Walk-off! UNC baseball scores in bottom of ninth to beat Virginia at College World Series

Dormant North Carolina bats awoke in crunch time on Friday and the Diamond Heels walked off the opening game of the College World Series.

Senior Vance Honeycutt, hitless up to that point, delivered the winning hit to left field to beat Virginia, 3-2, in the 316th meeting between the two teams—first in the CWS.

Freshman ace Jason DeCaro joined his teammates in mobbing Honeycutt as he rounded first. The 18-year-old starter stepped onto the biggest stage in college baseball and immediately walked the tightrope. He handed free passes to two of the first three batters he faced.

But clean-up hitter Henry Ford’s potential three-run blast fell onto the warning track in front of the Virginia bullpen. DeCaro escaped the bases loaded jam by hurling a 94 mile-per-hour fastball past Virginia’s Harrison Didawick.

In return for DeCaro’s 30-pitch opening frame, the Diamond Heels supplied the opening run. Casey Cook, after sending a flare to center, advanced to third on a Parks Harber double down the left-field line. Senior Anthony Donofrio scored him on the next at bat with a dribbler to second.

DeCaro responded from his shaky start by setting the Cavaliers down in order in the second. However, he couldn’t escape the third without damage. Ethan Anders tallied Virginia’s first hit with a grounder up the middle, advanced to third on a sharp double that bounced over a leaping Gavin Gallaher and tied the game on a right-field flare from Ford.

He flirted with danger again in the fourth but escaped to strand two runners.

The freshman’s maiden voyage to The Greatest Show on Dirt ended after a lead-off walk in the fifth. Forbes called upon righty Matt Poston for relief after six innings and change from DeCaro. He allowed four hits and four walks with six strikeouts on 89 pitches. Poston scattered three outs across nine pitches to keep it even. Blanco countered with a fourth straight scoreless inning.

Virginia took its first lead in response by chasing Poston off the mound. Eric Becker’s no-out double to the left-field wall put two runners in scoring position for the Cavaliers and sac fly to center from O’Ferrall ended the righty’s day after 1.2 innings, a walk, a hit and a run. Dalton Pence ended the inning with one pitch.

While North Carolina moved onto its third pitcher, Blanco set the Diamond Heels down in order. North Carolina chased Blanco off the mound in the seventh inning when Cook delivered Alex Madera home on a flare to left field. Coupled with Madera’s single to get on, Cook’s hit evened the game at 2 with UNC’s first multi-hit inning since the opening frame.

Pence blanked Virginia for three straight innings, setting the tone for a walk-off.

Jackson Van DeBrake stepped in as a pinch hitter to start the ninth and sent a screamer down the right-field line. Madera’s sac bunt moved him 90 feet away from paydirt. Then came the superstar. Honeycutt, facing down a 0-for-5 outing, delivered the winning two-out single to left.