UNC, NC State head to CWS

North Carolina State head Coach Elliott Avent waits to see if his team will be allowed to play during the Wolfpack’s trip to the College World Series three years ago. State now returns to Omaha, along with rival UNC, to play for the college baseball title. (Rebecca S. Gratz/ AP Photo)

There’s a reason they call it Mutual of Omaha.

For the second time, NC State and North Carolina will head to Nebraska to play for college baseball’s national championship. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack made the trip together in 2013. The rivals played twice in Omaha that year, splitting the games. State won the opening game for both teams, then were eliminated by the Heels in the second round.


It’s no sure thing that the two teams will meet up this time around for a rubber match in their 11-year Omaha series. They open play in separate brackets, meaning that they could meet with a national title at stake.

Year of the Wolf?

After the men’s basketball team had a miracle run to the ACC championship and Final Four, and the women’s hoops team also made it to the Final Four, NC State now sees its baseball team headed to the College World Series for the fourth time in school history.

Three of those trips have been under head coach Elliott Avent, now in his 36th year with the Pack.

“This might delay that ride off into the sunset,” Avent said of the CWS berth, “but someday, that horse will be there.”

More immediately, the Wolfpack will look to rid itself of the bad taste from their last trip to Omaha. NC State made the CWS in 2021 after going on a late-season run very similar to the 16-5 run the Pack is on this year. After upsetting Vanderbilt, State was then hit with an outbreak of COVID-19. The team had to play a game with freshmen, little used reserves and several players out of position and nearly pulled off a second upset. NCAA officials then pulled the plug on State’s season, saying that it wasn’t safe for the team to continue playing in the tournament.

“I don’t really believe in retribution or revenge,” Avent said. “The guys from that ’21 team might feel a little bit differently.”

State travelled to Georgia for the Super Regional and hammered the Bulldogs in the opening game of the best-of-three, winning by an 18-1 score. The Pack was on the wrong end of a blowout in game two, falling 11-2.

In Monday’s deciding game, after State fell behind in the second inning, 2-0, the Pack responded immediately, tying the score with a two-run homer by Garrett Pennington. After taking the lead in the fourth on a passed ball and RBI single, State relied on the long ball to preserve the lead. Eli Serrano, Alec Makarewicz and Alex Sosa all went deep and the Wolfpack won 8-5 to punch their ticket to Omaha. The Pack will open with Kentucky in its first CWS game.

Heels return to Omaha

North Carolina is making its twelfth trip to the CWS but the first since 2018. The Tar Heels will face off against a familiar foe in No. 12 seed Virginia in the opening round Friday. Virginia won the regular season series against UNC, two games to one, beating the Tar Heels 14-11 on April 4 and 7-2 on April 5. In both losses, pitching was an issue for UNC as it gave up a combined eight home runs in the two games.

UNC’s Super Regional weekend came down to the big names making big plays. In game one, Parks Harber brought in three runs with a third-inning single. Gavin Gallaher’s single later in the inning brought Harber home for the Tar Heels’ fourth run.

The Heels led until the top of the sixth inning, when West Virginia smashed a pair of two-run homers to put West Virginia up 6-4 going into the bottom of the sixth inning.

A solo home run from Wilkerson in the bottom of the seventh inning closed UNC’s deficit to just one run. With the help of much needed juice from the mound from pitcher Matt Poston, including two straight strikeouts to keep West Virginia scoreless in the top of the ninth inning, the Tar Heels kept their chances alive and high.

Luke Stevenson started the final inning with a homer to centerfield, tying the game. With two outs and Madera on first base, Honeycutt gave UNC exactly what it needed with a walk-off home run to left field, giving the Tar Heels an 8-6 victory in the series opener.

Honeycutt picked up right where he left off in game two, taking the first pitch of the game for a home run to left field. After Honeycutt successfully bunted his way to first base in the top of the third inning, Harber’s single to left field two at-bats later knocked in Honeycutt to give UNC a 2-0 lead. Pitcher Jason DeCaro shut down West Virginia’s offense for 6 1/3 innings as the Mountaineers didn’t score until the bottom of the seventh inning. Pitcher Dalton Pence closed out the series win for the Tar Heels.

Shawn Krest contributed to this report.