Riding high off back-to-back series wins and Tuesday’s thumping of No. 8 ECU, North Carolina hopes to continue its winning ways when it welcomes N.C. State to Boshamer Stadium this weekend for a three-game series.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of Game 1 of the series, set for 6 p.m. Friday.
Matchup: UNC (13-6, 8-4 ACC) vs. N.C. State (5-9, 1-8 ACC)
UNC ranks: No. 11/24/25 (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)
N.C. State ranks: No. -/-/- (Baseball America, D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches Poll)
Friday: RHP Austin Love (4-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. RHP Reid Johnston (1-0, 2.93 ERA)
As impressive as he’s been to begin the season, Austin Love’s last start might have been his best. On the road and facing one of the ACC’s best offenses in Boston College, he allowed six hits and an unearned run over seven innings, striking out eight batters and walking two.
Through his first five starts of the season – and of his career – Love leads the ACC in innings pitched (32) and ranks fifth in the league in ERA (2.25) and batting average against (.182). He’ll now look to carry that momentum into his second career outing against N.C. State. The other came on May 18, 2019, when he allowed two hits and a run over four relief innings, striking out two batters and walking three.
Opposing Love will be redshirt junior Reid Johnston. The right-hander will be making his 28th career start, but just his first of the season after opening the year in a long-relief role. In his most recent appearance against Louisville last Saturday, he threw a season-high 80 pitches, giving up three runs (one earned) on six hits.
Johnston has made three career starts against the Tar Heels, posting a 3.75 ERA over 12 innings.
Saturday: RHP Max Alba (2-1, 5.09 ERA) vs. RHP Sam Highfill (0-1, 4.87 ERA)
With freshman Max Carlson (2-1, 4.56 ERA) not listed as a starter this weekend, usual Sunday starter Max Alba is moving up a day. Last time out, Alba surrendered seven hits and three runs in four innings at Boston College. He’ll look to return to form in his first home start since striking out a career-high nine batters over 7 2/3 brilliant innings against Clemson on March 14.
N.C. State will counter with Sam Highfill. A redshirt freshman, the right-hander came in as a two-way player, but started focusing solely on pitching in the offseason. While his ERA through four starts isn’t all that impressive, he has 22 strikeouts compared to three walks.
Sunday: TBA vs. TBA
Outside of Carlson, potential candidates to start Sunday’s game for UNC could include Connor Ollio (0-0, 3.86 ERA) and Tanner Quick (0-1, 27.00). Matt Willadsen (1-0, 3.60) has started the Wolfpack’s last two Sunday games, despite not being announced as the starter both times.
Scouting the Wolfpack
A consensus preseason top-25 team, N.C. State entered the year with high expectations. It hasn’t been able to live up to them, though, in large part because of its pitching. The Wolfpack’s 6.64 ERA is the worst in the ACC and ranks 239th nationally out of 280 teams.
At the plate, N.C. State ranks in the top 50 in the country in home runs (20) and slugging percentage (.449). Redshirt sophomore catcher Luca Tresh (.352/.410/.778 with seven homers) paces the team in both categories. He’s one of four Wolfpack positional players listed in Baseball America’s latest rankings of the top 300 MLB Draft prospects, along with redshirt freshman shortstop Jose Torres (.294/.324/.588), redshirt sophomore infielder/outfielder Tyler McDonough (.264/.400/.453) and redshirt junior first baseman Austin Murr (.378/.463/.622).
Numbers to know
The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with N.C. State, 168-135-1.
Redshirt sophomore left fielder Angel Zarate has reached base in 39 consecutive games, dating back to UNC’s 16-1 win over Liberty in the 2019 Chapel Hill Regional. In that span, he’s slashing .361/.451/.451. Logan Warmoth (41 games from 2016-17) is the only Tar Heel who has registered a longer on-base streak since 1999.
After going 2-for-33 in UNC’s first nine games, redshirt sophomore shortstop Danny Serretti is slashing .350/.422/.825 with three doubles, two triples, four home runs and 16 RBIs over the last 10 games. His four homers in that span are one more than he hit through his first 89 career games.
Freshman catcher Tomas Frick is 11-for-28 with four doubles and a home run over the last seven games.
Junior college transfer Justice Thompson has stolen 10 bases on 11 attempts.
The Tar Heels and Clemson are tied for the ACC lead with 25 home runs. Those are the most by a UNC team through 19 games since the 2009 squad also hit 25.
Redshirt junior Caden O’Brien has pitched 10 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings of relief.
The Tar Heels rank 24th nationally in hits allowed per nine innings (7.17).
UNC ranks 16th nationally in fielding percentage (.983).