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Honeycutt's 2 Out Heroics Walk Off UVA

North Carolina and Virginia opened up the 2024 College World Series with a gritty back and forth game. Familiarity was in the air, as the two ACC teams played a competitive three game series back in early April that Virginia won at home. This time it was UNC coming out on top and heading to the winners bracket behind the bats of Vance Honeycutt and Casey Cook.


The Heels knew they would be in for a long, grind it out type of day against the stingy Evan Blanco. Two months ago, the Heels went on the road and struggled against Virginia's top starter In that series, the lefty  threw into the 7th inning and allowed just 2 runs on 6 hits in a game that UNC lost 7-2. Every player on both teams downplayed the familiarity during media day press conference, but it was very evident early on that these teams knew each other well.


In the top of the 1st, UVA loaded the bases behind a pair of walks and a hit batter before North Carolina starter Jason DeCaro slammed the door with a clutch 3-2 strikeout of Harrison Didawick.


“I thought the first inning [was] the story of the game.” said Coach Scott Forbes. ”I think if they score right there, have a big inning, it would be tough in this ballpark." With that clutch strikeout by the freshman, the momentum flipped in UNC's favor. In the bottom of the 1st, Casey Cook and Parks Harbor both had hits before Cook scored on an Anthony Donofrio  ground out to give the Heels a 1-0 lead.


DeCaro had an uncharacteristically off day on the mound but did a great job of limiting damage and dancing out of danger. Virginia left 7 runners on in the first 4 innings and squandered opportunity after opportunity. The Cavaliers had numerous chances to blow the game open and instead ended with outs. The ballpark plays big in Omaha and this was evident today as numerous balls that were struck on the nose hung in the air and resulted in outs.


“We knew that after the first couple of innings," said UVA shortstop Griff O'Ferrall. "We kept hitting the ball in the air. Even if it was barreled it wasn’t going anywhere."

 

The difference in today’s game came down to 2 out hitting. The Tar Heels scored with 2 outs in the 7th to tie it at 2-2. Arcadia transfer Alex Madera had a leadoff single sneak under Eric Becker’s glove at third. A sacrifice bunt by Colby Wilkerson and a Vance Honeycutt groundout would bring Casey Cook to the plate. Despite not having an RBI since the ACC Tournament, Cook shook off a rough post season play to have a breakout game in Omaha by going 3-4.


“I just had to stick to what I was doing all year.” said Cook. “Luckily today the ball started falling."


His two out RBI would chase Evan Blanco from the game. With the game tied in the late innings, Tar Heel reliever Dalton Pence was once again tremendous to set up dramatics in the 9th inning. It started with pinch hitter Jackson Van De Brake doubling to right against the shift to lead off the 9th.


“We felt we needed a spark," UNC coach Scott Forbes said. "Vandy has been good in BP and really good in live AB’s, he’s not an all or nothing guy, he has some savvy about him."


After another successful sacrifice bunt to get Van De Brake to third and a pop out to the catcher, leadoff man Vance Honeycutt strolled to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.


The superstar outfielder has had a few memorable moments here in the last few weeks with a ton of those moments coming with him being 0-fer in a game before the clutch gene kicked in.


“He’s shown that he enjoys the big moments,” said Forbes. “He welcomes big moments.”


Honeycutt would deposit a 2-2 slider past the lunging glove of O'Ferrall into left field to score Van De Brake. Another day, another walk off for the Heels as it seems they brought some of the 'Bosh Magic' with them to Omaha.


Looking ahead to Sunday, Virginia will throw Jay Woolfolk with their season on the line.


“Be Better. Be Better, period," Coach Brian O'Connor said. "End of story. Unacceptable. That's not Virginia baseball."


While the 'Hoos are the Omaha veterans, it has not translated to success in recent years. Their last win came in game 1 against Tennessee back in 2021. Since then they've suffered 5 straight losses, most by just a single run.


“I know these kids are made of. They’ve bounced back all year," O'Connor said.


For UNC, they will face the winner of Tennessee and FSU. Elon transfer Shea Sprague will toe the rubber for the Diamond Heels. The lefty has been up and down in the post season, pitching great against LSU before struggling in the Super Regional against West Virginia.


They will look to exorcise their past demons in the winners bracket. In 2017, they were able to best Oregon State in the opening game, before dropping two straight. Hopefully history doesn't repeat itself.


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