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Jason DeCaro propels Diamond Heels to College World Series with win against WVU

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UNC first-year right-handed pitcher Jason DeCaro (29) pitches the ball during the NCAA super regional baseball game against West Virginia at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

Last Saturday and 542 miles away from Boshamer Stadium, seniors at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y., gathered for their commencement. 

As graduates turned their tassels from right to left, one notable person was missing from the ceremony: right-handed pitcher Jason DeCaro

He could have been one of those seniors. After all, they were his classmates when he came to St. Anthony’s in 2020. 

But the pitcher wasn’t there that night. Instead, DeCaro sat in a white-and-Carolina Blue colored jersey during the Chapel Hill Regional. And a week later, he was taking the mound with a trip to the College World Series on the line. 

DeCaro took a chance on head coach Scott Forbes and the Diamond Heels by reclassing to help the Tar Heels’ 2024 campaign. And on Saturday night, that chance paid off in his final home start of the season.

“[They] trusted us, him and his family,” Forbes said. “We thought doing that would give us a better chance to get him here. Little did we know that he would get even more draft attention because he’s pitched so well.”

The newly 18-year-old first-year pitcher appeared unfazed by the moment. DeCaro delivered 6.1 scintillating innings, allowing one earned run on just two hits. His start catapulted the Tar Heels to a 2-1 victory over West Virginia in the second game of the Chapel Hill Super Regional, securing their first appearance in the Men’s College World Series in six years.

Since he started playing baseball, DeCaro’s goal has been to make it to Omaha. After UNC’s come-from-behind win against the Mountaineers on Friday, DeCaro knew he was getting the ball on Saturday with a chance to realize that dream.

But his first taste of postseason action last weekend didn’t go as planned. 

In UNC’s first game of the Chapel Hill Regional, DeCaro went just four innings and allowed three earned runs. He was given the start again in the final game of the regional but gave up two runs in two innings of work. 

He credited the coaching staff with reminding him to stay within himself on the mound. According to the staff, he was trying to do too much. All he needed to do was execute like he had done all season.

This mindset dates back to his time learning from his older teammates in the fall.

“You have to go pitch by pitch,” DeCaro said. “You can't really focus on the results. You really have to focus on the process, like coach says, to get the results you want.”

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The UNC baseball team celebrates after the NCAA super regional baseball game against West Virginia at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, June 8, 2024. UNC won 2-1.

Before Saturday’s start, DeCaro developed a game plan with assistant coach Jason Howell and pitching coach Bryant Gaines. But as Forbes knows, a game plan means nothing if a pitcher doesn’t go out and execute.

After allowing his first hit of the game in the second inning, DeCaro dug in and retired 14 of the next 15 batters. The lone base runner? A leadoff walk in the fourth inning that was thrown out four pitches later by junior outfielder Vance Honeycutt from center field.

From the dugout, Forbes could just sit back and watch.

“It was fun calling pitches because I've been there when you’re feeling it like he did tonight,” Forbes said.

DeCaro fanned his fifth batter to begin the seventh inning, fooling the West Virginia hitter with a 2-2 curveball in the dirt. But when the next batter reached on an infield single, Forbes made a call to the bullpen.

As DeCaro strolled off the mound, a standing ovation ringing from the record-breaking crowd at Boshamer Stadium, DeCaro just stared straight ahead. 

There was more work to be done.

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“Watching that game tonight after I came out, [I was] just kind of trying not to focus on it,” DeCaro said. “But it's in the back of your mind a little bit like we're gonna go, like we're gonna do this.”

By going six innings, DeCaro allowed redshirt sophomore pitcher Dalton Pence, one of the best relievers in the country, to close out the game. Pence enabled DeCaro’s runner on first to score in the seventh, but he hung on and recorded the final eight outs.

“It gives the bullpen a lot of confidence, knowing that your starter is going out there and he's giving you quality innings, holding that offense like that down,” Pence said.

After Pence secured the final out at first in the ninth, DeCaro found himself on the bottom of the celebratory dogpile.

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The UNC baseball team celebrates after the NCAA super regional baseball game against West Virginia at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, June 8, 2024. UNC won 2-1.

When the players dispersed, all he could do was put his hands on his head. The once stoic face had turned into a smile. 

Minutes after the celebration in the Boshamer Stadium lounge, Forbes stared at DeCaro while being asked a question from the media. 

The first-year had taken off his UNC baseball hat and instead sported a gray one with small blue lettering and the College World Series logo. Eventually, the head coach looked back at the mic and spoke. 

“I was just admiring his tag on his hat,” Forbes joked. 

DeCaro had forgotten to take it off. Rookie mistake. 

A week after his original high school graduation date, DeCaro was now donning a different type of cap — one that proclaimed him a Super Regional champion.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that DeCaro pitched 6.1 scoreless innings, but there was one earned run. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com