Game Day: UNC at Pittsburgh Series Preview

Tar Heels take hot bats into Pittsburgh

Fresh off its two best offensive performances of the season against Duke, North Carolina returns to action this weekend for a three-game series at Pittsburgh.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the series, which begins at 3 p.m. Friday and will continue at 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

Matchup: UNC (17-13, 11-10 ACC) at Pittsburgh (18-10, 12-9 ACC)

UNC ranks: No. -/-/- (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)

Pittsburgh ranks: No. 17/19/20 (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)

TV: Friday / Saturday / Sunday

Listen: TuneIn

Live Stats: Click Here

Pitching matchups

Friday: RHP Connor Ollio (0-0, 2.57 ERA) vs. RHP Mitch Myers (2-4, 3.16 ERA)

Connor Ollio is coming off his best outing of the season last Saturday, when he allowed one run and struck out a career-high six batters over 4 2/3 innings of relief. Friday will be his first start of the season. The redshirt sophomore has posted a 3.41 ERA in nine career starts, surrendering 12 earned runs in 31 2/3 innings.

He’ll face off against Mitch Myers, who Baseball America ranks as the No. 293 prospect in the 2021 MLB Draft. The redshirt junior – who ranks second in the ACC in innings pitched (51 1/3), fifth in strikeouts (55) and eighth in ERA – allowed a season-high five earned runs over 5 2/3 innings last Friday against Miami.

Saturday: RHP Austin Love (4-2, 4.59 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Gilbertson (4-3, 3.66 ERA)

The Tar Heels’ usual Friday starter, Austin Love gets the nod Saturday after he started Monday’s game against the Blue Devils, three days after his Friday start was suspended after two innings. In six total innings against Duke, the redshirt junior surrendered eight earned runs. He has a 2.50 ERA in three road starts this season, compared to a 5.81 ERA in six home starts.

Opposing him will be Matt Gilbertson, who has been one of the ACC’s best pitchers over the last two seasons. After ranking sixth in the league in ERA (1.13) and seventh in innings pitched (24) during the shortened 2020 season, the redshirt junior ranks 15th in the ACC in ERA and paces the conference in innings pitched (51 2/3).

Sunday: TBA vs. TBA

Freshman Max Carlson exited last Sunday’s start after just two innings due to recurring shoulder stiffness. If he can’t go against the Panthers, UNC could turn to redshirt freshman Shawn Rapp – who was slated to start Game 2 of the Duke series before the suspension of Game 1 – or redshirt junior Chris Joyner – who coach Scott Forbes said the staff could consider using as a starter, if needed, after he tossed three scoreless innings Monday.

Iona transfer Stephen Hansen has served as Pittsburgh’s Game 3 starter since ACC play started, but has struggled, registering a 5.88 ERA in 33 2/3 innings. Outside of Chris Gomez – who started Tuesday against Lipscomb – other pitchers who have started for the Panthers include Chris Pouliot (2-0, 11.88 ERA), Dylan Lester (0-0, 6.75) and Billy Corcoran (0-0, 0.00). Corcoran opened the year in the weekend rotation, but hasn’t pitched since Feb. 21.

Scouting the Panthers

For the eighth time in as many seasons in the conference, Pittsburgh was picked to finish last in the Coastal Division in the ACC preseason coaches poll. The Panthers, however, have greatly exceeded expectations, having already set a program record for most ACC wins and become just the second team in league history to sweep both Florida State and Miami.

Pittsburgh’s biggest strength is undeniably its defense, as the club ranks 10th nationally and third in the ACC in fielding percentage (.981). This defense backs up a pitching staff that’s led by two workhorses in Myers and Gilbertson, who pace the conference in innings pitched. As good as they’ve been, the rest of the staff has been inconsistent, registering a 5.38 ERA.

At the plate, the Panthers are led by redshirt senior outfielder Nico Popa, who ranks third in the ACC in hits (44) and sixth in batting average (.364). He’s also hit seven home runs and is 11-for-11 on stolen base attempts. Redshirt senior shortstop David Yanni is hitting just .219, but he’s tied for fourth in the ACC in home runs (9) and is sixth in the league in walks (21). Redshirt sophomore outfielder/designated hitter Kyle Hess (.294/.363/.479) is the No. 255 prospect in the 2021 MLB Draft according to Baseball America, but leads the ACC in strikeouts (38). 

In fact, despite ranking fourth in the league in on-base percentage (.371), Pittsburgh has struck out more than every ACC team except Florida State.

Numbers to know

  • The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Panthers, 11-8, with all 19 meetings having come since Pittsburgh joined the ACC for the 2014 season.

  • Redshirt sophomore Caleb Roberts has hit safely in 12 of UNC’s last 14 games. He’s slashing .412/.539/.608 in that span.

  • After missing six games due to a concussion, graduate first baseman Brett Centracchio returned to the lineup last Friday and went 5-for-12 with a double, three home runs and six RBIs in the Duke series.

  • Starting in left field in place of Angel Zarate – who is expected to miss his second straight series due to COVID-19 protocols – sixth-year senior Dallas Tessar went 5-for-11 with his first home run of the season, four RBIs, six runs scored and two walks in the Duke series. Since 2018, the Tar Heels are 40-17 when Tessar starts.

  • In going 6-for-9 with three doubles and four runs scored in Games 2 and 3 of the Duke series, freshman infielder Colby Wilkerson improved to 8-for-17 on the season. He’s appeared at third base, second base and shortstop.

  • Playing in his first two games of the season, redshirt sophomore Will Schroeder 3-for-7 with a double, two walks and four runs scored in Games 2 and 3 of the Duke series.

  • Junior college transfer Justice Thompson has stolen 13 bases on 14 attempts.

  • UNC is tied for second in the ACC and 19th nationally with 40 home runs. Those are the most by a Tar Heel team through 30 games since the 2002 squad hit 54.

  • Over the last 13 games, UNC’s bullpen has posted a 3.04 ERA in 80 innings.

  • Joyner has yet to allow an earned run in eight innings this season.

  • Freshman catcher Tomas Frick has thrown out eight of 17 potential basestealers.