North Carolina knows a thing or two about late-game heroics. In fact, the Tar Heels needed them once again Friday night.

Facing West Virginia in Game 1 of the Super Regionals, the Tar Heels were largely held in check by lefty Derek Clark. Across the first 8 innings, Clark limited UNC to 5 runs and allowed just a single home run.

Things shifted in the 9th inning when Luke Stevenson led off the frame with a solo home run on Clark’s 134th pitch of the night. After Clark was finally lifted, Vance Honeycutt would lift the Tar Heels to a win with a deep bomb into the night beyond left field.

Altogether, North Carolina now has 3 final at-bat wins in the 4 total wins so far in the NCAA Tournament. The amount of offense outside of the late innings is also noteworthy — and worrisome.

In their 4 wins, the Tar Heels have scored 29 total runs. Of those 29 runs, 11 have been scored in the 9th inning or later, including 3 of their 8 runs Friday night.

That means right at 38% of North Carolina’s total run production has occurred in the 9th inning or later.

On the one hand, those numbers point to a team that knows how to dial up clutch hitting when their backs are against the wall. However, it also shows a team that will continually be in tight contests and one at-bat away from a win — or a costly defeat.

We’ll see how Game 2 develops, but North Carolina will look to get some early production and potentially ride an early big inning for a change.

Cutting down the strikeouts

North Carolina will need to do a better job at avoiding punchouts and keeping the line moving in Game 2 and moving forward. Even with Clark throwing 144 pitches, he still finished with 8 strikeouts and another for Major gave the Mountaineers 9 on the night.

The good news for the Tar Heels is that Honeycutt had just 1 whiff on the evening, and pinch hitter Johnny Castagnozzi was the only hitter with multiple strikeouts.

Going back to the regional round, North Carolina now has 8+ strikeouts in every NCAA Tournament game. Friday’s game was their 4th with at least 9 strikeouts in a game.

If the Tar Heels can cut down on the whiffs, the offense in the earlier innings should level out. That can be easier said than done, but UNC will get its chance to reach the College World Series with a win in Saturday’s Game 2.

Saturday’s action from Chapel Hill is set for 8 pm ET on ESPN2.

Main image via Carolina baseball (@DiamondHeels) on X (Formerly Twitter).