CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina is on the doorstep of the College World Series, propelled by another late clutch postseason magic Friday night.

The Tar Heels staged their final rally to defeat West Virginia 8-6 at Boshamer Stadium on Vance Honeycutt’s monster game-winning home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Honeycutt in the opening game of this NCAA Super Regional series slapped the end of the explosion into the tiebreaking, two-run bomb hammered, as joy, relief and pandemonium collided here in harmony.

UNC picked up its fourth win of the NCAA tournament, and the ninth in those wins. The Tar Heels faced a 6-5 deficit entering the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday night, and promptly tied the game on Luke Stevenson’s leadoff home run. That 408-foot solo shot straight into center field helped Carolina finally chase down West Virginia Bulldogs starter Derek Clarke’s relentless 144-pitch performance.

Honeycutt, UNC’s all-time home run king, came within two hits after the Mountaineers replaced Clark with reliever Aidan Major. Honeycutt said a quick scouting report by assistant coach Jesse Wirzbicki was to look for fastballs and sliders from Major, and Honeycutt tried to prepare himself to join the middle infield. He smashed an unsuspecting 425-footer to left field for a 3-1 sacrifice fly. And Honeycutt recognized it immediately, dropping the bat and thrusting his right arm skyward in a series of triumphant motions as he drifted back from the plate, allowing him to admire the blast’s flight and look at his teammates as well. Leaking from the hole in the house behind him.

“We can’t really skip a beat,” Honeycutt said of the Tar Heels’ ability to summon more late-season magic. “It’s weird. Sometimes you think you can be cautious or cautious. But we were talking about it, I think Casey[Cook]and I, right before the first hitter (Steve) came up (in the bottom of the ninth) and he was like, ‘This happens every game now. So, honestly, it doesn’t matter.’ And then ‘Steve’ went over the wall in the first place and I feel like everyone in the undercover thought they were going to win the game.

Carolina (46-14), the No. 4 national seed in the NCAA Tournament field, now has two chances over the next two days to secure one more victory over West Virginia (36-23) and advance to the College World Series. For the first time since 2018. The Tar Heels’ No. 1 starter, Jason DeCaro, will send the second game of this best-of-3 Super Regional series Saturday night (8 p.m., ESPN2).

UNC improved to 36-3 this season. Dating the regular season series at Duke wrapped up, the Tar Heels have now produced four of their last seven wins in the last at-bat season. UNC opened this trip to the Super Regionals with an impressive run out of the regional round of the NCAA tournament. Four nights earlier, in the winner-take-all regional final, with the season hanging in the balance like a thread, Colby Wilkerson’s ninth-inning single pulled the Tar Heels even with reigning national champion LSU. And then, Alex Madera’s 10th inning single lifted Carolina to a dramatic victory. The dramatic NCAA Tournament drama began in the regional opener, when the Tar Heels erupted for a six-run ninth inning, capped by Gavin Gallagher’s game-winning grand slam, to drive a wild rally past Long Island.

“This team, it’s kind of how it’s been all year,” UNC coach Scott Forbes said Friday night while detailing his team’s performance against West Virginia. “They found different ways to win, and that’s the sign of a good team.”

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Vance Honeycutt watched his game-winning homer go out of the park Friday night. (Photo: Jim Hawkins/Carolina Inside)

On this night, when Honeycutt rounded the bases and reached home plate, hitting his 25th homer of the season and 62nd of his collegiate career, his Carolina teammates were ready to swallow him. At one point in the spotlight, Carter took off Honeycutt’s No. 7 jersey as French eagerly tugged at him. Last weekend, as NC beat LSU for the first time in the regional round, Honeycutt launched two huge home runs. That day was the only NCAA Tournament victory that didn’t require the Tar Heels to mount a ninth-inning comeback.

“The plan wasn’t to go out there and hit a home run,” Honeycutt said of his heroics Friday night. “This is probably not the right approach. But this place is special. We are experiencing some ‘Bosh magic’, so it was great.”

Meanwhile, West Virginia, making its first appearance in the Super Regionals, suffered its first loss of this NCAA tournament. Kyle West’s game-changing swing and Clark’s relentless streak are poised to give the Mountaineers the difference. The 5-foot-9 slugging left-hander, who says he is shorter than his listed height, threw his fourth complete game of the season in his start at the NCAA regionals last weekend. He struck out 8⅓ innings of work and struck out eight times for the Tar Heels on Friday night. Clark collected 100 strikeouts amid his 144-pitch effort, and came off the mound wearing a scowling face as he struck out Gallagher to end the eighth inning.

West enters this Super Regional series in a long slump, going just 1-for-32 in its last 10 games. But West Virginia won 6-4 with a two-run homer in the sixth inning. That blast traveled 425 feet and landed in the field hockey stadium beyond the ballpark’s right field wall. West capped two home runs and drove in four runs, an unlikely turnaround from the struggling way he started the Super Regionals, striking out an impressive 17 times in his previous 34 plate appearances.

Colby Wilkerson’s first home run at Boshamer Stadium, here in his 323rd at-bat, moved UNC within 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh inning. Earlier, in the top half of that inning at West Virginia, Forbes called on UNC reliever Matt Poston with no outs and the Mountaineers put two runners on. The hard-throwing Poston struck out Red Chumlin with a perfect count and sent him back to the mound as Grant Hussey ended that threat. “Gigantic” was the first word Forbes used to describe the moment, as Poston led the Tar Heels out of the top of the seventh.

“Having this big strike and going out the next one, I felt like, ‘Hey, OK, here we go,'” Forbes said. I saw the guys running around with ‘Hey, that’s big’ looks on their faces. And it was big because the guy was good, I mean the guy was tough, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy to score against him.

Poston (5-2) picked up the win as he struck out the Mountaineers four times in three complete but perfect innings. He hit two batters with a pitch. West Virginia’s Clark (8-3) shouldered the loss.

Carolina led 4-1 early with four runs in the bottom of the third inning. The Tar Heels loaded the bases — Wilkerson and Cook walked around Honeycutt’s single — and Parks Harbor cleaned them up with a two-run single. That laser off the bat of Harbor was misplayed by West Virginia center fielder Skylar King, allowing Cook to motor around and score from first base. Gallagher, the MVP from the NCAA regionals, had two outs and a run-scoring run. But UNC couldn’t hold onto the lead.

Chumley’s two-run homer in the top of the sixth tied the game at 4-4 for the Mountaineers. One batter later, Forbes moved to the bullpen, bringing in Matthew Matthews, UNC’s first of three relievers used on the night. Lefty starter Shea Sprague struck out six and gave up seven hits in his five-inning outing. The West Club got its first homer off Sprague in the top of the third inning, before striking out Mathis in the sixth to put West Virginia ahead with his second long ball.