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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 4 Diamond Heels advance to College World Series after 2-1 win over West Virginia

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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.

In a pitcher’s duel between UNC first-year pitcher Jason DeCaro and WVU’s Tyler Switalski, the No. 4 North Carolina Diamond Heels (47-14) advanced to the College World Series with a 2-1 win over the West Virginia Mountaineers (36-24) on Saturday night in the Chapel Hill Super Regional.

“The look on everybody's faces and our coaches’ faces after that last out, it was priceless,” junior center fielder Vance Honeycutt.

On the first pitch of the game, Honeycutt picked up right where he left off, smashing a solo shot to left field to give UNC the early 1-0 lead and breaking his own North Carolina record for most single season home runs with 26. However, WVU pitcher Tyler Switalski retired the next three Tar Heel batters following the home run. 

After holding the West Virginia offense dormant in the bottom of the first, the Tar Heels went 1-2-3 in the top of the second inning. In the bottom of the frame, first-year pitcher Jason DeCaro gave up a single to right field with one out, but struck out both Kyle West and Ben Lumsden to end the inning. 

With two outs in the top of the third, Honeycutt singled with a bunt back to Switalski. Redshirt sophomore left fielder Casey Cook then singled through the middle to put runners on the corners for the Tar Heels. Then, senior first baseman Parks Harber singled through the left side to bring Honeycutt home and extend the North Carolina lead to two before graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio grounded out to end the inning. 

In the bottom of the frame, the Mountaineers were unable to respond, as DeCaro retired the side in order. However, the Tar Heels went three up, three down in the top of the fourth inning with UNC maintaining a 2-0 lead. 

After a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth, Honeycutt turned a double play as Reed Chumley flew out and threw Sam White out at first with a pinpoint throw from center field. While the Tar Heels were unable to get anything going in the top of the fifth, DeCaro continued to stifle the West Virginia offense, retiring the side in order in the bottom half of the frame.

The pitcher’s duel continued into the sixth inning as Switalski retired the North Carolina side in order. DeCaro responded in the bottom of the sixth as the Mountaineers went three up, three down as the Tar Heels held on to a 2-0 lead. 

“It didn't surprise me. He's a special, special kid, ultra competitive,” head coach Scott Forbes said about DeCaro’s performance. “Here's a kid that gave up his senior year in high school, trusted us and his family. We thought doing that would give us a better chance to get him here, and little do we know that he will get even more draft attention because he pitched so well.”

In the top of the seventh, first-year third baseman Gavin Gallaher flew out to center field to lead off the inning. First-year catcher Luke Stevenson was then walked, followed by a single by senior designated hitter Alberto Osuna to advance runners to first and second, ending the night for Switalski who was replaced by Carson Estridge. 

Estridge struck out graduate second baseman Alex Madera, but then hit senior shortstop Colby Wilkerson to load the bases with two outs and Honeycutt at the plate. However, Estridge escaped the jam as Honeycutt struck out swinging to end the top of the frame.

After DeCaro struck out White, Chumley singled to third base, ending DeCaro’s night after six and a third innings with five punch outs and just two hits. Redshirt sophomore Dalton Pence replaced DeCaro, who with two outs, walked Spencer Barnett and then gave up an RBI single through the left side as West Virginia cut the lead to 2-1. However, Pence then struck out Lumsden to end the inning.

With two outs in the top of the eighth, Estridge walked Donofrio, who then stole second. But Gallaher struck out to end the top half of the frame. In the bottom of the inning, Pence shut down West Virginia, retiring the side in order, fanning the last two.

The Tar Heels were unable to add any insurance runs in the ninth inning, going three up, three down. To leadoff the bottom of the ninth, White singled through the right side and then stole second on a wild pitch with one out. 

Pence then walked Grant Hussey, putting runners on first and second with one out, but was able to strike out pinch hitter Ellis Garcia. The Mountaineers then loaded the bases with two outs after Pence walked West. Lumsden then grounded out to first and Harber flipped to Pence to record the final out as the Tar Heels defeated West Virginia 2-1. 

“I had to dig it in there. I don't know if y'all know this, but I'm not a runner,” Pence said. “So I had to make it pretty good to get over there.”

The Diamond Heels will now travel to Omaha, Neb. where they will take on the No. 12 Virginia Cavaliers in their first game of the College World Series with the date and time still to be determined. 

@mdmaynard74

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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