UNC Clinches ACC Title Cementing Itself As National Title Contender, Highlighting College Baseball Roundup


Image credit: (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

With a 6-4 victory Friday at Duke, North Carolina clinched the ACC championship. It is the Tar Heels’ first conference championship since 2018.

UNC (40-12, 21-8) came into the weekend needing just one win or a Clemson loss to clinch the title. The Tar Heels lost Thursday’s opener to the Blue Devils, while the Tigers defeated Boston College. That delayed the championship celebrations by one day, but UNC made sure not to let the chance pass again Friday.

The game was tied at 4 in the ninth inning and Duke had closer Charlie Beilenson in the game for the second straight day. All-American center fielder Vance Honeycutt led off the inning with a single. UNC attempted to bunt him over and an error on the play gave them runners on second and third with no outs. A sacrifice fly by Parks Harber scored Honeycutt and a double from Anthony Donofrio gave UNC an insurance run.

Those two runs were plenty for Dalton Pence, who worked a scoreless ninth inning to close out the victory. He and Ben Peterson combined for three scoreless innings out of the bullpen in relief of lefthander Shea Sprague (6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 3 K).

In the end, it was an impressive all-around performance for the Tar Heels. They got a solid start, excellent relief pitching and plenty of offense, as they collected 11 hits. It was the kind of team baseball UNC has gotten all season, which has pushed it to the top of the ACC standings.

UNC is comfortably positioned to be a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, which will keep it at home in Boshamer Stadium until the College World Series. The Tar Heels this season are 32-2 at home and will be a very tough out for whatever teams draw them in the postseason.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for the Tar Heels to this point. Righthander Jason Knapp, projected to be the team’s Opening Day starter, was lost for the season due to injury in the preseason. Freshman Folger Boaz stepped up to fill that void early but suffered a season-ending injury himself in early April.

UNC has persisted through the adversity. Coach Scott Forbes has been able to turn to Sprague and freshman Jason DeCaro in the rotation, as well as a deep bullpen. Honeycutt and Harber provide plenty of power in the lineup, which has impressive depth to it. UNC has emerged from a rugged ACC schedule as the best team in the conference and a true national championship contender.

Ace Watch

Friday night is for the aces. Here we highlight some of the best pitching performances of the day.

Chase Burns, RHP, Wake Forest: Burns was outstanding yet again, but Wake fell short at NC State, 2-1. He struck out 13 batters in seven innings and held the Wolfpack to one run (unearned) on five hits and no walks. The junior is 10-1, 2.63 with 169 strikeouts and 24 walks in 89 innings.

Derek Clark, LHP, West Virginia: Clark held TCU to two runs in eight innings to lead West Virginia to a 7-2 victory. The senior worked around eight hits and a walk, striking out six batters. It was the sixth time this season that Clark has worked at least eight innings, as he improved to 7-2, 3.05 with 73 strikeouts and 20 walks in 79.2 innings.

Anthony Eyanson, RHP, UC San Diego: Eyanson threw a complete game to lead UCSD to a 4-1 victory against Cal Poly. The sophomore held the Mustangs to one run on four hits and a walk, striking out seven batters. It was Eyanson’s first career complete game, as he improved to 6-2, 3.07 with 85 strikeouts and 24 walks in 82 innings this season.

Carter Gaston, RHP, Portland: Gaston threw a five-hit shutout to lead Portland to a 6-0 victory against Saint Mary’s. The sophomore struck out six batters and walked two in his first career complete game. Gaston improved to 10-0, 2.26 with 48 strikeouts and 17 walks in 63.2 innings.

Jaxon Shineflew, LHP, South Alabama: Shineflew threw six scoreless innings to help South Alabama to a 10-0 victory in seven innings against Louisiana, the Sun Belt champion. The freshman struck out 10 batters and held the Ragin’ Cajuns to three hits and a walk. The start was the longest of Shineflew’s career and he improved to 3-0, 4.43 with 44 strikeouts and 20 walks in 40.2 innings.

Jackson Wentworth, RHP, Kansas State: Wentworth struck out 11 batters in eight innings to help K-State to a 2-1 victory against BYU. The redshirt sophomore held the Cougars to one run on five hits and two walks. Wentworth on Friday set career highs for both innings pitched and strikeouts.

Around The Horn

  • The SEC title race comes down to the final day of the regular season. Kentucky routed Vanderbilt, 17-7, in seven innings and Tennessee came back for an 8-3 victory against South Carolina. The Wildcats (39-11, 22-7) hold a one-game lead on the Volunteers (45-10, 21-8) in the conference standings. Tennessee, however, holds the tiebreaker, by virtue of its series win last month at Kentucky. The Wildcats are aiming for their first ever outright championship, while the Volunteers are eyeing their second title in three years.
  • Oregon State routed Arizona, 16-1, to clinch the series in Tucson and set up a winner-take-all finale with the conference title on the line. Righthander Jacob Kmatz (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K) delivered a quality start and the Beavers (41-12, 19-9) gave him plenty of offensive backing. Travis Bazzana went 2-for-5 with two doubles and broke the program’s career doubles record (50) in the process, while Brady Kasper (3-for-4, 4 R) and Mason Guerra (3-for-6) each added three hits.
  • The Big Ten title race comes down to the final day of the regular season. Nebraska beat Michigan State, 11-3, and Illinois scored seven runs in the seventh inning to beat Purdue, 9-4. The Illini (32-17, 17-6) hold a one-game lead on Nebraska (34-18, 16-7) in the standings, but the Cornhuskers hold the tiebreaker by virtue of a better record against their common conference opponents. Illinois is seeking its first outright conference title since 2015, while Nebraska is aiming for its second title in four years.
  • Louisiana Tech completed a sweep of Liberty and won the Conference USA title, its first conference championship since 1986, when it was in the Southland. The Bulldogs (41-15, 18-6) finished it off with a 10-1 victory in the second game of a doubleheader, as Grant Hubka and Turner Swistak combined to shut down the Flames offense. La Tech holds a half-game lead on Dallas Baptist (40-12, 17-6) ahead of the Patriots’ Saturday finale, but it holds the tiebreaker because of its series win in Dallas last month.
  • UNC Greensboro clinched the Southern Conference title with Wofford’s 8-5 victory at Samford. UNCG (33-18, 15-6) has already completed its conference slate and holds a half-game lead on Samford (34-19, 14-6) going into the Bulldogs’ finale. The Spartans own the tiebreaker by virtue of last weekend’s series win. They completed a storybook campaign after a turbulent offseason that saw Billy Godwin step down as head coach in December to take a job with the Yankees. Cody Ellis, who had joined the program as an assistant coach just over a year prior, was promoted to interim head coach and led UNCG to its first conference title since 2018. The Spartans are concluding their regular season with a series against S.C.-Upstate and won Friday, 9-1.

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