Tar Heels Drop Scrimmage to Vanderbilt

UNC will conclude fall ball Saturday with Game 3 of the Fall World Series

North Carolina struck first but couldn’t hang on as the Tar Heels fell 8-5 to NCAA runner-up Vanderbilt in a fall exhibition game Friday at Boshamer Stadium.

Mac Horvath got the scoring started for UNC in the bottom of the first, hitting a two-out double off the top of the left-field wall to score Danny Serretti from first base. The Tar Heels then added a second run moments later when Tyler Causey laced a 1-2 pitch up the middle for an RBI single.

Vanderbilt responded in the second with an RBI single by Tate Kolwyck. Then, in the third, the Commodores took control, seizing a 5-2 lead on a three-run home run by Parker Noland and another RBI single by Kolwyck.

Vanderbilt went on to extend its lead to 7-2 on an RBI groundout by Spencer Jones in the fifth and a balk by Connor Bovair in the sixth. But UNC didn’t go away quietly.

After putting only five runners on base between the second and seventh innings, the Tar Heels’ first three hitters in the eighth reached via a single and two walks. Causey proceeded to pick up his second RBI on a one-out, bases-loaded walk. UNC then cut the deficit to 7-5 when a wild pitch got past catcher Dominic Keegan and he overthrew pitcher Donye Evans at home plate, allowing two runs to score.

Ultimately, the Tar Heels’ late rally wasn’t enough, as the Commodores tacked on an insurance run in the ninth to secure the win.

“The experience was awesome. (These are) two programs that have been the best in the country the last 15 years. Vanderbilt has been really good; they’ve just played in back-to-back national championships. You just can’t match that experience unless you’ve been there and done it. But what I was looking for most with our team today is, were they aggressive? Did they have good body language? … It couldn’t have been better, except we didn’t win the game.” – Coach Scott Forbes

Five who stood out

Causey: Among the biggest standouts of the entire fall, the third-year sophomore held his own against some quality arms, going 1-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs. One thing I’d yet to see from the first-baseman-turned-outfielder this fall was a throw home, and he made a strong, accurate one from left in the second inning.

Horvath: The sophomore just missed a homer on his first-inning double. Although that was his only hit, he drew a walk and came around to score on the wild pitch and ensuing error in the eighth. Forbes said on Friday’s episode of Bosh to the Bigs that Horvath is “really running well,” and that was evident on that play as well as his groundout to third in sixth inning.

Nik Pry: With UNC trailing 6-2 with a runner on second and one out in the top of the fifth, Pry came in and induced a pair of fly outs on just eight pitches. The righty did a good job locating his cutter, which is nearly unhittable when he can command it.

Shawn Rapp: The best performance of the day by a Tar Heel pitcher belonged to the third-year sophomore, who came on in the fourth and retired the three hitters at the top of Vanderbilt’s lineup on just 11 pitches. The lefty struck out the first two, then got Enrique Bradfield Jr. – a consensus All-American last season whose bat-to-ball skills might be as good as those of any hitter UNC faces this spring – to ground out softly to first.

Carson Starnes: Friday marked just the fourth time the true freshman has pitched this fall, as Forbes said he spent his first few weeks on campus recovering from a knee cap injury. Despite his lack of innings, Starnes impressed against Vanderbilt, striking out two batters and walking one over one scoreless inning. The right-hander’s second strikeout came on a slider with 21 inches of horizontal break, according to UNC’s analytics team.

Other observations

  • UNC rolled out the following lineup Friday: Vance Honeycutt, RF; Angel Zarate, CF; Serretti, SS; Horvath, 3B, Alberto Osuna, DH; Causey, LF; Tomas Frick, C; Patrick Alvarez, 2B; and Johnny Castagnozzi, 1B.

  • Although it’s still too early to speculate on what the Tar Heels’ lineup will look like come February, Zarate – who went 2-for-5 Friday – seems like a natural fit for the No. 2 spot after leading UNC in batting average (.324), slugging (.497) and OPS (.921) last season. His 31 walks are also the most among returning players, while his 32 RBIs are the second most behind Serretti’s 39.

  • Given the Tar Heels’ struggles with two-strike hitting last season, it was notable that their first three hits Friday – Horvath’s RBI double, Causey’s RBI single and Patrick Alvarez’s leadoff single in the bottom of the second – came with two strikes.

  • UNC used 11 pitchers Friday: Brandon Schaeffer, Shaddon Peavyhouse, Gage Gillian, Rapp, Will Sandy, Pry, Bovair, Davis Palermo, Starnes, Connor Ollio and Caden O’Brien.

  • Forbes said on Bosh to the Bigs that Palermo could serve as the team’s closer this spring if he continues at his current trajectory. Friday presented as much of a high pressure situation as you can ask for in the fall, as Palermo gave up a walk to the first batter he faced in the seventh and allowed him to eventually reach third on a pair of wild pitches. The righty, however, sandwiched two strikeouts around a fly out to escape the inning unscathed.

  • As good as they’ve been at limiting walks this fall, the Tar Heels’ pitchers have issued more the last two weeks – which is unsurprising given how much they’ve pitched this fall. Friday, they issued eight free passes. “We’ve been much better with that in the fall, but it’s good for these guys to have to pitch against a team and in an environment where your heart rate is beating a lot faster and learn to still have that command just like you have in a scrimmage,” Forbes said.

  • Speaking of the environment: Friday’s crowd was the largest at Boshamer Stadium since at least the 2020 season, if not the 2019 super regional.