Coming off a frustrating 10-inning loss to Charlotte on Tuesday, North Carolina travels to South Bend, Indiana, for a three-game series against sixth-ranked Notre Dame.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the series, which will begin at 5 p.m. Friday and will continue at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Matchup: UNC (20-18, 14-13 ACC) at Notre Dame (21-8, 18-8 ACC)
UNC ranks: No. -/-/- (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)
Notre Dame ranks: No. 6/8/9 (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)
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Friday: RHP Austin Love (5-3, 4.23 ERA) vs. LHP Will Mercer (1-1, 6.90 ERA)
Austin Love is coming off one of his best outings of the season against Miami last Friday, when he allowed one run on seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. Friday will be the redshirt sophomore’s fourth career game against Notre Dame. In the other three – all out of the bullpen – he’s surrendered six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.
After making four starts during the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season – including a three-inning outing against the Tar Heels in which he allowed four runs on five hits – Will Mercer has split time as a reliever and a starter this season. The junior’s 6.90 ERA is the second worst among qualified ACC pitchers. Opponents are hitting .323 against him.
Saturday: LHP Shawn Rapp (1-0, 3.71 ERA) vs. LHP John Michael Bertrand (4-1, 3.46 ERA)
Making his first career start against Miami last Friday, Shawn Rapp showed he might just be the answer to UNC’s starting pitching problems, allowing two runs on four hits in six innings. The redshirt freshman struck out a career-high eight batters and tossed 100 pitches, 46 more than he’d thrown in any of his 24 career relief appearances. Rapp appeared in all three games against Notre Dame last season, surrendering one run in 2 2/3 innings.
A graduate transfer from Furman, John Michael Bertrand has been a revelation for the Fighting Irish. Among qualified ACC pitchers, he ranks sixth in batting average against (.207), seventh in ERA (3.46) and eighth in WHIP (1.08). His most impressive outing came against Duke on March 20, when he allowed two runs on five hits in a complete game.
Sunday: TBA vs. TBA
After Caleb Cozart started Tuesday’s game and struck out three of the four batters he faced, Scott Forbes said the Tar Heels are trying to groom the right-hander into a starter and that he could start Sunday. The redshirt freshman has a 7.24 ERA in 13 2/3 innings this season.
The Fighting Irish have used a different starter in each of their last three series finales – Dominic Cancellieri (0-0, 7.45 ERA), Tanner Kohlhepp (5-1, 2.75 ERA) and Aidan Tyrell (2-1, 3.67 ERA). Tyrell leads the way among that group with five starts this season.
Scouting the Fighting Irish
For the fourth time in the last five seasons, Notre Dame was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division in the ACC preseason coaches poll. The Fighting Irish, however, have greatly surpassed expectations under second-year coach Link Jarrett – formerly of UNCG – having already won 18 ACC games, their most since joining the league before the 2014 season. They’re the only ACC team that has yet to lose a series.
Notre Dame’s lineup is very disciplined and can hurt opponents in multiple ways. Tied for 28th nationally in stolen bases per game (1.62) and ranked 39th nationally in home runs per game (1.21), the Fighting Irish are led by Niko Kavadas, the No. 250 prospect in the 2021 MLB Draft, according to Baseball America. The first baseman is slashing .305/.485/.832 with a .527 ISO, 15 home runs and more walks (33) than strikeouts (26).
On the mound, Notre Dame has a deep pitching staff that features seven players who have logged 23 or more innings through 29 games. The Fighting Irish rank 48th nationally in hits allowed per nine innings (8.00) and 49th in ERA (4.00), even after giving up 23 earned runs over their last four games against Boston College and Valparaiso.
The biggest strength of this Notre Dame team, though, is its defense, which ranks third nationally in fielding percentage (.986).
Numbers to know
Notre Dame leads the all-time series with UNC, 9-6.
The Tar Heels are third in the ACC and tied for 24th nationally with 48 home runs. Those are the most by a UNC team through 38 games since the 2002 squad hit 61.
Over his last 11 games, graduate transfer Justice Thompson is slashing .422/.440/.578 with 10 RBIs and seven multi-hit games – including four straight.
Thompson has stolen 14 bases on 16 attempts this season.
Sixth-year senior Dallas Tessar is 15-for-41 with three homers, five doubles and 11 runs scored over the last 12 games.
Freshman Colby Wilkerson is 12-for-38 over the last 10 games.
Over the last 21 games, the Tar Heels’ bullpen has registered a 3.38 ERA in 125 innings.
Redshirt junior Gage Gillian has recorded a 0.96 ERA and a .64 WHIP in 28 innings. He’s struck out 27 batters while walking five and holding opponents to a .138 average.
UNC is fourth in the ACC and 23rd nationally in fielding percentage (.978).
Freshman catcher Tomas Frick has thrown out 12 of 28 potential basestealers (42.9%). The only ACC catchers with a higher percentage are Louisville’s Henry Davis – who has thrown out 11 of 21 potential basestealers (52.4%) – and Florida State’s Matheu Nelson – who has thrown out 12 of 25 (48%).