Who’s the Pack playing?
Opponent: North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Mascot: Self-Righteous Snobs | School Location: Stench Hill, NC | Conference: ACC
2023 Record: 30-17 (11-11, 4th Coastal) | 2023 RPI Rank: 33
2022 Record: 42-22 (15-15, T-4th Coastal) | 2022 RPI Rank: 11
2021 Record: 28-27 (18-18, T-3rd Coastal) | 2021 RPI Rank: 46
When? Where? How do I watch?
Location: Chris Bosh/M.C. Hammer Stadium (Crapel Hell, NC)
Game Time(s): Thur, May 11 @ 7:00pm | Fri, May 12 @ 7:00pm | Sat, May 13 @ 2:00pm
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Tell me about this team
North Carolina got hot at the right time last year. After a Week 10 sweep at the hands of Virginia, the Tar Heels were 23-18 overall and 8-13 in the ACC with an RPI hovering around 50. Not tournament material. From there, however, they went 11-2 over their final 13 regular season games, then won the ACC Tournament, and rode that hot streak to a Super Regional before getting bounced at home by Arkansas.
Even with that hot streak at the end of last year, UNC is a dead even 44-44 in ACC games in the three years under Scott Forbes. Given how well Mike Fox did in his 21 full seasons at the helm of that program (18 Regionals, 9 Super Regionals, 7 CWS appearances), it’s still to be seen if Forbes is the long-term answer. That ACC Tournament title last year will certainly buy him some grace, though.
This year’s Tar Heel squad is teetering on the edge where last year’s team took off, although a better start to the year has them in better positioning for the postseason even without a torrid finish. UNC is just 7-7 in their last 14 games, but they’ve won four of their last five, including three wins over RPI Top 50 teams.
The bats are what carry this year’s team. UNC is averaging over 7.6 runs per game while slashing .280/.405/.484 as a team (the Wolfpack are slashing .302/.404/.525 for comparison while averaging 7.9 runs/game). Helping things tremendously is a 13.7% walk rate. The lineup has been consistent and there’s some power in the bats with five players having eight or more homers on the year, led by Mac Horvath’s 20 burger.
Second-year players Vance Honeycutt and Casey Cook make a formidable outfield. Undersized junior Patrick Alvarez joined them to create one of the better outfield groups in the conference, but Alvarez has been out for almost a month now and his replacement(s) in left field haven’t performed at the same level.
After years of seemingly dominant pitching under Fox, it’s been interesting to watch the pitching struggle a bit under Forbes considering he was the pitching coach for the Tar Heels from 2006-2016. This year’s squad has struggled the most, with walks being a major issue. A team walk rate of 12.9% is resulting in 4.5 BB/9 for the team is not helping things. Surprisingly, you’d expect there to be a correlation to increased hit-by-pitch totals, but that’s not the case.
The arms are talented, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t have that one or two dominant hurlers that past UNC teams have been able to rely upon. Force them to throw strikes and you’re likely to have a pretty good day.
Who’s on the mound for these guys?
Thursday: RHP Connor Bovair (JR)
Saturday: RHP Jake Knapp (JR)
3B Mac Horvath (JR) - .321/.424/.747, 13.5 BB%, 21.4 K%, 21-24 SB. He’s quickly moving up draft boards as he’s finally realizing the potential that made him a highly rated prep prospect. Had a good, but streaky 2022 season, but this year has been much better with more consistency and more power. Has hits in 10 of the last 11 games, including multiple hits in 7 of those.
RF Casey Cook (rFR) - .331/.447/.420, 13.5 BB%, 14.9 K%, 2-2 SB. Took a medical redshirt last year after a shoulder injury kept him out of all but four games. He has very good contact skills from the left side of the plate, and has been especially good in ACC play as he’s currently 2nd in the conference in batting average in ACC games (.402).
2B Jackson Van De Brake (JR) - .323/.462/.533, 15.6 BB%, 12.7 K%, 1-2 SB. JUCO transfer has been even better than expected. The contact skills are legit and he rarely strikes out.
CF Vance Honeycutt (SO) - .254/.423/.497, 20.9 BB%, 20.0 K%, 18-22 SB. Entered the year projected by some as the top overall college prospect for the 2024 MLB Draft, but hasn’t had the best year as he’s been pitched around a lot. Strikeouts are still an issue, although better than last year, but that walk rate has kept him productive. The wheels and defense will always play.
RHP Connor Bovair (JR) - 4-2, 4.11 ERA, 65.2 IP, 6.4 BB%, 18.4 K%. Transfer from Siena with a name that just screams “UNC”. The stuff can be really good, but he pitches to contact a lot.
RHP Jake Knapp (JR) - 3-3, 5.01 ERA, 46.2 IP, 13.0 BB%, 22.8 K%. Big 6’5, 255 pounder who started his career at UNCW before going the JUCO route and ending up in Chapel Hill. Control has been a major issue for him with 14 BB over his last four starts (15.0 IP).
RHP Max Carlson (JR) - 3-1, 1 SV, 6.17 ERA, 54.0 IP, 10.9 BB%, 25.6 K%. This is my guess for the Friday starter unless they need him on Thursday night. Has started 10 games on the year until recently moving to a relief role. Fastball-slider-change guy.
RHP Kevin Eaise (SR) - 3-3, 5 SV, 2.72 ERA, 43.0 IP, 12.1 BB%, 28.0 K%. Grad transfer from Penn where he was a one-time teammate of former Wolfpack infielder Josh Hood (they’re also both South Jersey kids). Was a starter for the Quakers, winning the 2022 Ivy League Pitcher-of-the-Year award, but has turned into a closer for the Tar Heels.
RHP Matt Poston (JR) - 2-2, 4 SV, 1.75 ERA, 36.0 IP, 11.7 BB%, 27.6 K%. JUCO transfer who has teamed with Eaise to become the stalwarts of the bullpen. While Eaise is more of a lower velo crafty guy, Poston is a big velo arm guy who relies on the power pitch.
LHP Dalton Pence (rFR) - 4-1, 0 SV, 4.26 ERA, 31.2 IP, 11.5 BB%, 26.6 K%. Missed all of last year due to a 2021 injury. As the season’s progressed, he’s become one of the more relied upon relief arms for UNC. Gave up back-to-back-to-back jacks to Gardner-Webb on Wednesday.
Quick! Fun Facts!
The “University of the people, for the people” only has 14 players from the state of North Carolina (NC State has 21). Go figure.
Honeycutt and Horvath have 39 of the team’s 49 stolen bases between them.
These two programs have played against each other 312 times. NC State is 139-172-1 in those games.
UNC is coming into this one having won five of their last seven since being swept at home by Boston College. They didn’t play last weekend either, so their arms should be well rested.
NC State’s midweek game was cancelled, so fatigued arms shouldn’t be an issue there.
Outcome: State takes two of three.