East Carolina and North Carolina played a weather-shortened home-and-home series this weekend, but the series wasn’t short on excitement. The in-state opponents had their scheduled three-game series trimmed before the series began on Friday; two teams postponed what would have been a Saturday game in Greenville.
Max Carlson took the ball for North Carolina on Friday night, and he was dominant and in control over seven scoreless two-hit innings, striking out nine and walking just one. Carlson was just slightly better than Pirates right-hander Trey Yesavage who allowed just a single run over six innings on three hits and eight strikeouts.
Jackson Van De Brake hit a solo home run to lead off the third inning for the Tar Heels before Colby Wilkerson padded the lead in the top of the seventh inning with a two-run double giving North Carolina a 3-0 lead for Carlson.
The Tar Heels seemed poised to steal a road win in Greenville as they had mostly silenced the usually rowdy Pirates crowd and still led 3-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning when the roof caved in.
The Pirates attacked the North Carolina bullpen for six runs as they batted around and quickly took a 6-3 lead as the Greenville crowd came to life. The scoring was highlighted by second baseman Jacob Starling when he delivered a go-ahead two-run single to center field. The Tar Heels used four pitchers in the inning, but few had the answer for the Pirates lineup.
With their final chance at the plate, the Tar Heels put together a late rally of sorts scoring two runs in the ninth inning. Vance Honeycutt and Mac Horvath each drove home a run and the inning was extended by a dropped fly ball in right field. But the late rally fell short as Zach Root did just enough to seal the 6-5 home victory for East Carolina and pick up his first save of the season and first as a collegian.
East Carolina pitchers struck out thirteen Tar Heels in the game which was the second time this season Pirates pitching has notched thirteen strikeouts in a game.
The scene shifted to Chapel Hill for Sunday’s finale between the two contenders and the Tar Heels had the opportunity to even the series on their own field.
Honeycutt hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning and gave the Tar Heels a 2-0 lead. Catcher Tomas Frick added a two-run home run in the fifth inning to push the North Carolina lead to 4-1. Horvath tacked on a solo home run in the sixth inning.
Connor Bovair pitched a solid 5 2/3 innings allowing just two runs and was in line for the win before the Tar Heels went to the bullpen.
Leading 5-2 after six innings, the Tar Heels seemed to be ready to even the series. That is when East Carolina rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh and took a 6-5 lead to the stretch. Starling and Lane Hoover each had run-scoring doubles and Jacob Jenkins-Cowart added a RBI single of his own as part of the late-inning barrage.
Carter Spivey took the mound in the ninth for the Pirates with two runners on base and no outs in an attempt to protect the one-run lead. Spivey, projected to be the Friday night starter for East Carolina, did not pitch on Friday night due to arm soreness. After inheriting a high-pressure situation on Sunday afternoon, Spivey needed just eleven pitches to dash the hopes of the Tar Heels and seal the weekend sweep with the 6-5 win.
East Carolina improved to 5-1 this season and continues to play some great baseball despite their midweek walk-off loss to the Campbell Camels. North Carolina is now 4-3.