Game Day: UNC vs. N.C. State ACC Tournament Preview
Tar Heels renew rivalry with Wolfpack in Charlotte
Hoping to pad its NCAA Tournament resume in its final game before Selection Monday, sixth-seeded North Carolina will conclude ACC Championship play when it faces third-seeded N.C. State on Friday at Truist Field in Charlotte.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the 7 p.m. contest.
Matchup: UNC (26-25, 18-18 ACC) vs. N.C. State (29-15, 19-14 ACC)
UNC ranks: No. -/-/- (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)
N.C. State ranks: No. 15/16/17 (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)
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RHP Austin Love (8-4, 3.51 ERA) vs. TBA
On the heels of back-to-back complete games, Austin Love will be looking to continue his recent dominance when he takes the mound against N.C. State. The Wolfpack is one of the few teams to have success against Love this season, scoring eight runs (seven earned) in his four innings on March 26. In five career postseason games (all relief), Love has registered a 2.12 ERA across 17 innings, striking out 19 batters and walking six.
After his team secured a spot in Saturday’s semifinals with its win over Pittsburgh on Thursday night, coach Elliott Avent said N.C. State will play its regular lineup Friday but “may do things differently with the pitching.” The Wolfpack will surely save Saturday starter Sam Highfill (5-2, 4.50 ERA) for the semifinals and Sunday starter Matt Willadsen (4-2, 4.96) for the championship game, should N.C. State advance that far. Chris Villaman (5-2, 4.81) is the only other available pitcher currently on the roster who has started this season, but the midweek starter is also a valuable reliever. If he doesn’t start, perhaps the Wolfpack will roll with Canaan Silver (0-2, 8.25) – who, after battling injuries, made his first appearance in two months last Saturday at Florida State, allowing three runs in 2 1/3 innings. Silver made eight starts in 2019 for N.C. State.
Scouting the Wolfpack
Entering its series against the Tar Heels on March 26, N.C. State sat at 5-9 overall and 1-8 in the ACC. The Wolfpack, however, looked every bit the part of a consensus preseason top-25 team in its sweep of UNC, winning all three games by the combined score of 23-6. N.C. State hasn’t looked back since, going 24-6 in its last 30 games – including a 19-6 mark against ACC teams.
Much of the Wolfpack’s success has been driven by its offense, which leads the ACC in runs per game (7.2), batting average (.289) and slugging percentage (.501). N.C. State also ranks fourth in the country in home runs per game (1.68). Although its lineup is strong from top to bottom, the Wolfpack’s top third of Austin Murr (.315/.371/.525), Tyler McDonough (.344/.439/.650) and Jonny Butler (.399/.468/.715) might be the nation’s best. That doesn’t even include Luca Tresh (.242/.324/.473) and Jose Torres (.301/.355/.523), who are listed as the Nos. 24 and 79 prospects, respectively, in the 2021 MLB Draft, according to Baseball America.
Ahead of its visit to Chapel Hill, N.C. State ranked last in the ACC and 239th nationally in ERA (6.64). But since then, the Wolfpack has posted a 4.35 ERA – which would rank fifth in the ACC for the entire season. A significant reason for that improvement has been the emergence of Evan Justice, who moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen beginning with the UNC series and has since compiled a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings.
Numbers to know
The Tar Heels have won the ACC Tournament seven times, including three times since 2007. They own 11 ACC baseball titles overall, winning four times during years in which the regular-season winner earned the title (1960, 1964, 1966 and 1969).
UNC is 6-11 as the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament.
The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Wolfpack, 168-138-1. UNC holds a 12-11 edge in ACC Tournament action, with the last meeting coming on May 26, 2017, when the Tar Heels won 12-4 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ranked No. 47 in the RPI, UNC has played the country's fifth-hardest schedule, according to WarrenNolan.com. The Tar Heels’ 32 games against Quadrant 1 foes are tied with Arkansas, Clemson and Virginia Tech for the most nationally. They’re 12-20 in those games.
UNC’s nonconference schedule is also the most difficult among Power 5 teams, according to WarrenNolan.com.
The Tar Heels are 36-14 in games played in professional baseball stadiums since 2011. They've outscored opponents 356-177 in those games, 28 of which have been held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. UNC is 5-2 at Truist Field, formerly known as BB&T Ballpark.
The Tar Heels are tied for sixth in the ACC and 28th nationally with 64 home runs. Those are the most by a UNC team through 51 games since the 2002 squad hit 83.
Since returning from a seven-game absence due to COVID-19 protocols, redshirt sophomore Angel Zarate is slashing .383/.481/.633 in 17 games.
Freshman Mac Horvath is slashing .276/.354/.552 with his first eight extra-base hits (four doubles and four homers) in his last 16 games. That comes after he posted a .042/.148/.042 line in his first 24 career at-bats.
Grad transfer Justice Thompson has stolen 14 bases on 16 attempts.
Redshirt sophomore Caleb Roberts has been hit by 14 pitches this season, the most by a UNC hitter since Kyle Datres was hit 20 times in 2017.
Redshirt junior Gage Gillian has recorded a 1.93 ERA and a .86 WHIP in 46 2/3 innings. He’s struck out 44 batters while walking eight and holding opponents to a .188 average.
Tomas Frick has thrown out 15 basestealers this season, the most by a Tar Heel freshman catcher since Mike Fox’s first season as head coach in 1999. Chris Iannetta and Tim Federowicz each threw out 14 in 2002 and 2006, respectively.