UNC baseball hangs on, sweeps West Virginia in NCAA Tournament Chapel Hill Super Regional

North Carolina’s run through this NCAA baseball tournament has come to be defined by what its players and coaches and even many of its fans, hungry for a long-elusive national championship in this sport, have come to define as “Bosh magic.” It can be difficult to define, that mysterious kind of sorcery, but it is the sort of thing that now is known by sight and feel inside Boshamer Stadium.

Vance Honeycutt’s game-winning, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday night in Game 1 of the Tar Heels’ Super Regional: That was some Bosh magic. The way UNC rallied last week for dramatic victories in its tournament regional against Long Island and twice for LSU: also some Bosh magic.

And maybe there was even a bit more of it back at Boshamer on Saturday night, what with Honeycutt leading off Game 2 of this Super Regional the way he finished Game 1: with a home run to left field, and on the first pitch of the game, no less. How’s that for a start? Mostly, though, the Tar Heels saved the theatrics. For once there was no need for late hope or drama or rally caps.

At least not the kind that has fueled UNC the past week or so.

There was, instead, just a wire-to-wire and almost-trouble-free 2-1 victory. Emphasis on almost, given the Mountaineers late-game attempts to create some magic of their own. Still, compared to the way UNC has had to scrap for victories of late; how it has had to stave off defeat to win in the most improbable of ways, again and again, this was easy. Or easier. And now the Tar Heels are headed back to Omaha and the College World Series for the first time since 2018.

Cue the dog pile, which proved to be part jubilation and part exhalation.

If UNC’s first Super Regional victory was defined by resilience and perseverance and especially by its hitting, with two ninth-inning home runs that allowed the Tar Heels to overcome a one-run deficit in their final at-bat, then Saturday night was about its arms. Or at least one of its arms — the right one, belonging to freshman Jason Decaro.

If Decaro felt any nerves about pitching on the biggest stage of his life, he did not show them. He appeared unbothered by the moment, unfazed by the reality that he is but a freshman, and freshman aren’t supposed to look so cool and composed amid these kinds of circumstances with these kinds of stakes.

But no matter. Decaro was that cool and composed — and effective — from the start and through when he left the game in the bottom of the seventh, with one out. In between, Decaro allowed two hits. One of them came in the second inning and the other against the final batter he faced. He allowed one West Virginia hitter to reach second base, but no more and no farther than that.

The Mountaineers scored their lone run only after Scott Forbes, UNC’s head coach, relieved Decaro in the seventh with Dalton Pence, a sophomore left-hander. Pence struck out the first batter he faced but walked the second, and then Kyle West, who hit two home runs Friday night, singled to left field to drive in West Virginia’s first run.

A quiet fell over the home crowd. An anxiety set in, with two Mountaineers on base.

Pence, though, struck out Ben Lumsden to escape the threat and end the inning, and the West Virginia eighth came and went with little trouble: three up and three down. The Tar Heels, whose second run came in the third inning on Parks Harber’s single to left (which drove in who else but Honeycutt), kept the margin narrow late. There were no insurance runs.

That made for some stressful moments, for UNC, when West Virginia’s Sam White led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to right field. Pence struck out Reed Chumley on a low and deceptive curveball but unleashed a wild pitch that allowed Armani Guzman, pinch-running for White, to advance to second. Pence then walked Grant Hussey to put two runners on.

The breaths became deeper throughout Boshamer.

But then Pence earned a bit of relief with a strikeout of Ellis Garcia and here came West, one night after those two home runs, now with two on and two out and, suddenly, two strikes against him. Then the count was full and then he took ball four, high.

Bases loaded.

Moments later came relief, at last, when Pence coaxed a high-bouncing ball to the right side of the infield. Harber fielded it in back of first base and flipped it to Pence, who stepped on the bag just before Lumsden attempted to beat the play with a head-first dive.

And so began a celebration that’d been a long time coming. UNC lost Super Regionals it hosted in 2019 and 2022. The Tar Heels lost regionals on the road in 2021 and last year, when Iowa defeated UNC twice and sent the Tar Heels home after a game that lasted 13 innings.

There’d been heartbreak and disappointment during these past six years, the retirement of beloved coach Mike Fox and the promotion of Forbes, his longtime assistant, and there’d been a lot of what-ifs and season endings that felt sour; felt like a let-down, given the Tar Heels’ standard. And now they’re headed back to the College World Series.

The night ended here with the crowd standing and chanting where this season will end for UNC: “O-MA-HA! ... O-MA-HA!”