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Opponent Preview: UNC-Chapel Hill

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Meet the Tar Heels... The real life version of the opposing team from The Sandlot

NCAA Men's College World Series Championship Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: UNC-Chapel Hill

Mascot: A snooty ram with an affinity for artisanal cheese, sporting a dyed argyle pattern styled into its fleece

School Location: Hipstertown, USA | Conference: ACC

2018 Record: 24-12 (12-6, 2nd Coastal) | 2018 RPI Rank: 8

2017 Record: 49-14 (23-7, 1st Coastal) | 2017 RPI Rank: 5

2016 Record: 34-21 (13-17, 5th Coastal) | 2016 RPI Rank: 19


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC

Game Time(s): Tuesday, Apr 17 @ 6:30pm

TV: ESPNU

Radio: WKNC 88.1 in Raleigh

Live Stats: StatBroadcast, UNC-CH’s dumb stat app


Tell me about this team

Do I have to? Okay, fine.

A lot of people are going to be wondering how a team with a 24-12 record can be ranked in the Top 10 in RPI. Well, that’s what happens when you have a tough schedule. UNC-CH has the 5th ranked Strength of Schedule (SOS) in the country, including the 3rd ranked non-conference SOS thanks to a three-game road series against RPI #29 South Florida and a three game mix-and-match-location series with #10 East Carolina. The Tar Heels went 2-1 against USF and 1-2 against ECU.

The strength of this UNC-CH team is in it’s bullpen. They have five high quality relief arms and they use those five almost exclusively. Their weekend starting pitching has been very good, but not elite; they still don’t have a Sunday starter settled. Overall, the UNC-CH pitching staff has a 3.51 ERA with opponents being limited to a .233/.327/.341 slash line. They don’t give up many long balls, either, with just 20 allowed in 36 games.

At the plate, there’s not a lot of guessing around about who’s going to be in the lineup for UNC-CH. Only one spot in the lineup has been routinely a “plug-and-play” slot, as eight different players have started at least 29 of the team’s 36 games. They have two guys who are tearing it up, three regulars having solid years, and three more guys who are are doing at least one thing well but have significant holes in their games. As a group, this offensive unit has posted a .282/.393/.423 slash line. They can put up some runs, having scored in double-digits 12 times on the year, but they’ve also been held to fewer than five runs on 14 occasions.

Key Players:

Offense

1B Michael Busch (SO) - .331 BA, .462 OBP, .574 SLG, 136 AB, 6 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 35 R, 43 RBI, 29 BB, 17 K, 3-4 SB. Arguably UNC-CH’s best offensive weapon this year. This dude went from being very ‘meh’ as a freshman to a beast as a sophomore. The 5’10 lefty hitter won’t play 1B at the next level - or probably even next year. Likely will move to 2B or 3B in 2019.

3B Kyle Datres (JR) - .368 BA, .463 OBP, .528 SLG, 144 AB, 12 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 36 R, 20 RBI, 24 BB, 20 K, 6-8 SB. Has always been a good player, but has been even better this year. This will be his last year in Chapel Hill. A junior without a declared major? Yeah, he’s going pro. But seriously, how do you get to be a junior in college without a declared major? “Yes, sir, I’m interested in your no-plan plan.”

SS Ike Freeman (SO) - .316 BA, .404 OBP, .368 SLG, 117 AB, 3 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 27 R, 22 RBI, 15 BB, 11 K, 1-1 SB. Ike, in case you were wondering, looks exactly like what you’d expect a UNC baseball player to look like. The dude doesn’t strike out a lot and does a decent job getting on base. He’s like a not-as-good and not-as-likeable version of Stephen Pitarra.

C Cody Roberts (JR) - .287 BA, .388 OBP, .375 SLG, 136 AB, 6 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 33 R, 24 RBI, 20 BB, 35 K, 3-7 SB. Homeboy strikes out at a rate that would make you think he’s a big time power hitter. He’s not. He is a very good defensive catcher, though. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice. Also another junior without a declared major. Hmm...

2B Zach Gahagan (SR) - .267 BA, .360 OBP, .370 SLG, 135 AB, 5 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 25 R, 26 RBI, 18 BB, 34 K, 3-4 SB. A four year starter and a good but not great player. Career slash line of .254/.353/.373. His name is like a store-brand Zach Galifianakis.

Pitching

RHP Rodney Hutchison (JR) - 3-1, 4.66 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .255 OBA, 38.2 IP, 38 H, 21 R, 20 ER, 11 BB, 35 K. Hutchison will be getting the start on the mound for the Tar Heels. Was a key reliever a year ago, while he’s split time this year between the bullpen and the weekday starting gig. He has some really good stuff, including a very good change-up (his out pitch), but he’s never pitched to his talent level while in Chapel Hill.

RHP Brett Daniels (SR) - 6-0, 1 SV, 1.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .221 OBA, 40.2 IP, 32 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 18 BB, 40 K. A very good reliever over his career in Chapel Hill. Nothing overly outstanding, but he has a lot of pitches to choose from without a really weak one.

RHP Josh Hiatt (RS-SO) - 1-1, 3 SV, 2.28 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .214 OBA, 27.2 IP, 21 H, 10 R, 7 ER, 9 BB, 35 K. A Freshman All-American selection by a number of publications last year, Hiatt is legit. This dude should be a high draft pick in this year’s draft. Has a splitter that’s downright dirty. Did get tattooed by Florida State earlier this year and by Virginia this past weekend.

LHP Caden O’Brien (FR) - 1-0, 0 SV, 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, .153 OBA, 22.0 IP, 11 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 13 BB, 24 K. A freshman lefty who can have some control issues pop up every now and then. A solid reliever who is likely to move into the starting rotation in the future. More than likely that he appears in this game as the top lefty bullpen arm for the Tar Heels.

RHP Cooper Criswell (JR) - 2-2, 0 SV, 2.94 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, .232 OBA, 33.2 IP, 29 H, 15 R, 11 ER, 8 BB, 46 K. A 6’6 JUCO transfer who’s a strikeout machine. Not a lot else really to write. He’s pitching himself into the MLB Draft.

RHP Joey Lancellotti (FR) - 2-3, 0 SV, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .164 OBA, 21.0 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 9 BB, 22 K. This kid’s really good, as much as it pains me to type that. He imploded against Miami two weekends back, but that’s been his only bad outing of the year. Hopefully he has a few more of those in store.


Quick! Fun Facts!

Common opponents so far for State and UNC-CH this year: UNC-Wilmington, Louisville, NC A&T, and Charlotte. NC State has a record of 5-1 against those teams while UNC-CH is 3-3.

There’s nothing fun about UNC-CH. They get no more fun facts, and even the fun factor of the one they got was debatable.


Prediction

State’s gonna go with a strong move and let TBD start the game on the mound. He’s a bit of a wildcard, but I think this could work out!

Whether it’s Mathieu Gauthier, David Harrison, Nick Swiney, or Reid Johnston starting the game, I’d bet that all four will appear in this one in a Johnny Wholestaff game, although perhaps the coaching staff is willing to ride the starter as long as he’s rolling. Hopefully that’s the case.

I like State in this one. I think the Wolfpack rolls behind a big offensive day at the plate and a nice combination of pitchers on the mound, proving to be effective at keeping the Tar Heels from putting up the big inning.

State wins 8-4.