Diamond Heels advance to Super regionals after an intense series – will host West Virginia next weekend.

The Tar Heels Baseball team celebrates their win against LSU. Photo courtesy of GoHeels.

 SPORTS; COMMUNITY NEWS

By Thomas Hicks
Correspondent

CHAPEL HILLThe Diamond Heels proved victorious this weekend and moved on to the next NCAA tournament round after knocking off reigning national champions, the Louisiana State University Tigers. But it was not an easy path.

Late in the game it did not look promising for Tar Heel fans and their team. At one point four of UNC’s best hitters went up to bat and only one got on base. That was the top of the 7th; there were only two innings left. It was unproductive. It looked like an opportunity was about to be squandered, a moment that indicates the end of a game and makes a fan mentally prepared for their team to let them down. Sending your four best up and getting nothing out of it late in a game can be crushing. Losing by only one run, after winning two games straight and not being able to get over the hump seemed like a crushing and real possibility.

But UNC fans did not need to fret.

In the top of the 9th UNC’s hero of the Long Island game, freshman Gavin Gallaher hit a double to get in scoring position. Senior Cade Wilkerson would go to bat for the Heels and get himself to first base, which more importantly got Gallaher home.

The game was tied.

LSU still had an opportunity to walk off and win, but redshirt sophomore Dalton Pence held the line for UNC’s defense. He allowed only one hit, racked up two strikeouts, and a pop fly out.

UNC Pitcher Dalton Pence. Photo Courtesy of GoHeels.

Pence saw a lot of action and is usually only a closer, but on this night he recorded 58 pitches. He did not give up a single run in 6.1 innings pitched against LSU in all three games over the weekend. He was the saving hero protecting his city. Pence’s performance is all the more impressive and inspiring with the context that he put in immense work to get to that point after having Tommy John surgery, a serious elbow surgery that is every pitcher’s worst fear.

But he was in great form. Pence carried the load for his team going into the extra innings. He was not the only Tar Heel to deliver.

In the 10th, the Heels sent Senior Jackson Van De Brake home off of a shallow single RBI to center field by graduate Alex Madera to put the Heels up 4-3. LSU could not muster a comeback and the Heels stayed alive.

UNC is a No. 1 seed and has earned the right to host the Super Regional round starting June 7 in Boshamer Stadium. The hope for the Heels will be to beat the visiting West Virginia Mountaineers in a best-of-three series and return to the College World Series in Ohama for the first time since 2018. The Heels have been to that stage before and this year could possibly mark their 12th time heading to Omaha for the big tournament, but winning the championship this year would be the first time the team in sky blue would be able to hoist the trophy.

Four teams play in a regional. You have to win your first game to enter into a best-of-three series with the winner from the other side of the pool. UNC looked like they were in trouble in their first game against Long Island on Friday night but won on a walk-off grand slam home run from freshman Gavin Gallaher. The Heels would make it two in a row with a win over LSU on Saturday. However, the Heels fell Sunday to the Tigers from the Bayou, but it mattered not since they sent the Tigers back down south on Monday night.

Carolina had multiple players make the Chapel Hill All-Regional team. Gavin Gallaher made the biggest headlines as he was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and he was joined by his teammates Anthony Donofrio, Alberto Osuna, and the aforementioned Dalton Pence, who also made the all-tournament team.

Donofrio and Osuna were big hitters for the Heels all weekend. Donofrio recorded nine hits across all games while Osuna recorded multiple games with two or more hits. This includes two RBIs and multiple hits in the Sunday night game against LSU.

The Heels prevailed and will get to keep swinging their bats, having earned their right to a home-field advantage this weekend against the visiting Mountaineers.


Thomas Hicks is a journalist with video, PR, and writing experience who studied at UNC and the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Thomas is always looking for work and the next story! He loves working with his camera or with his pen. This reporter can be contacted at thomasjhicks55@gmail.com, LinkedIn: Thomas Hicks and X: ThomasJ_H

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