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West Virginia vs. North Carolina: Saturday, June 8, 2024

West Virginia vs. North Carolina: Saturday, June 8, 2024

WEST VIRGINIA VS. NORTH CAROLINA: SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2024 — A week ago in the regional round, West Virginia coach Randy Mazey gambled on ace Derek Clark going the distance, and it paid off. In Game 1 of the Super Regionals against North Carolina, Mazey made the same gamble. This time, it might have come back to bite the Mountaineers.

After 133 pitches and multiple looks at Clark, the Tar Heels were ready in the ninth inning. Luke Stevenson needed all of one pitch to turn a 6-5 West Virginia lead into a tie game, and Vance Honeycutt finished the job with a two-run shot. And now West Virginia finds itself one loss away from seeing its season end with its ace used up.

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Compounding matters is the fact that instead of turning to closer Carson Estridge, the Mountaineers opted for normal day 3 starter Aidan Major. Major could still come back and pitch Day 3 as usual, but West Virginia’s insistence on avoiding the bullpen in Game 1 doesn’t inspire confidence moving forward.

Meanwhile, Carolina used its bullpen effectively. The Tar Heels stayed alive with three great innings from Matt Poston, and they now have prized freshman Jason DeCaro ready for Game 2. Even if the Mountaineers get past DeCaro, they still have to contend with the top bullpen in the ACC.

Players to Watch

The one thing you can’t do against North Carolina is make a mistake to Vance Honeycutt. West Virginia made what turned out to be the game-ending mistake against the center fielder, who crushed it for a walk-off home run. For the season, Honeycutt had 24 homers to lead a North Carolina lineup that hit 112 on the year. The Heels launched three of them on Friday, and they’ve shown no signs of stopping.

Related: West Virginia Baseball’s Path to the Super Regionals 

Kyle West and Reed Chumley came up huge for the Mountaineers, combining for five hits between them on Friday. But the rest of the West Virginia lineup couldn’t get much of anything going against Shea Sprague and the Heels. As a team, the Mountaineers had three hits outside 0f those two hitters. That’s not going to cut it against Carolina’s array of bullpen arms.

The Prediction

It’s difficult to see West Virginia bouncing back after making the mistakes that cost it the first game. On lineup talent alone, the Mountaineers have the ability to compete with the Tar Heels. The first game showed that there isn’t any real gap in talent between the two teams. West Virginia can hit against North Carolina, and its pitching did enough to put itself in position to win the series opener.

Related: NCAA Baseball Tournament – Chapel Hill Regional

But the Mountaineers really made some critical errors that might have damaged their chances to come back. West Virginia came into this series knowing it had Derek Clark in one game and two tough pitching matchups after that. North Carolina’s bullpen is one of its biggest strengths, and Mazey doesn’t appear to trust that his bullpen can match up with the hosts.

At this level, even one mistake of that caliber can be the difference in victory and defeat. West Virginia has the talent to be here, but it gave away the most winnable game at the Supers. I lean toward the Tar Heel bullpen being a bit too much.


  • Dan Angell, Contributor

    Dan is originally from Virginia and has covered basketball games across the country over the past 18 years. He now resides in Indianapolis and loves a good defensive showcase. His Twitter @danangell11.

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