Heartbreak in Chapel Hill
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For a few tiny moments, maybe a second or perhaps two, it appeared Josh McAllister had produced a ninth-inning miracle for Georgia in Sunday’s elimination game against host North Carolina.
With the Bulldogs down by one, McAllister’s high drive to left center field seemed to have just enough to travel beyond the walls in Boshamer Stadium for a game-tying home run.
Unfortunately, Tar Heel center fielder Vance Honeycutt had other ideas. With a leap, the 6-foot-3 freshman soared high, reaching over the fence to rob McAllister and the Bulldogs, who moments earlier had closed within one on a three-run homer by Chaney Rogers.
With one out remaining, Corey Collins pinch-hit for Dwight Allen II and took a called third strike from lefty reliever Caden Bailey, ending the game with the Tar Heels on top 6-5 and advancing to the late game against Virginia Commonwealth.
“The longer McAllister’s hung in the air, you thought it had a chance,” head coach Scott Stricklin said. “It needed to be a couple more feet to get to right field, that’s the way it was blowing out. But Honeycutt timed it. They were playing deep anyway. He saved the game for them.”
Honeycutt’s catch only added to what was already a frustrating afternoon for the Bulldogs, who put runners on base in every inning, stranding 12 in the game.
But Georgia’s credit, the Bulldogs did not lie down.
Following a leadoff single by Cole Tate, twin brother Connor Tate hit a ball that bounced off the top of the wall in left center—almost to the identical spot as McAllister’s ball, three batters later.
Umpires initially ruled the hit a home run, but after replay, runners were sent back to second and third.
Following a ground out, Rogers jumped on a 1-2 pitch and drove it off the scoreboard in left, bringing the Bulldogs pouring out of the dugout.
Players were primed for another celebration, only to have Honeycutt’s catch put all the momentum back in the corner of UNC.
“The ninth was the same it’s been all year. We all believed in every single one of us, and it was the perfect time to have our seniors come up,” second baseman Cory Acton said. “We thought we were going to have a fairy tale story for our seniors, but we just came up short.”
Stricklin became emotional during his post-game press conference, first when talking about his seniors, but also when he took a moment to remember his dad, who passed away earlier this year.
“I kept envisioning that they’re going to go out and do something special. All of them did. It’s a cruel game—it’s a game of inches. That was my dad’s favorite saying,” Stricklin said, his voice breaking up. “It came true today. (Honeycutt) made a great play. McAllister had an unbelievable at-bat, and we just came up a little bit short. But we didn’t stop fighting. I was very proud of this team. It showed what kind of team we are. We just kept fighting, and I’m really proud of our team.”
Georgia’s season ends with a record of 36-23.
After setting down North Carolina (40-20) in order to start the first, starting pitcher Luke Wagner (5-3) ran into trouble in the second.
It wasn’t all his doing.
A one-out error by McAllister put Albert Osuna at first. He eventually came around to score on a single to left by Johnny Castagnozzi that ticked off the glove of McAllister before Wagner came back to strike out Colby Wilkerson with runners at first and second.
But Wagner would not make it out of the third.
With two runners on after singles by Angel Zarate and Vance Honeycutt, Stricklin wasted no time getting reliever Jaden Woods into the game with the top of the Tar Heel order coming up for the second time.
It did not go quite like Stricklin had planned.
Following a hit batter (Georgia’s 18th in four games), Mikey Madej lined the very next pitch into right center driving in two runs and a 3-0 lead.
A wild pitch on Woods next pitch scored another runner for a 4-0 advantage before finally retiring the side on a strikeout.
Georgia would get one of the runs back in the bottom of the third on an RBI single to right by Rogers, but McAllister struck out with runners at first and third.
The Bulldogs had other chances.
But unlike Friday’s contest against VCU, Georgia could not get the key hits when needed. In the fifth, McAllister stranded two more at second and third with a groundout to the eighth and ninth runners left on base to that point.
Woods would rebound after his tough third inning with a scoreless fifth and sixth. However, in the sixth, catcher Tomas Frick drove a ball over the fence in right for just his third home run.
Acton would get the run back for Georgia when he doubled home Ben Anderson in the sixth the draw the Bulldogs back within three.
But Tar Heel closer Davis Palermo made sure that would be it as he struck out Cole Tate sending the game to the top of the seventh.
“We left it on the field all year long, that’s all we did,” Acton said. “These guys were just ballers, man. It’s sad seeing them leave, but they left a really long legacy for this program.”