina out of the inning as Obee went down looking to hold the Blue Devils scoreless. 

To begin the second inning, graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio looked to get things started for the Tar Heels with a double down the right-field line. But after senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna fouled out to first base, Donofrio failed to reach third base resulting in a quick two outs.

On the next at-bat, graduate second baseman Alex Madera grounded out to third base, ending UNC’s chance at securing an early lead. 

A slew of errors plagued the Tar Heels in the second inning with Haugh allowing two free passes and a runner to advance to third off of a wild pitch. 

With two runners on second and third, Duke’s Zac Morris hit a deep fly ball to right field to push Duke’s Wallace Clark home to put the Blue Devils in front 1-0. 

But the Tar Heels used the top of the third to take back the reins. 

After first-year catcher Luke Stevenson reached first on a walk, senior shortstop Colby Wilkerson ripped a ball down the right-field line for a double. During the next at-bat, junior center fielder Vance Honeycutt advanced to first on four balls. 

With bases loaded, Cook pulled a pitch to the left side to allow room for Stevenson and Wilkerson to make it home. 

"Just getting more of those situations under your belt [and] the better you feel at the plate, the more you're gonna perform how you're capable of performing," Cook said.

The Diamond Heels’ fortunes continued as Honeycutt made it home on a wild pitch, and an Osuna double to left center brought in three more runners to put North Carolina up 6-1. 

"It felt great to finally be able to help the team win," Osuna said. "Obviously been a rough couple of games at first, but just stuck with it [and] stuck with approaches."

With only one out, Madera’s ground-out RBI to second pushed Osuna home for a final statement in the top of the third. The Tar Heels left the inning up by six runs. 

While Duke’s Logan Bravo hit a solo shot to center field to make the score 7-2, the Blue Devils only saw four batters at the plate. 

Following a six up, six down fourth inning, UNC went back to work in the fifth. Propelled by Cook’s double to left center, Donofrio followed the same trend with a double down the right field line to push Cook home. 

With Donofrio and Osuna on base, Madera secured an infield single off a bunt attempt. Building off the momentum, Stevenson tripled to left field to bring home two more runners. 

The Tar Heels exited the top of the fifth inning up four more runs to put the score at 11-2. 

Although the Blue Devils earned a run back in the bottom of the fifth, the Tar Heels stopped the bleeding soon after to remain eight runs ahead. 

Following a silent sixth inning, Duke found itself with bases loaded and only one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. With senior right-handed pitcher Matt Poston on the mound, Duke’s Alex Stone hit a fly ball out to center field for the RBI as the Blue Devils earned another run back.

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Bravo’s single up the middle completed the seventh inning outing as the Blue Devils earned back two runs, making the score 11-5.

To put the final nail in the coffin, Cook cranked a three-run homer just inside the right field to put the Tar Heels up by nine runs. 

"I like to give the player credit," head coach Scott Forbes said. "We always tell [Cook], 'You're the reason you're great.' He's gotten bigger, stronger. He's a really good hitter."

Although the Blue Devils managed to get one more across the plate in the bottom of the ninth, North Carolina stopped the bleeding to clinch the series and conclude the regular season with a 14-6 win in Durham.

"We're just gonna keep playing our brand of baseball," Cook said. "The regular season's done. We did good things and I think you can pull a little bit of confidence out of that, but at the end of the day the postseason [is] a new season."

Starting on Tuesday, the Diamond Heels will travel to Charlotte, N.C. to compete in the ACC tournament as the No. 1 seed.

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