How a 24-player recruiting class powered UNC baseball to College World Series in Omaha

UNC baseball’s coaching staff has plenty of Omaha experience.

Scott Forbes, North Carolina’s fourth-year head coach, has coached there. Assistant coaches Bryant Gaines, Jesse Wierzbicki and Jason Howell have played there.

They wanted this experience for the Tar Heels, who haven’t been to the College World Series since 2018.

But before the dog pile on Saturday — the theatrics following a sweep of West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament Chapel Hill Super Regional — some roster retooling was necessary.

“We weren’t where we needed to be depth-wise,” Forbes said.

UNC and Forbes’ 2024 recruiting class was tabbed top-15 by Baseball America, Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball. Twenty-four members made up the class — 14 high school athletes, three junior college transfers and seven four-year transfers — marking a complete overhaul of the Tar Heels’ 40-man roster. The incoming group included 12 pitchers and five position players, as well as top-ranked North Carolina natives like Luke Stevenson and Folger Boaz.

Such an influx of talent meant certain veterans, like Hunter Stokely, Jackson Van De Brake and Johnny Castagnozzi, would need to take a backseat role. For Forbes, those conversations began when last season ended.

He told the players there would be more competition. Playing time wasn’t guaranteed for anyone — even reigning ACC defensive player of the year Vance Honeycutt.

“Anybody can go in the portal and it may be easier to play somewhere else,” Forbes said. “But if you stay here, it’s always gonna be hard, because there’ll be more competition at this level.”

Forbes will admit there were a lot of unknowns. His staff would have to fight losses to the MLB Draft. But one thing they were confident in was their high school class.

And some of those high school prospects, like right-handed pitcher Jason DeCaro, were so confident in Forbes that they reclassed.

DeCaro could have been graduating last weekend. Instead, the Long Island, New York native helped UNC secure a 2-1 victory over West Virginia on Saturday, pitching 6.1 innings, striking out five and allowing one run on two hits.

Before that, freshman infielder Gavin Gallaher totaled five hits, seven RBIs, four runs, and two home runs in the Chapel Hill Regional. The third baseman, who most notably recorded a walk-off grand slam against Long Island in the opening round, was named the Chapel Hill Regional Most Outstanding Player.

And while Honeycutt’s walk-off home run in UNC’s 8-6 comeback win over WVU on Friday made headlines, a freshman set him up. Stevenson knocked the tying solo home run to lead off the ninth inning. The catcher was named an NCBWA second team freshman all-American on Monday.

Some call it “Bosh magic.” But, in reality, a lot of UNC’s success can be attributed to strategic recruiting at the high school level and in the portal.

Now that retooling has paid off in a big way. This week, players like Stevenson — who grew up watching the Tar Heels compete in Omaha — will have the chance to do the same.

“It’s been really awesome that we’ve had one goal and now we’re finally achieving this goal,” UNC freshman right-handed pitcher Boston Flannery said. “But, you know, job’s not over yet.”