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Opponent Preview: UNC-Chapel Hill

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Meet the Tarheels... No, I can’t do anything about that smell, it’s just Chapel Hill

NCAA Men’s Final Four - National Championship - Villanova v North Carolina Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mascot: Serta Sheep | School Location: Chapel Hill, NC | Conference: ACC

2019 Record: 37-15 (16-11, T-2nd Coastal) | 2018 RPI Rank: 19

2018 Record: 44-20 (22-8*, 1st Coastal) | 2018 RPI Rank: 5

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

*2018 ACC Regular Season Co-Champions


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Boshamer Stadium (Chapel Hill, NC)

Game Time(s): Thursday, May 16 @ 6:00pm; Friday, May 17 @ 6:00pm; Saturday, May 18 @ 4:30pm

TV: ACC Network Extra (Thursday | Friday | Saturday)

Radio: WKNC 88.1 in Raleigh, GoPack All-Access

Live Stats: UNC-CH’s horrendously awful Stat Broadcast app


Tell me about this team

First, let’s take a look at what was said about UNC-Chapel Hill from our 2019 Season Preview:

JR 1B Michael Busch (.317/.465/.521, 10 2B, 13 HR, 55:30 BB:K, 8 SB), JR 2B/SS Ike Freeman (.305/.383/.377, 5 2B, 26:25 BB:K), JR OF/2B/3B Ashton McGee (.257/.367/.366, 7 2B, 4 3B), JR C Brandon Martorano (.246/.375/.491, 11 2B, 9 HR), and RS-JR OF Dallas Tessar (.231/.319/.316) are returning starters from last year’s lineup. Busch is a Top 50 MLB Draft prospect for 2019. JUCO transfer JR OF Dylan Harris should be a starter. OF Cameran Brantley, C/OF Caleb Roberts, 1B Aaron Sabato, and 2B/SS Danny Serretti are potential impact freshmen.

JR RHP Austin Bergner (7-3, 1 SV, 4.25 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .243 OBA), JR RHP Tyler Baum (4-1, 4.57 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .240 OBA), and JR RHP Gianluca Dalatri (2-2, 3.33 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, .310 OBA) all return to form the weekend rotation. SO LHP Caden O’Brien (7-0, 2.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .185 OBA), SO RHP Joey Lancellotti (3-3, 1 SV, 3.96 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .191 OBA), and SO RHP Ben Casparius (1-0, 1.69 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .118 OBA in 10.2 IP) are the only returning bullpen arms who threw double-digit innings last year. JUCO transfer JR RHP Andrew Grogan is a candidate to eat up a lot of bullpen innings. The top two UNC pitching recruits went pro after being drafted, but there are still a few quality freshman arms that should contribute via the bullpen. RHPs Connor Ollio, Josh Dotson, Nik Pry, and Davis Palermo, along with LHP Will Sandy, will offer bullpen relief options.

The lineup has a few studs and the weekend rotation has the potential to be the best in college baseball, but there are still several holes in the lineup and question marks past the top two bullpen arms. Talent is there, though, so the Tar Heels should still be among the best in the ACC Coastal Division.

2019 Projected Record: 40-15 (19-11)

NCAA Tournament Bound?: Yes

Man, I hope I’m wrong about that ACC record prediction... Granted, that prediction was also including Gianluca Dalatri being part of the UNC-CH weekend rotation in ACC play and that’s not the case (Dalatri is out for the year with a hip injury). Let’s hope Dalatri’s absence alone is worth a three-game swing in that final record outcome.

This series is huge. Not just because it’s State-Carolina, but because of the postseason implications here. The winner of this series has the inside track at hosting a regional, while the loser will have some work to do in the ACC Tournament next week. As it stands right now, UNC-CH is one of the lowest/last ranked projected regional hosts, while NC State is one of the top/first ranked projected #2 seeds. This series could flip those projections.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this year’s UNC-CH team has benefited greatly from playing in the weaker of the two divisions and also lucking out with their cross-division matchups. Their cross-division opponents this year include Atlantic division bottom-dwellers Boston College (10-17) and Notre Dame (12-15), along with a Clemson squad that is 4th place in the division but still swept UNC-CH. Must be nice having a schedule where you get to play the two weakest teams from each division...

So about the Tarheels on the field... As much as I don’t want to write it, these teams are actually incredibly similar this year.

On offense, UNC-CH is a power-hitting (28th nationally in Home Runs, 14th in Doubles; NC State is 22nd and 8th, respectively), high scoring (18th in Runs; State is 13th) team that works opposing pitchers (2nd in Walks; State is 7th) and plays for the big inning (232nd in Sacrifice Bunts; State is 266th) while not pushing the issue on the bases (209th in Stolen Bases; State is... 209th).

The Tarheels are led offensively by a junior who’s a projected 1st round pick (Michael Busch), a highly-touted power-hitting underclassman (Aaron Sabato), a power-hitting senior (Jackson Hesterlee), and a versatile and athletic freshman who’s apt at stretching singles into doubles (Danny Serretti).

On the mound, UNC-CH has a pair of experienced starters (Tyler Baum, Austin Bergner) who aren’t going to compete for ACC Pitcher-of-the-Year, but are solid ACC-level pitchers and capable of absolutely dominant outings. Behind them, the closer is a pitcher coming off a redshirt season (Austin Love), who’s primarily complemented by a sophomore who can rack up the strikeouts in a hurry (Joey Lancellotti). The big issue for UNC-CH is that Sunday starter role. The guy who started the season in that role is no longer there and it’s been a bit of a rotating spot since, with a frequent “TBD” being listed heading into each weekend series in ACC play.

Replace “UNC-CH” with “NC State” above and, yeah, it’s kind of weird how similar these teams are, right?


Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Friday: RHP Tyler Baum (JR)

Saturday: RHP Austin Bergner (JR)

Sunday: TBD


Key Players:

Offense

1B/DH Aaron Sabato (FR) - .326 BA, .431 OBP, .630 SLG, 181 AB, 19 2B, 0 3B, 12 HR, 59 R, 50 RBI, 29 BB, 43 K, 0-0 SB. Sabato is a your prototypical big power-hitting first baseman who’s not going win any foot race any time soon. The 6’2, 230 lbs kid can swing it and is a future high draft pick as long as questions around his defense don’t creep up.

LF/1B Michael Busch (JR) - .282 BA, .448 OBP, .537 SLG, 188 AB, 12 2B, 0 3B, 12 HR, 53 R, 49 RBI, 52 BB, 35 K, 4-9 SB. Busch is a very talented hitter and a projected 1st round pick in this June’s MLB Draft as a first baseman. He was a highly touted SS coming out of high school, but his defense didn’t make the leap to the college level, but his bat sure did.

DH/LF Jackson Hesterlee (SR) - .303 BA, .407 OBP, .596 SLG, 99 AB, 7 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 30 R, 25 RBI, 13 BB, 33 K, 0-0 SB. A former JUCO transfer who played well last year, but couldn’t crack the starting lineup much. He’s been in-and-out of the lineup this year, but has reemerged over the last few weekends as a consistent producer.

3B/2B Ike Freeman (JR) - .285 BA, .424 OBP, .430 SLG, 186 AB, 8 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 35 R, 38 RBI, 37 BB, 27 K, 2-2 SB. Freeman has followed up on a good sophomore campaign with a step up as a junior. He’s not a top prospect like Busch, but should be drafted in the first ten rounds come June. Looks just like you’d expect a UNC-CH baseball player to look.

RF/LF Ashton McGee (JR) - .273 BA, .440 OBP, .435 SLG, 161 AB, 12 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 41 R, 31 RBI, 46 BB, 36 K, 6-7 SB. Ol’ Tits McGee did the interesting step of graduating high school early, forgoing his senior year and any opportunity of getting drafted in 2017, and enrolling early at UNC. Granted, he hit well enough that year to prove he belongs in the ACC, but dude gave up a lot of money to do so. He hasn’t quite equaled that freshman year production since, but he has become a more complete hitter overall... but his fielding... yeesh!

C Brandon Martorano (JR) - .282 BA, .379 OBP, .425 SLG, 174 AB, 10 2B, 0 3B, 5 HR, 33 R, 35 RBI, 22 BB, 50 K, 2-4 SB. Martorano was drafted in the 30th round out of high school in 2016. He’s a toolsy guy and will probably get drafted again this year based off projections alone, but he hasn’t been the player at UNC that people thought he’d be. He strikes out a ton and struggles to throw out base runners.

Pitching

RHP Tyler Baum (JR) - 7-3, 4.03 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .267 OBA, 25.7 K%, 6.8 BB%, 67.0 IP, 70 H, 33 R, 30 ER, 20 BB, 75 K. Projected as high as a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft before the season started, Baum’s stock has taken a hit as he’s had his worst season in Chapel Hill. He started off the year great in non-conference play, but ACC action has been more bad than good.

RHP Austin Bergner (JR) - 5-0, 4.77 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, .267 OBA, 20.1 K%, 6.9 BB%, 66.0 IP, 70 H, 40 R, 35 ER, 20 BB, 58 K. Don’t let that perfect record fool you; homeboy is lucky to not be saddled with an ‘L’ yet. Had a run of four really poor starts until putting forth his best effort the season last weekend against Pitt (8.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K). Was selected late in last year’s draft as an eligible sophomore and has been projected as high as a 3rd round pick in this year’s draft due to his stuff, but his results have been mixed and his stock subsequently dropped.

RHP Austin Love (RS-FR) - 6-4, 5 SV, 3.72 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .249 OBA, 23.5 K%, 8.2 BB%, 46.0 IP, 43 H, 23 R, 19 ER, 16 BB, 46 K. Love redshirted last year apparently just due to not being deemed good enough to earn a bullpen role. He’s since evolved into the top bullpen arm for UNC-CH this year; the guy they’ll throw often and in multiple situations.

RHP Joey Lancellotti (SO) - 4-2, 1 SV, 2.35 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .225 OBA, 25.1 K%, 12.0 BB%, 38.1 IP, 31 H, 14 R, 10 ER, 20 BB, 42 K. Most figured Lancellotti to be the closer this year, but he’s been used in a multi-inning role. The staff is more reserved in how and when they use him, though, and I’d still put money that he’d be the arm they go to in a high-leverage situation. Fiery on the mound. Very annoying.

LHP Caden O’Brien (SO) - 1-1, 2 SV, 4.13 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .202 OBA, 19.8 K%, 14.3 BB%, 28.1 IP, 21 H, 19 R, 13 ER, 18 BB, 25 K. One of just two lefty pitchers that UNC-CH uses. He’s very good at inducing weak contact, but can also struggle with finding the zone from time-to-time.

LHP Will Sandy (FR) - 2-1, 0 SV, 5.91 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, .264 OBA, 17.1 K%, 13.3 BB%, 45.2 IP, 46 H, 31 R, 30 ER, 28 BB, 36 K. The other of UNC-CH’s LHPs. Sandy didn’t get the hype that some other newcomers did heading into this season, but he’s proven himself as one of the top true freshman arms for the Tarheels. He’s also emerged of late as the Sunday starter, but isn’t announced as such this week. If he’s not needed in relief Friday or Saturday, he’ll likely be on the mound against his hometown team on Sunday. High school teammate of NC State’s Dillon Cooper.

RHP Connor Ollio (FR) - 3-1, 0 SV, 3.66 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, .242 OBA, 26.4 K%, 10.4 BB%, 32.0 IP, 31 H, 15 R, 13 ER, 15 BB, 38 K. Ollio is one of three true freshman arms (Sandy, Josh Dotson) that UNC-CH uses. Was a very good shortstop in high school, but has moved to a PO role in college, with good results so far. Has made a few starts of late and could be the Sunday guy this weekend.


Quick! Fun Facts!

There is absolutely nothing fun about UNC-CH.


Prediction

This really is a series between two evenly matched squads. It should be entertaining.

Outcome: State takes two out of three from the argyled clowns.