UNC Baseball loses elimination game in extra innings

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 27: Mac Horvath #10 of North Carolina throws to first base during a game between Virginia and North Carolina at Boshamer Stadium on February 27, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 27: Mac Horvath #10 of North Carolina throws to first base during a game between Virginia and North Carolina at Boshamer Stadium on February 27, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

The UNC baseball program faced No. 2 seed Iowa in the Terre Haute elimination game on Sunday afternoon, hoping to extend their season.

The UNC baseball program hoped to continue the momentum from their shutout win over Wright State on Saturday into Sunday’s elimination game versus the No. 2 Seed Iowa Hawkeyes. Manager Scott Forbes chose freshman Cameron Padgett to start the elimination game versus the Hawkeyes.

Padgett became the first freshman to start an NCAA Tournament game for the Tar Heels since Will Sandy in 2019. His longest outing of the season had been 4.1 innings, and Forbes was hoping for a similar start to save the bullpen as much as possible in the event of fighting through the elimination bracket.

Padgett matched his longest career outing with 4.1 innings pitched against Iowa in just his fourth career start, allowing 5 hits and being responsible for 3 Hawkeye runs. More on that later. Offensively, the Tar Heels started things in the first inning with a one-out double from Mac Horvath before loading the bases.

Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, Hunter Stokely struck out, and Patrick Alvarez popped out to left field to leave the bases loaded and end the early threat for the Carolina. The Diamond Heels entered Sunday’s elimination game 4-22 with runners in scoring position this weekend. Those struggles continued into Sunday’s elimination game.

In the bottom of the second, the Diamond Heels got a huge two-run, two-out home run from their most impactful player of the weekend, Casey Cook. The hit gave the Tar Heels a 2-0 lead.

The Hawkeyes got a run back on a sacrifice fly the next inning to cut the Carolina lead in half at 2-1. In the fifth inning, Padgett allowed the first two runners to reach before recording an out. This forced Forbes to turn to his bullpen to another freshman, Kyle Percival. Percival came in with a 2-1 lead, but Padgett was responsible for the runners on base. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Percival gave up a three-run home run that gave Iowa the lead for good at 4-2.

Matt Poston came in to relieve Percival and provided two innings for the Tar Heels, allowing one hit and one run which allowed the Hawkeyes to extend the lead to 5-2 in the seventh inning. Great Iowa pitching once again helped the Hawkeyes. Ty Langenberg pitched seven innings, giving up 4 runs on 7 hits across 122 pitches before being pulled after allowing the first two runners to reach base in the bottom of the eighth inning.

In the Tar Heel half of the eighth inning, Carolina finally took advantage of runners on base after Langenberg was pulled. Forbes opted to pinch hit Dylan King for Colby Wilkerson, and King hit a two-out, two RBI double down the right field line to cut the Iowa deficit to 5-4 headed to the ninth inning.

The Diamond Heels didn’t allow a run in the ninth and headed to their half of the inning with the top of the lineup due up and needing at least one run to keep their season alive. Cook struck out swinging. And then the best offensive player for the Tar Heels all season long came in clutch…

The Tar Heels couldn’t take the lead in regulation though and headed to extra innings, not exactly what either team wanted with the winner having to turn around and face Indiana State at 6:00 PM, but not much to complain about with the season on the line in an elimination game.

Dalton Pence, who was brought into the game in the ninth, stayed in for extra innings. Neither team had much going until the thirteenth inning. Horvath did reach base on a walk and stole second in the eleventh with two outs, but once again, the Tar Heels couldn’t come up with a hit with a runner in scoring position.

In the thirteenth inning, Pence gave up a bloop single with one out. Then with two outs, the Hawkeyes hit a triple into the left-center field gap that Horvath almost made an incredible play on. Instead, it led to the game-winning run for the Hawkeyes, who escaped the Tar Heel rally 6-5. It would’ve been a tough play for anyone, but UNC baseball fans can’t help but wonder if Vance Honeycutt would’ve made the play.

Iowa will move on to face the No. 1 Seed Indiana State Sycamores at 6:00 PM ET on Sunday night in the regional final. The Hawkeyes must win tonight to force a game seven on Monday night.

Ultimately, the inability to come up with timely hits with runners in scoring position was the end of the UNC baseball season this weekend in Terre Haute. Anytime you go 6-33 with runners in scoring position, it isn’t a great recipe for success, much less in a double-elimination format. Carolina struggled heavily with the Iowa pitching and defense, hitting 3-23 with RISP during the two games against the Hawkeyes in Terre Haute.

As for the future of the UNC baseball program, this team has a lineup heavily loaded with juniors and could see some, if not all, of those return next season. They never stopped fighting in regional play from the opening game, but just couldn’t come up with enough offense to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

There will be many off-season questions for the UNC baseball program. Most notably, have we seen the last of Horvath in a Tar Heel uniform? We will follow all of those storylines all off-season here at keepingitheel.com.

Next. UNC Baseball: Tar Heels in the Pros Update 6/2/2023. dark

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