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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 7 Diamond Heels even up series, 6-4, against No. 11 Duke

20240217_Skvoretz_UNC-Baseball-Wagner-140.jpg
UNC redshirt sophomore outfielder Casey Cook (16) up to bat during the men’s baseball game against Wagner at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. UNC won 16-5.

DURHAM, N.C. — Despite falling behind early, No. 7 UNC baseball (40-12, 21-8 ACC) completed the comeback on Friday to win the second game of the series against No. 11 Duke (35-17, 16-13 ACC), 6-4. The win secured the ACC regular season title for UNC and the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament. 

For the second straight game, the Tar Heels went down in order to start the first. Junior Shea Sprague managed to force the same, retiring the Blue Devils 1-2-3.

Graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio produced UNC’s first hit in the second with a hard liner into the gap in right center field, just over the leaping glove of the Blue Devil second baseman. Two batters later, graduate second baseman Alex Madera brought him home with a chopping ground out to the right side of the infield. 

Free passes plagued Sprauge in the third. After walking Blue Devil shortstop Wallace Clark on six pitches, Sprague hit the next batter on his shoulder to put two runners on and no outs. Blue Devil second baseman Zac Morris capitalized, rocketing a three-run shot over the left field wall to capture Duke’s first lead of the game.

In the fifth, free passes from Duke gave UNC an opportunity of its own. A hit by pitch and five-pitch walk amounted to two runners on and one output for the Tar Heels. After a pitching change that brought in David Boisvert for Duke, UNC retook the lead. 

Redshirt sophomore left fielder Casey Cook ripped a two-out triple into the right field corner, bringing both runners home to tie it up. The next batter, senior first baseman Parks Harber, looped a single into center field to take a 4-3 lead.

"You're just chasing those opportunities," Cook said. "You're chasing RBIs, guys on second, guys on third. Those should be your most fun at bats because you have the chance to put the team on top."

In his sixth inning of work, the long ball haunted Sprague again. With two outs and nobody on, Blue Devil first baseman Logan Bravo launched one deep to left. Cook tracked it but met the wall and watched the game-tying home run soar over his head. 

Senior pitcher Ben Peterson entered in relief of Sprague to start the bottom of the seventh. He continued his success in the bullpen, pitching 1.2 innings and dealing his ninth scoreless outing in his last ten. With two runners on and two outs in the eighth, redshirt sophomore pitcher Dalton Pence took his place on the mound and delivered a big strikeout to keep the game even.

"[Peterson] turned down some money to come back to school — he's going to leave with his degree," head coach Scott Forbes said. "Now he's getting a lot of draft attention because he's been throwing it really well for us."

The Tar Heels struck with the top of their lineup in the ninth. Junior centerfielder Vance Honeycutt got the inning started with a frozen rope into left field. UNC manufactured the leading run as Duke threw away Cook’s sacrifice bunt attempt to put two runners in scoring position and Harber launched a sac fly to right. With Cook on third and the infield in, Donofrio brought in an insurance run, chopping a grounder over the shortstop’s head for an RBI double.

Retaking the mound in the bottom of the inning, Pence shut the Blue Devils down to secure the victory. 

"This is a big rivalry," Pence said. "They're a top [11] team. We're a top ten team. They're really, really good, and just to get that final out felt great."

UNC will look to take the rubber match tomorrow against Duke in its final game of the regular season. First pitch is set for 12 p.m.

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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