Tennessee beats North Carolina, moves closer to MCWS finals

ByABC News
June 16, 2024, 11:49 PM

OMAHA, Neb. -- Kavares Tears and Reese Chapman homered, Drew Beam limited North Carolina to one hit over five shutout innings, and Tennessee took control of its bracket at the Men's College World Series with a 6-1 win Sunday night.

The Volunteers (57-12), trying to become the first No. 1 national seed since 1999 to win the championship, will advance to the best-of-three finals if they can beat Florida State (48-16) or North Carolina (48-15) on Wednesday. Those teams will meet Tuesday in an elimination game.

The Vols, 2-0 in a MCWS for the first time, would have to lose twice to be denied their first finals appearance, meaning the streets of downtown Omaha will be filled with orange-clad fans most of the coming week. They're the sixth No. 1 national seed to start 2-0 in Omaha.

"Just happy we put ourselves in this spot," Beam said. "It's been awesome seeing the amount of fans who have shown up from Knoxville, all over the country, wearing the orange. This is a pretty special place to us, and so it's awesome the fans get to come enjoy it and watch us play our game."

Beam (9-2) limited North Carolina to three baserunners through five innings, and his team was up 4-0 when he went out for the sixth.

Tar Heels starter Shea Sprague (3-2) retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced before he gave up a single and walk in the fourth. Then Tears drove an elevated changeup off the back wall of the right-field bullpen, next to the North Carolina logo, becoming the fourth Vols player with 20 home runs this season -- the second team in Division I history to have done that.

Chapman, 1 for his last 15 when he came to bat, connected for his seventh to start the bottom of the fifth to chase Sprague.

Vance Honeycutt broke through against Beam with his 27th homer of the season to start the sixth, and Casey Cook and Parks Harber singled to bring on Kirby Connell.

Connell, he of the handlebar mustache, held the Tar Heels scoreless for two innings and turned things over to Nate Snead to start the eighth.

"Fortunate to win," Vols coach Tony Vitello said, "because every team in that league [ACC] is good, but North Carolina has had as much success as anybody in it, and they've kind of been a force of nature and still are capable of being that."

The Tar Heels have totaled just six runs over their past three games, and their one run against Tennessee was their fewest since a 2-1 loss to South Carolina on April 9.

North Carolina coach Scott Forbes said he isn't worried about running out of pitching even though his team must win three straight games in three days to reach the finals.

"We lost," he said, "but we ain't done. We'll bounce back and be ready to roll on Tuesday."

The first meeting of the teams since 2019 began with each making sterling defensive plays.

Carolina shortstop Colby Wilkerson threw to first from his knees to get Moore. Tennessee's Hunter Ensley took off in a full sprint and stretched out his left arm to snag Anthony Donofrio's deep fly to center just before crashing into the wall and leaving eye black smudged on the padding. Though he didn't show any immediate sign of injury and batted twice, he was replaced by Colby Backus in center to start the fifth. Ensley was taken out as a precaution.

"He hit that wall hard, so I wanted to make sure he was OK," Beam said. "I was just dumbfounded. It was a crazy catch."

Home plate umpire Kellen Levy was replaced in the fifth by Scott Cline, who had been working second base. Levy was hit in the face mask by a foul ball the previous inning and began feeling unwell. An NCAA spokesman said Levy was being monitored for concussion symptoms. The game was delayed 16 minutes while Cline was in the umpires' locker room changing into protective gear.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.