Coming off four straight losses against N.C. State and ECU, North Carolina will look to get back on track when it visits Tallahassee, Florida, this weekend for a three-game series against Florida State.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of Game 1 of the series, slated for 6 p.m. Friday.
Matchup: UNC (13-10, 8-7 ACC) at Florida State (13-8, 8-7 ACC)
UNC ranks: No. 21/-/- (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)
FSU ranks: No. 18/18/22 (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)
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Friday: RHP Austin Love (4-1, 3.75 ERA) vs. LHP Parker Messick (2-2, 2.73 ERA)
After giving up only nine runs (eight earned) in his first five starts of the season, Austin Love surrendered eight (seven earned) in four innings against N.C. State last Friday. Coach Scott Forbes said Love’s command of his off-speed pitches was “below average,” and the Wolfpack made him pay by sitting on his fastball and taking advantage of heaters up in the zone.
Love will look to regain his form against a Florida State team that has won four Friday night games in a row, thanks in large part to redshirt freshman Parker Messick. After recording a 0.77 ERA out of the bullpen last season, Messick allowed five runs in the Seminoles’ season-opening loss to North Florida. In his five starts since then, though, the left-hander has posted a 1.47 ERA while striking out 48 batters and walking 10 in 30 2/3 innings.
On top of his performance on the mound, Messick has gone 8-for-31 with a home run at the plate this season. He’s 1-for-7 in the two games in which he’s hit and pitched.
Saturday: RHP Max Alba (2-2, 5.81 ERA) vs. LHP Bryce Hubbart (3-2, 4.01 ERA)
With UNC down multiple arms coming off the N.C. State series and the staff hoping some live innings might help him make some adjustments, redshirt freshman Max Alba made his first relief appearance of the season against ECU on Tuesday, his bullpen day. Ultimately, the right-hander gave up a two-run homer, and has now surrendered eight runs (seven earned) over his last 7 1/3 innings.
Opposing him Saturday will be redshirt freshman Bryce Hubbart, whose first two appearances of the season came out of the bullpen before he moved into the rotation earlier this month. The lefty looked impressive in his first three starts, registering a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings. Then he was touched up for six runs over just three innings last Saturday against Wake Forest.
Sunday: RHP Max Carlson (2-1, 4.56 ERA) vs. RHP Conor Grady (3-1, 4.18 ERA)
Max Carlson was held out of the N.C. State series to rest a sore shoulder, but he’s set to make his return Sunday. Since allowing three earned runs across his first two starts, the right-hander has surrendered three or more in each of his last three, during which he’s issued 12 walks.
The most experienced member of Florida State’s rotation, redshirt junior Conor Grady will be making his 19th career start Sunday. The righty boasts a 3.83 ERA across 136 1/3 career innings, with his only appearance against the Tar Heels coming on March 23, 2018, when he tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief.
Scouting the Seminoles
Picked to finish third in the Atlantic Division in the ACC preseason coaches poll, Florida State started 2-4, dropping its season opener to North Florida before getting swept by Pittsburgh. The Seminoles have since rallied, though, winning 11 of their last 15 games – highlighted by a six-day span in which they won four games against Florida and Miami by a combined score of 44-4.
Florida State’s pitching has fueled much of its success. Led by Messick, the Seminoles rank sixth nationally in strikeouts per nine innings (12.0), ninth in hits allowed per nine innings (6.67), 17th in WHIP (1.18), 20th in ERA (3.17) and 30th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.04).
At the plate, Florida State is slashing .252/.369/.424 with 31 home runs, tied for the 18th most in the country. A year removed from hitting just one homer in 60 at-bats, catcher Matheu Nelson (.343/.471/.814) is tied for third nationally with 10 homers. He’s followed by right fielder Robby Martin (.326/.402/.551), who has hit five.
Martin is one of three Seminole positional players listed in Baseball America’s latest rankings of the top 300 MLB Draft prospects, along with center fielder Reese Albert (.217/.347/.450) and left fielder Elijah Cabell (.293/.408/.585). First baseman Tyler Martin (.348/.537/.455) sets the table for them at the top of the lineup.
Numbers to know
Florida State leads the all-time series with UNC, 70-34.
This weekend’s series will mark the first time since 1970 that the Tar Heels and Seminoles will have met without legendary coaches Mike Fox or Mike Martin in either dugout. After 22 years as a Florida State assistant, Mike Martin Jr. took over his father’s position after the 2019 season. Forbes then replaced Fox in August after 19 seasons in Chapel Hill.
Redshirt sophomore Caleb Roberts is riding a team-best seven-game hitting streak, the longest of his career. He’s 12-for-26 with four multi-hit games in that span, and has raised his batting average from .218 to .296.
Redshirt sophomore Danny Serretti’s five home runs this season have come in his last 56 at-bats. That’s after he hit three homers in his first 341 career at-bats.
In tallying a career-best three hits at ECU, freshman Johnny Castagnozzi improved to 6-for-17 with six RBIs in his last six games.
UNC leads the ACC and is tied for 12th nationally with 32 home runs. Those are the most by a Tar Heel team through 23 games since the 2002 squad hit 41.
Junior college transfer Justice Thompson has stolen 11 bases on 12 attempts.
Freshman catcher Tomas Frick has thrown out eight of 16 potential basestealers.
In pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings across all three games of the N.C. State series, redshirt junior Gage Gillian became the first UNC pitcher to pitch at least one inning in all three games of a series since Brett Daniels did so against Wake Forest the weekend of March 30, 2018.