Game Day: UNC vs. Pittsburgh ACC Tournament Preview

The Tar Heels can all but seal an NCAA Tournament berth with a win

Looking to further solidify its NCAA Tournament resume, sixth-seeded North Carolina will open its ACC Tournament title defense when it faces No. 10 seed Pittsburgh on Tuesday at Truist Field in Charlotte.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the 7 p.m. contest, the Tar Heels’ first of two in pool play.

Matchup: UNC (26-24, 18-18 ACC) vs. Pittsburgh (22-19, 16-17 ACC)

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

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

TV: RSN

Listen: TuneIn

Live Stats: Click Here

Pitching matchup

RHP Connor Ollio (2-1, 3.56 ERA) vs. TBA

As a true freshman in 2019, Connor Ollio proved to be a key piece in the Tar Heels’ run to their seventh ACC Tournament championship, starting the championship game against Georgia Tech and allowing just two hits and an unearned run in 2 1/3 innings. Two years later, UNC hopes the right-hander can deliver another solid postseason outing against Pittsburgh. Ollio’s only start this season came in Game 1 of the April 17 doubleheader against the Panthers, when he surrendered three runs on five hits in 2 1/3 innings.

In need of at least one ACC Tournament win to earn an NCAA Tournament berth, Pittsburgh will surely start one of its workhorses in Mitch Myers (4-5, 3.17 ERA) or Matt Gilbertson (6-4, 4.62). Myers ranks fifth in the ACC in innings pitched (76 2/3), while Gilbertson ranks seventh (76). An All-ACC third-team honoree, Myers opposed Ollio on April 17, giving up two runs on six hits in six innings. Gilbertson started Game 2 of the doubleheader, allowing two runs on six hits in seven innings.

Scouting the Panthers

Coming into its series against the Tar Heels the weekend of April 17-18, Pittsburgh found itself in the midst of its best season in quite some time, having already set a program record for most ACC wins and become the second team in league history to sweep both Florida State and Miami. But the Panthers haven’t been the same team since taking two of three games from UNC.

COVID-19 issues within the Pittsburgh program led to the cancellation of the Panthers’ ensuing series against Louisville and Northern Kentucky, and in its first game in 17 days, the team lost 8-2 to a then-15-21 West Virginia club. Despite that, Pittsburgh rallied to take two of three games from Boston College and to earn a spot on the short list of candidates to host regionals and super regionals in the NCAA Tournament. Two weeks and six losses later, the Panthers are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament all together.

Even at its best, Pittsburgh hasn’t boasted the most intimidating offense this season. The Panthers average 5.41 runs per game, which ranks 13th among the ACC’s 14 teams. That rate has dropped to 3.2 in the last 10 games, a stretch in which the team has struck out in an alarming 30.2% of its plate appearances. All-ACC third-team selections Sky Duff (.365/.462/.532), Nico Popa (.316/.387/.509) and David Yanni (.254/.416/.616) lead the offense.

On the mound, Pittsburgh hasn’t found much consistency outside of Myers and Gilbertson – who hasn’t been very reliable himself lately, allowing 13 runs on 20 hits in his last two starts. The rest of the Panthers’ staff has registered a 5.89 ERA this season.

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 6-10 as the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament.

  • The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Panthers, 12-10, with all 22 meetings having come since Pittsburgh joined the ACC for the 2014 season.

  • Ranked No. 45 in the RPI, UNC has played the country's fourth-hardest schedule, according to WarrenNolan.com. The Tar Heels’ 31 games against Quadrant 1 foes are tied with Clemson for the most nationally. They’re 12-19 in those games.

  • UNC’s nonconference schedule is also the most difficult among Power 5 teams, according to WarrenNolan.com.

  • The Tar Heels are 36-13 in games played in professional baseball stadiums since 2011. They've outscored opponents 353-172 in those games, 28 of which have been held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. UNC is 5-1 at Truist Field, formerly known as BB&T Ballpark.

  • The Tar Heels rank fourth in the ACC and are tied for 26th nationally with 64 home runs. Those are the most by a UNC team through 50 games since the 2002 squad hit 80.

  • Since returning from a seven-game absence due to COVID-19 protocols, redshirt sophomore Angel Zarate is slashing .368/.458/.614 in 16 games. Among the games he missed were the Tar Heels’ three at Pittsburgh.

  • Freshman Johnny Castagnozzi is riding a career-best six-game hitting streak. He’s hit safely in nine of his last 10 games, a stretch in which he’s slashing .375/.429/.667.

  • Freshman Mac Horvath is slashing .286/.355/.571 with his first eight extra-base hits (four doubles and four homers) in his last 15 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 junior Gage Gillian has recorded a 1.65 ERA and a .82 WHIP in 43 2/3 innings. He’s struck out 41 batters while walking seven and holding opponents to a .185 average.

  • Tomas Frick has thrown out 15 basestealers this season, the most by a UNC 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.