Heels Force Winner-Take-All Championship Game

(Photo: Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

CHAPEL HILL, NC — No. 10 overall seed North Carolina left no doubt in its second elimination game of the day with a 19-8 win over Virginia Commonwealth. The victory ended the Rams’ 17-game winning streak and pushed the Chapel Hill Regional to a Game 7 on Monday night.

The 19 runs allowed by the Rams (42-19) is the most in a single game all season. And it’s tied for the most runs scored by the Tar Heels (41-20) in a regional game in program history (19 vs. Houston in 2018).

After being quieted by VCU in the winners’ bracket game, the Tar Heel beats came roaring back with a seven-run inning to open the game and 11 runs in the first three innings. UNC beat through the order twice and six different Tar Heels had at least two RBI.

Then, on the mound, the story was Caden O’Brien throwing four scoreless innings of relief. Coming out for his fifth inning, he allowed a 2-RBI double that promoted acting head coach Bryant Gaines to head to the bullpen. Regardless, the five-year veteran earned his third win of the season in the second-longest outing of his career (4.1 innings in 2018).

The attention shifts to Monday night where VCU will be going for its second-ever super regional berth. UNC will be going for its 14th regional championship and its third in the last four seasons (2020 was canceled).

Emphatic Response

VCU’s Tyler Locklear, one of the most dangerous hitters in the regional, started the game with a two-run home run to keep the Rams rolling. The Tar Heels answered in the bottom half of the first inning with four-consecutive hits, including a single, a double, a 2-RBI single and a 2-run home run by Vance Honeycutt.

Alberto Osuna was hit by a pitch and Mikey Madej singled up the middle to put the first six UNC batters on base. Then, Johnny Castagnozzi hit his first home run since April 27, this one a three-run shot to put his team up, 7-2. It’s the most runs scored in the first inning by the Tar Heels all season.

Home Run History

With Honeycutt’s 24th home run of the season and Alberto Osuna’s 20th home run of the season, this is the first time in program history that two players have hit at least 20 balls over the fence.

Mac Horvath is two away from joining his teammates in the 20-HR club. And with UNC’s four home runs in the game, this team moved into second all-time with 98 home runs on the season.

O’Brien Shows Up

The question for teams in the losers’ brackets of NCAA regionals is almost always how can the pitching staff hold up? That was a question for UNC entering today, and veteran right-hander Caden O’Brien provided that answer.

He pitched in Omaha for the Tar Heels his freshman year, delivering the longest outing of his career with 4.1 innings. With UNC’s season on the line Sunday night, he came in relief to pitch four innings allowing three runs on four hits to earn the win.

Double Duty

UNC used seven pitchers in game one and four pitchers in game two. All three relievers of game two also appeared in game one, adding to the answer of whether or not UNC’s pitching staff was up to the task of getting through a double-header at the tail end of a regional.

Stat of Note


It’s a winner-take-all game on Monday at 6 pm between UNC and VCU. After the Tar Heels won two games without their head coach, Scott Forbes will return Monday for the final game of the regional.

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