Late-game drama helps the Diamond Heels clinch a spot in the College World Series

                  Boshamer Stadium with a packed house. Photo Courtesy of GoHeels.


By Thomas Hicks

CHAPEL HILLBottom of the ninth.

Saturday night at Boshamer Stadium with a sold-out crowd of 4,491.

An electric atmosphere.

Count is 1-2. One ball. Two strikes.

And two outs. The Heels can win it here.

Dalton Pence is on the mound closing. The redshirt sophomore from Cherryville, NC has been a force for the Heels in NCAA play. In two innings he had given up two hits and no runs to this point in the game. He tosses one strike and he closes out the series. But he has to be careful– the visiting West Virginia Mountaineers have runners on first and third and the score is 2-1 in favor of the Heels. One hit sends the series to a tiebreaker Sunday night.

West Virginia’s head coach Randy Mazey has for the first time in his tenure had his team practice and play in the month of June. And he is retiring after this season, his 12th with West Virginia.

They have opportunity.

They have a motive.

They have means.

They have a chance to kill the Tar Heels’ postseason dreams… or at least slow them down and regain momentum in this competitive series.

The Heels barely got away Friday night with a win in their 8-6 victory. The Heels had a walk-off home run from Vance Honeycutt. Or Vance “Honeyclutch,” as some have started to call him.

Back to Pence. He throws two balls.

Bases are loaded.

With all three bases loaded, two outs and one man up to bat for West Virginia, Right Fielder Ben Lumsden. The situation is tense. Both sides are a play away from a deciding fate for the game.

If West Virginia gets a hit they stay alive and win. If Pence can throw one strike he sends his home state’s name school to the College World Series (CWS). Pence throws another ball.

The next pitch is a hit.

It pops up behind first base, Pence runs to the first base bag from the pitcher’s mound as an infielder goes to get the ball. They toss it to Pence. Lumsden is almost on the bag. Pence gets his foot down and catches the ball barely before Lumsden’s cleats touch the bag. The umpire calls the runner out.

It’s the 3rd out.

Pence and his teammates go wild celebrating. It’s a mob on the diamond. The crowd couldn’t be more pleased. The joy and enthusiasm oozed from the field into the stands. Chapel Hill was thrilled. The Tar Heels hoisted the regional trophy and are headed to Omaha!

The Heels will be one of eight teams to compete for a championship in Omaha. N.C. State played Georgia in Athens and knocked off the No. 7 overall seeded Bulldogs to clinch the last spot in the CWS. This means all participants in the upcoming national baseball classic come from either the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) or the SEC (Southeastern Conference).

The eight teams to have earned their spots in the big tournament are:

North Carolina, N.C. State, Florida State, Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Virginia, and Kentucky.

The College World Series will start on June 14th with the finals being played from June 22nd to June 24th.

The Heels have made 12 College World Series appearances after earning this recent birth and are looking to win their first national championship in program history.

While UNC has numerous national championships in different sports such as basketball, women’s soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, and more, they just have not been able to get over the hump on the diamond.

Maybe, just maybe, behind Dalton Pence’s closing ability and Vance Honeycutt’s bat and glove this team can finally bring a championship back to Chapel Hill.

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, LinkedIn: Thomas Hicks and X: ThomasJ_H

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