Tar Heels overcome suspension, join ECU in super regionals

Both schools will host weekend games with eyes on a College World Series berth

Pitcher Josh Hartle and Wake Forest defeated Long Island University in their second game of the College Park regional, but the Demon Deacons then lost an elimination game to host Maryland to end Wake's season. (Gail Burton / AP Photo)

For the second straight week, the story surrounding the NCAA baseball tournament in North Carolina is about who isn’t there rather than who is.

Seven days ago, the NC State Wolfpack players and fans were reeling after they were snubbed by the selection committee and left home for the tournament. That decision — and State’s subsequent reaction to it — overshadowed the five teams from North Carolina that were selected, at least until the games began on Friday.

Then it was time for another key figure in Triangle ACC baseball to exit stage left, at least temporarily. UNC coach Scott Forbes was ejected from the Tar Heels’ loss to VCU on Saturday night after arguing that an infield fly should have been called on a pop-up.

The NCAA then suspended Forbes for two games for his behavior. Both of those games would be elimination games for the Heels, both played on Sunday, with just over an hour in between.

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham posted a statement, calling the suspension “incredibly disappointing” and telling the NCAA it needs to “do better.”

After beating Hofstra to start their tournament run, the Tar Heels fell victim to VCU, which won its 16th straight game, 4-3 in Saturday’s controversial contest.

In its first elimination game on Sunday, UNC survived a game Georgia team, winning 6-5 but only after Carolina freshman outfielder Vance Honeycutt made a leaping catch over the wall to rob a potential game-tying home run in the ninth. Honeycutt then hit one of UNC’s four home runs in the rematch with VCU that served as Sunday’s nightcap. The Tar Heels got revenge, pounding the Rams 19-8 and setting up a Forbes return for Monday’s game, which determined the winner of the Chapel Hill regional.

As UNC fans chanted his name following the two victories, Forbes posted a statement, saying, “I hated not being allowed at the Bosh (UNC’s Boshamer Stadium) today, but the way our team competed and our crowd supported us was awesome! … I am so proud to be a Tar Heel and to lead Tar Heels, and I can’t wait to be back in the dugout tomorrow.”

The Heels rode a wave of emotion past VCU on Monday, scoring four runs in the first and never looking back on their way to a 7-3 victory. UNC advances to its 10th super regional and third in the last four years.

Carolina, the No. 10 national seed, will get to host the weekend series against Arkansas, who upset national 7th seed Oklahoma State to advance out of Stillwater.

The Heels were one of two North Carolina teams who advanced to the super regionals. East Carolina will host Texas in Greenville as the Pirates play for a berth in the College World Series.

ECU saw a smoother start to its regional than did the Tar Heels. The Pirates cruised past Coppin State in the opener, 17-1, then beat Virginia 4-2 to advance to the regional final. There they would need to win one of two games against Coastal Carolina in order to advance.

The Chanticleers took the first game 9-1 on Saturday night, snapping East Carolina’s 20-game winning streak, but the Pirates bounced back on Monday to beat Coastal 13-4. ECU will now host a super regional for just the second time in program history and the first time at their on-campus stadium.

Bryson Worrell tripled and homered in a 4-for-4 day with four runs scored and four RBIs to lead ECU in the deciding game. Worrell was named Most Outstanding Player of the regional after going 8 for 16 with seven runs, nine RBIs and four homers in the four games.

The state’s other three representatives in the baseball postseason didn’t make it out of the regional weekend.

Wake Forest lost to eventual regional champion UConn 8-7 in the first game of the College Park, Maryland, regional. The Deacs then beat Long Island University 10-4 in an elimination game before they were eliminated following a 10-5 loss to host team Maryland.

Facing the toughest draw of any of the five North Carolina teams in the dance, Campbell had to go through the top team in the nation, Tennessee, in the Knoxville regional. The Camels won their opener, beating Georgia Tech 15-8. They then lost to the Vols 12-7 and dropped a rematch with the Yellow Jackets 16-5.

UNC Greensboro had the shortest stay in the postseason, losing its first two games in the double-elimination tournament. UNCG lost to host team Georgia Southern, the No. 16 national seed, by an 8-0 score, then dropped an elimination game to Texas Tech 2-0, getting sent home without scoring a run.

That leaves the Tar Heels and the Pirates. UNC will be trying to earn its 12th trip to Omaha for the College World Series and first since 2018. ECU will look to advance to the CWS for the first time in their seventh super regional appearance.