North Carolina punched the first ticket to the ACC championship.
the no. 8-seed Tar Heels defeated No. 4-seed Notre Dame 7-2 in semifinal action Saturday afternoon at Truist Field in Charlotte. UNC will return to the ACC tournament title game for the first time since 2019.
The Tar Heels, who blew open the game with three runs in the eighth, are seeking their eighth tournament title, and first since 2019. UNC is making its 40th trip to the ACC title game, the most of any school in the league. They will play the winner of NC State and Pittsburgh on Sunday at noon.
“Excited for our guys,” UNC coach Scott Forbes said. “I mean, getting to play for an ACC championship.”
North Carolina, making its third trip to the semis in the past five years, has turned into one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 14 of their past 16 games.
Carolina finished the game with 13 hits. The Heels have had double-digit hits in each game of the tournament so far.
North Carolina has done itself some favors this weekend. Currently, D1baseball.com has the Heels as a No. 13 seed, which means they could host a regional round in Chapel Hill next weekend. After being swept at UVA in March, UNC was 8-13. The Heels never hung their heads.
“They are the ones who believe the most,” Forbes said about his team. “It’s been an awesome group from the start of the fall until right now. These guys know this is the time of the year, all that hard work,” Forbes said. “It separates you from other teams because that’s when you want to be at your best.”
The big key to the turnaround?
“We were pretending every game was a postseason game,” shortstop Danny Serretti said. “Not pretending, they actually are, we had to win every single game.”
North Carolina (37-19) got on the board first when Colby Wilkerson reached first on a fielder’s choice, allowing Mikey Madej to score.
Notre Dame (35-14), the highest remaining seed in the tournament, tied the game on a solo home run from Jack Brannigan in the bottom of the third. The Tar Heels blew a chance to take control, leaving runners on the corners in the top of the fifth.
The Irish made them pay, taking a 2-1 lead after a solo shot from Carter Putz, his sixth of the year. The Tar Heels tied the game at two when Hunter Stokely scored Madej on a double. Stokely got some help when the ball took a weird bounce between third and left field, just hitting the edge of the dirt and grass.
UNC junior Nik Pry threw exactly two pitches (surrendering one hit) before giving way to Shawn Rapp. The lefty from New Jersey didn’t give up a hit the rest of the inning, striking out Jack Penney before Brannigan popped out to center.
The Tar Heels got two runners on in the top of the seventh, but couldn’t advance either. Pry continued to do his job, though, not giving up a hit in the bottom of the seventh.
In the top of the eight, UNC got some life when Madej and Tomas Frick took advantage of new pitcher Aidan Tyrell, getting on base with consecutive hits. Stokely drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.
The Irish brought in two pitchers to slow down the Tar Heels. It almost worked. Jackson Dennies fanned the one batter he faced and Will Mercer came in, striking out Angel Zarate. But Mac Horvath got a hold of one, driving in a run to give UNC a 3-2 lead. Serretti kept it going, turning an inside fastball into a two-run double.
“He got behind and I was fortunate to get into a good hitters count,” Serretti. “I had a feeling he was going to throw me a fastball so I was going to be on time for it. I’m glad it got down.”
Carolina added to its total in the ninth, scoring two more runs.
Rapp picked up the win for UNC.
Looking ahead to Sunday, the Tar Heels won the season series against NC State, 2-1, earlier this month. The Heels swept Pittsburgh in March.
“Just the vibe is very positive right now,” Serretti said. “Very confident.”
This story was originally published May 28, 2022 4:45 PM.