Vance Honeycutt’s 9th-inning hit gives Tar Heels another last at-bat win, 3-2 over Virginia at CWS

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Vance Honeycutt’s single brought home Jackson Van De Brake from third with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and North Carolina pulled out yet another win in its last at-bat, a 3-2 walk-off victory over Virginia in the College World Series opener on Friday.

The Tar Heels (48-14) advanced to play Sunday against the winner of Friday night’s Bracket 1 game between Florida State and Tennessee. Virginia (46-16) meets the Florida State-Tennessee loser in an elimination game Sunday.

Four of North Carolina’s six wins in the NCAA Tournament have come on its final at-bat. Honeycutt accounted for a walk-off win in the super regional opener last week against West Virginia, homering in the bottom of the ninth.

“You shouldn’t feel like he’s going to come through every time, but that’s how I felt,” said Casey Cook, who watched from the on-deck circle as Honeycutt delivered the winning hit. “That’s how it’s been going lately. Everybody in the dugout knew he was going to come through.”

The outcome was another disappointment for Virginia, which has lost five straight CWS games since 2021, each of the last three by one run.

“We’re frustrated because we just don’t believe we played a very good baseball game today,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said. “Not to take anything away from North Carolina. They pitched very, very well. What I’m speaking of is little things, missed signs. Your margin for error is so small. You have to be on top of everything to win in Omaha, and we weren’t today. To North Carolina’s credit, they were enough and won the ball game.”

Van De Brake, a .194 hitter whose last hit came against Pittsburgh on May 23, pinch hit for Alberto Osuna to start the bottom of the ninth and punched a liner inside the right-field line for a double off Chase Hungate.

Johnny Castagnozzi typically has been the Tar Heels’ pick to pinch hit, but hitting coach Jesse Wierbicki told coach Scott Forbes that he felt good about Van De Brake batting for Osuna.

“The thing about Vanny is he’s not an all-or-nothing guy,” Forbes said. “He doesn’t have a high batting average, but he’s got some savvy, he can get a bunt down and he can run. We felt like this park is hard to hit a home run in, and we felt we needed that spark.”

Van De Brake moved to third on Alex Madera’s sacrifice bunt, and Colby Wilkerson fouled out to the catcher to bring up a projected first-round draft pick in Honeycutt.

O’Connor elected to have Hungate (7-2) pitch to Honeycutt rather than intentionally walk him with Cook due up next. Cook was 3 for 4 and batting a team-best .345. Honeycutt was 0 for 4 when he came to bat.

“It was the right matchup,” O’Connor said. “Cook, I think, is their best hitter in the lineup. It wasn’t an option for us to walk Honeycutt. Honeycutt is a great player and has a lot of home runs, but I felt like we handled him good all day and the guy on deck had a terrific day.”

Honeycutt drove a 2-1 pitch just over shortstop Griff O’Ferrall’s glove into left field, bringing Van De Brake home and prompting the rest of the Tar Heels to pour out of the dugout to mob Honeycutt behind second base.

“Coach ‘Wierz’ had a really good approach for us, and I just wanted to go at it slow, just try to slow myself down,” Honeycutt said. “And I got a good pitch 2-0 and kind of came out of it. Got the same pitch 2-1 and stayed down.”

Dalton Pence (5-1) came on for Matt Poston after Virginia went up 2-1 on Griff O’Ferrall’s sacrifice fly in the sixth. Pence (5-1) allowed no hits over 3 1/3 innings and stretched his NCAA Tournament shutout innings streak to 12 1/3.

Virginia won two of three against the Tar Heels in April and came to Omaha batting .336, second nationally, and averaging 9.4 runs per game. The Cavaliers matched their season low with five hits, left 10 runners on base and were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Twelve of the Cavaliers last 13 batters failed to reach base.

“The message is: Be better,” O’Connor said. “I know what these kids are made of. They’ve bounced back all year long. I know they’ll be better on Sunday.”

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AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports

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