College baseball opens with busy weekend for state teams

The opening weekend of the season asw North Carolina and UNCW sweeping their first three games, NC State getting off to a promising start in Hawaii and both Duke and East Carolina still looking for their first win

UNCW Athletic Communications photo—UNCW Athletic Communications photo
Junior college transfer Mason Berne is congratulated after hitting a home run in his first game at UNCW on Saturday. Berne's blast helped the Seahawks to a win against George Mason and a 3-0 start

The opening weekend of the college baseball season produced mixed results for the state’s top teams, with North Carolina and UNCW sweeping their opening action, NC State getting off to a promising start in Hawaii and both Duke and East Carolina still looking for their first wins. The Tar Heels had the most impressive performance of the weekend by beating Kentucky three times in Chapel Hill, including a 5-4 victory on Sunday that was the 800th of coach Mike Fox’s career. Ace J.B. Bukauskas got the season off on the right foot by striking out 10 over six shutout innings of a 3-1 win on Friday before Kyle Datres drove in three runs to key a 6-5 win on Saturday. Highly touted freshman then finished off the sweep of the Wildcats on Sunday with an impressive college debut in which he retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced in a strong seven-inning outing. Logan Warmoth and Tyler Lynn both homered in the victory while Josh Hiatt picked up his third save in as many days. UNCW needed a little more drama to earn its 3-0 start at its own Hughes Brothers Challenge. After banging out 18 hits on Friday in a 12-8 win against George Mason, a game in which newcomer Mason Berne and Casey Golden each hit homers and the duo of Brian Mims and Nick Feight had three hits apiece, the Seahawks needed an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth to sweat out a 4-3 win against VMI. Golden homered for the second straight day in that game. On Sunday, it took a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to pull out a 6-5 win against Appalachian State. With his team down to its final out, Golden finished off a strong weekend by singling home the winning run moments after Feight tied it with an RBI single of his own. Appalachian State finished 1-3 in the event, losing to George Mason and splitting a pair of games with VMI in addition to the loss to UNCW. Nearly 4,800 miles away in Honolulu, NC State brought home a pair of meaningful souvenirs from its season-opening trip to Hawaii by winning two of three from the host Rainbow Warriors. More impressive about the series than the results was the way it came about. Wolfpack pitching, which proved to be the team’s Achilles heel in last year’s postseason, put in strong performances in the two wins. Sean Adler, a senior lefty making his first college start, pitched the first five innings of Friday’s 4-0 shutout while junior Tommy DeJuneas did the bulk of the work in a one-hit, 8-1 victory Sunday. Brett Kinneman, who along with Shane Shepard homered in Saturday’s 8-3 loss, had a pair of doubles in the season finale. Freshman Will Wilson had three hits, drove in three and scored another in the opening game of the series. Charlotte also got its season off to a winning start by taking two of three at home from West Virginia. T.J. Nichting and Jackson Mims keyed a 6-3 win Friday with three hits apiece while Brett Netzer and Logan Sherer had three RBI each in Saturday’s 13-2 victory. Things didn’t go as well for three teams with high expectations after making the NCAA tournament last year. Sixth-ranked ECU got a homer from preseason All-American Dwayna Williams-Sutton in the first at bat of the year and led all three games at No. 8 Ole Miss, but couldn’t hold on in any of them while getting swept by the Rebels. Ace Evan Kruczynski took the loss in a 4-3 setback on Friday in a game that featured the first career home run by freshman Spencer Brickhouse. Luke Bolka’s homer was wasted when the Pirates surrendered the tie-breaking run in the bottom of the seventh of a 3-2 loss on Saturday. The most painful defeat of the weekend came on Sunday, when after scoring four times in the top of the sixth to take a 6-2 lead, ECU gave up five runs in the bottom of the inning before falling 8-6. Travis Watkins had three hits and three RBI in the game. While the Pirates had trouble holding leads, Duke’s problem was falling behind early and never catching up while dropping all four games at the Sanderson Spring Training Classic in Surprise, Ariz. The Blue Devils gave up three runs to Gonzaga in the first and didn’t manage their first baserunner off Bulldogs’ starter Justin Vernia until Griffin Conine’s single to left with two out in the seventh on the way to a 6-1 loss on Friday. Later that day, they were done in by a five-run second that helped No. 7 Oregon State to a 6-3 win. Shortstop Zack Kone had a homer and a double and Duke outhit Gonzaga 10-9 on Saturday, but a 1 for 9 performance with runners in scoring position proved its downfall in