UNC Advances to ACC Title Game

(Photo: Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

CHARLOTTE, NC – No. 8 seed North Carolina exploded for five runs in the final two frames to knock off No. 4 seed Notre Dame, 7-2, in the semifinals of the ACC Baseball Championship on Saturday afternoon.

UNC will play in the ACC Championship Game for the 13th time and for the program’s eighth ACC Tournament title after winning for the 14th time in 16 outings.

The Tar Heels struck first by loading the bases in the second inning. Colby Wilkerson reached on a fielder’s choice to score Mikey Madej. Notre Dame answered in the bottom of the third inning on Jack Brannigan’s solo home run to left field and then took his first lead on Carter Putz’ solo blast to left center in the fifth inning. Hunter Stokely tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth inning with an RBI double to score Madej.

UNC loaded the bases in the top of the eighth inning courtesy of a single, a throwing error and a walk. After a pair of strikeouts, Mac Horvath broke the tie with an RBI single into right field. Danny Serretti stepped into the batter’s box next and doubled to left field to plate two runs to give the Tar Heels a 5-2 lead.

Johnny Castagnozzi provided a pair of insurance runs with an RBI single to centerfield in the top of the ninth.

Shawn Rapp (4-0) picked up the win in holding Notre Dame scoreless in 1.2 innings with a strikeout. Davis Palermo earned his fifth save of the season in allowing one hit in 2.0 innings.

Beat Catch Fire at the Right Time
The Tar Heel bats have been explosive in recent weeks, including here in the Queen City, where they had scored 19 runs in pool play. It was slow going early against a quality Notre Dame pitch staff as UNC left nine men on base and was 0-of-12 hitting with runners in scoring position through seven innings. The Tar Heels closed the game with three hits in their final seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Madej did not post an RBI, but he scored four runs after batting 4-of-4 against the Irish.

Pitching on Point Entering NCAAs
After relying on strong starting pitching performances by Max Carlson and Brandon Schaeffer in pool play, UNC leaned on its bullpen to limit Notre Dame’s bats. Five pitchers shared the workload in holding Notre Dame to two runs and seven hits with eight strikes and four walks.

In three wins at Truist Field this week, UNC’s staff has thrown 61.5% of its pitches for strikes. Opponents have only managed three extra base hits in 27 innings and are hitting .176 with runners on base.

Key Inning
A fielding error by Vance Honeycutt in centerfield allowed Zack Prajzner to advance to second base on his single to open the sixth inning with the game tied at 2-2. Forbes and pitching coach Bryant Gaines mixed and matched pitchers with the go-ahead run in scoring position. Nik Pry first entered the game and forced Brooks Coetzee to ground out to shortstop. Then Shawn Rapp replaced Pry and struck out Jack Penny before inducing a first-pitch flyout by Brannigan to strand Prajzner at second base.

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UNC will play NC State for the ACC Championship on Sunday (noon/ESPN2).

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