Game Day: Lubbock Regional Preview
The Tar Heels open NCAA Tournament play at 7 p.m. Friday against UCLA
The No. 3 seed in the Lubbock Regional, North Carolina will kick off NCAA Tournament play when it faces No. 2 seed UCLA at 7 p.m. Friday at Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the regional, which also features No. 8 national seed Texas Tech and No. 4 regional seed Army.
Friday, June 4
Game 1: #1 Texas Tech (36-15) vs. #4 Army (28-23), noon (ESPNU)
Game 2: #2 UCLA (35-18) vs. #3 UNC (27-25), 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Saturday, June 5
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 3 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 9 p.m.
Sunday, June 6
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 3 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7 p.m.
Monday, June 7
Game 7 (if necessary): Same teams as Game 6, 4 p.m.
Live Stats: Click Here
Friday pitching matchup
RHP Austin Love (9-4, 3.68 ERA) vs. RHP Jesse Bergin (6-3, 4.24 ERA)
Although he wasn’t at his best last Friday in the ACC Tournament, Austin Love still managed to turn in a solid outing against N.C. State’s potent lineup, allowing four earned runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. The redshirt sophomore notched nine strikeouts, bringing his season total to 120 – which is tied for the fifth most among Power 5 pitchers and the sixth most in UNC history. Love is also tied for first among Power 5 pitchers with 95 1/3 innings pitched. In six career postseason games (one start), he’s posted a 3.18 ERA in 22 2/3 innings, striking out 28 batters and walking 10.
Considered the No. 195 prospect in the 2021 MLB Draft according to Baseball America, Jesse Bergin is one of eight Pac-12 pitchers to make a start every week this season. The right-hander has pitched six or more innings only five times this season, but is coming off the longest outing of his career – a seven-inning effort at Arizona State in which he allowed no runs and just four hits. He’s given up three earned runs or fewer in 13 of 15 starts this year, including six of his last seven. Friday will be the junior’s second postseason start. The other came against Baylor in the 2019 Los Angeles Regional, when he allowed three runs on three hits in an inning-plus.
Scouting the Bruins
The consensus No. 2 team in the country heading into the season, UCLA sat at 16-11 overall and 5-6 in Pac-12 play through its first 27 games. The Bruins, however, hit their stride in late April, and enter the NCAA Tournament having won four of their last five series and 10 of their last 13 games.
Although UCLA is 32nd nationally in ERA (3.87), its rotation hasn’t been as good as expected. The No. 391 prospect in July’s MLB Draft according to Baseball America, senior Zach Pettway entered the year as a Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year candidate, but he’s recorded a career-worst 4.89 ERA in 14 games (13 starts). His struggles are a significant reason why the Bruins are 6-9 in weekend openers and why Bergin is starting Friday. Junior Sean Mullen, the No. 167 prospect in the draft according to Baseball America, opened the year as the team’s midweek starter/weekend closer before moving into the weekend rotation. In nine weekend starts, the righty has registered a 3.20 ERA, but he’s averaged 5.4 walks per nine innings.
As inconsistent as their rotation has been, the Bruins’ bullpen has been steady, logging a 3.74 ERA. Senior Adrian Chaidez (3-0, 1.03 ERA) and freshman Max Rajcic (2-1, 1.55 ERA) have been exceptional, and senior Michael Townsend (2-1, 3.55 ERA) is tied for the NCAA lead in pitching appearances (34).
Offensively, UCLA ranks in the top 40 nationally in walks (21st, 260), scoring (28th, 7.3 runs per game), hits (tied for 32nd, 529) and on-base percentage (39th, .390). The No. 133 prospect in the draft according to Baseball America, first baseman JT Schwartz leads the Pac-12 in batting average (.405) and ranks fifth nationally in on-base percentage (.528). He's one of two Bruins who has more walks (35) than strikeouts (22). The other is shortstop Matt McLain (.323/.429/.569), who is listed as the No. 12 prospect in the draft according to Baseball America and has 31 walks compared to 29 strikeouts. Outfielder/second baseman Kevin Kendall (.355/.409/.496) sets the tone at the top of the order. The No. 177 prospect in the draft according to Baseball America, he leads the Pac-12 and is tied for 11th nationally with 81 hits.
Scouting the Red Raiders
Texas Tech entered the season ranked as high as No. 3 by Baseball America and D1Baseball, but the Red Raiders’ road to hosting a fifth straight regional has been far from easy.
Before the season even began, projected weekend starter Hunter Dobbins as well as valuable relievers Austin Becker and Jakob Brustoski sustained season-ending injuries. Texas Tech then lost Friday starter Brandon Birdsell and star centerfielder Dylan Neuse, the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, to injuries in April. Despite those losses, the Red Raiders still find themselves in position to make a third straight trip to Omaha, thanks in large part to their explosive offense.
Texas Tech is in the top 15 nationally in six offensive categories: walks (sixth, 309), home runs per game (seventh, 1.63), slugging percentage (ninth, .501), home runs (10th, 83), scoring (14th, 7.8 runs per game) and on-base percentage (15th, .403). As deep as the Red Raiders’ lineup is, one name stands above the rest: Big 12 Player of the Year Jace Jung. The younger brother of former Texas Tech star and 2019 first-round draft pick Josh Jung, the second-year freshman is slashing .342/.475/.717 with 20 home runs, 65 RBIs, 48 walks and 39 strikeouts. Other difference-makers include outfielder Dru Baker (.372/.435/.524), shortstop Cal Conley (.337/.402/.587) and catcher Braxton Fulford (.273/.407/.609).
Even after rebuilding their pitching staff, the Red Raiders boast the regional’s strongest rotation. A transfer from Seton Hill University, left-hander Patrick Monteverde (6-3, 3.61 ERA) has been a revelation, leading the team in innings pitched (77 1/3) and strikeouts (87). The redshirt senior, however, hasn’t been nearly as sharp since replacing Birdsell as the Friday starter, posting a 5.06 ERA over his last six starts. Righty Micah Dallas (4-3, 3.48 ERA) and lefty Mason Montgomery (4-3, 3.99 ERA) round out the rest of Texas Tech’s typical rotation. But the Red Raiders aren’t starting either of them or Monteverde against Army on Friday. Instead, they’re going with righty Chase Hampton (3-0, 3.63 ERA) – who has made five starts this season, only two of which have come since March 16.
While Texas Tech has patched its rotation together, its bullpen has struggled, registering a 4.97 ERA. Ryan Sublette (6-3, 2.43 ERA) has been the team’s most consistent reliever, striking out 52 batters and walking 15 in 37 innings. The righty has also shown he can go multiple innings, tossing two or more in 11 of his 17 appearances.
Scouting the Black Knights
Another team that struggled out of the gate, Army got off to a 3-11 start that included a season-opening sweep at the hands of N.C. Central. The Black Knights, however, rebounded to win 25 of their last 37 games and capture their third straight Patriot League Tournament title.
While Texas Tech, UCLA and UNC rank in the top 81 nationally in home runs per game, Army ranks 236th (.51). What the Black Knights lack in power, they make up for with fundamentals, as they’re tied for 17th and 31st, respectively, in sacrifice bunts (38) and stolen bases (76). Senior third baseman Anthony Giachin has started all but one of Army’s 188 games over the last four seasons, slashing .304/.398/.448 with 137 RBIs. Other notable names include catcher Ross Friedrick (.327/.433/.500) and first baseman/outfielder Jeremiah Adams (.297/.382/.439), who is 10-for-10 on stolen base attempts.
The Black Knights ranked in the top 75 nationally in ERA in 2018 and 2019, but they’re 125th this year (4.94). Senior righty Ray Bartoli (3-1, 3.05 ERA) bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen throughout the season, but has thrived as a starter over the last month, recording a 2.28 ERA in four starts. His best outing of the year came in his last start, a complete-game six-hitter to win the Patriot League championship over Lehigh. As good as he’s been, lefty Connelly Early (4-2, 1.57 ERA) has been the team’s best pitcher as a true freshman, holding opponents to a .171 average over 34 1/3 innings. He enters the Lubbock Regional on a 15-inning scoreless streak, during which he’s made his only two starts of the season. Army will start junior right-hander Anthony LoRicco (4-1, 4.68 ERA) against Texas Tech on Friday.
Numbers to know
The Tar Heels are 109-71 in 32 NCAA Tournament appearances and have reached the College World Series 11 times, most recently in 2018. This marks their 17th appearance in the last 19 NCAA Tournaments.
UNC is 15-14 in eight regionals played on the road in the current NCAA Tournament format.
This is just the third time in the Tar Heels’ last 13 NCAA Tournament appearances that they’ve opened regional play on the road. They most recently did so in 2014, when, as a No. 3 seed, they sandwiched a pair of losses to No. 2 seed Long Beach State around an upset of No. 2 national seed Florida in the Gainesville Regional.
UNC is 8-5 all-time against UCLA. The two teams have met twice in the NCAA Tournament, most recently in the 2013 College World Series, when the Bruins won 4-1.
Texas Tech is 2-0 all-time against the Tar Heels. Their lone NCAA Tournament meeting came in the 1998 Atlantic I Regional in Coral Gables, Florida, when the Red Raiders won 6-2.
UNC and Army have never played each other.
The Tar Heels rank No. 47 nationally in the RPI and No. 7 in strength of schedule, according to WarrenNolan.com. Their nonconference strength of schedule is rated the toughest among all Power 5 teams, and their 33 games against Quadrant 1 opponents are second only to Arkansas (34).
UNC is tied for 33rd nationally with 65 home runs. Those are the most by a Tar Heel team through 52 games since the 2002 squad hit 88.
Since returning from a seven-game absence due to COVID-19 protocols, redshirt sophomore Angel Zarate is slashing .375/.476/.625 in 18 games.
Freshman Mac Horvath’s six RBIs against N.C. State in the ACC Tournament were the most by any UNC player in a postseason game since Mix Fox became the Tar Heels’ head coach before the 1999 season.
Over his last 17 games, Horvath is slashing .295/.371/.607 with his first nine extra-base hits (four doubles and five homers). That comes after he posted a .042/.148/.042 line in his first 24 career at-bats.
Over his last 17 games, freshman Tomas Frick is hitting .328 (20-for-61).
Grad transfer Justice Thompson has stolen 14 bases on 16 attempts.
Redshirt sophomore Caleb Roberts has been hit by 15 pitches this season, the most by a UNC hitter since Kyle Datres was hit 20 times in 2017. Roberts also has more walks (42) than strikeouts (38).
Redshirt junior Gage Gillian has recorded a 2.11 ERA and a .91 WHIP in 47 innings. He’s struck out 44 batters while walking eight and holding opponents to a .201 average.
Frick has thrown out 15 basestealers this season, the most by a Tar Heel freshman catcher since Fox’s first season as head coach in 1999. Chris Iannetta and Tim Federowicz each threw out 14 in 2002 and 2006, respectively.