Chapel Hill Super Regional BreakdownAnalysis
No. 11 Stetson (48-11) at No. 6 North Carolina (41-18)
Chapel Hill Super Regional Schedule
Friday: 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday: Noon (ESPN2)
Sunday (if necessary): *Noon (ESPN2)
How North Carolina Got Here: UNC won 49 games last year and earned the No. 2 national seed but was stunned by Davidson in its home regional. The Tar Heels lost three first-rounders from that club, and they were without preseason All-America ace Luca Dalatri for most of this season, but they still won the ACC Coastal Division title and snagged a top-eight seed for the second year in a row. This time, they took care of business in their regional, scoring 34 runs in a 3-0 showing.
How Stetson Got Here: In Steve Trimper’s first season as Stetson’s head coach in 2017, the Hatters finished just 27-29 overall but came on strong in conference play, going 15-6 and giving them some momentum heading into 2018. Stetson entered this season as the favorite in the A-Sun, but nobody expected it to go 48-11, host a regional for the first time ever, and then win a regional for the first time ever — in dominating fashion. The Hatters outscored their opponents 29-6 in a three-game waltz through the DeLand Regional, including a pair of blowout wins against perennial Big 12 power Oklahoma State. Stetson heads to Chapel Hill riding an 18-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the country.
Starting Pitching: Stetson leads the nation in ERA (2.50) and WHIP (1.09), and ranks third in both strikeouts per nine innings (10.5) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.34:1). So it’s safe to say the Hatters have been the nation’s best pitching staff this season — and it’s not just because they’ve shut down A-Sun competition. The A-Sun is a good baseball league, first off, but Stetson has also eight total wins against regional teams. Logan Gilbert (the No. 14 overall pick in the draft this week), Jack Perkins, Joey Gonzalez and Mitchell Senger all have legitimate power stuff, and they’ve all pounded the strike zone effectively too. That rotation stacks up against anybody’s; the only question is which of those four will start in a best-of-three series (last week Gonzalez started the opener and Senger relieved him). UNC’s rotation looks better now that Dalatri is healthy again, though UNC is still building him back up, and his velocity was down to the 87-88 range in his third outing back from injury last week, after working at 90-93 the previous weke in the ACC tournament. RHP Austin Bergner (7-2, 4.30) has an electric arm and three swing-and-miss pitches but inconsistent command; he’s capable shutting down an opponent for seven innings, but he’s also had some short outings where he couldn’t find the zone. Cooper Criswell (5-2, 2.89) has settled in as another capable starter down the stretch, and he usually gives his team a chance to win, with solid command of an 88-90 fastball and a good slider — he’ll start against Gilbert in the opener, with Dalatri slated for Saturday against Perkins. But UNC isn’t afraid to go to the bullpen early and often if its starters don’t have it. Edge: Stetson.
Bullpen: Stetson has one of college baseball’s premier closers in senior two-way star Brooks Wilson (6-0, 2.13, 68 K in 55 IP), who is tied for the national lead with 20 saves. Ben Onyshko (2.70 ERA) is an excellent setup man with good command of a fastball that reaches the low 90s from the left side and a swing-and-miss curve. Senger has a huge arm from the left side and could also bolster the bullpen for the second straight week if the Hatters opt not to start him; otherwise Gonzalez could slide into a valuable swing role. But UNC’s bullpen is a major strength too, led by two-headed monster Josh Hiatt (3-2, 2.94) and Brett Daniels (6-0, 2.59), who have handled themselves in many pressure-packed situations over the last two years. Both of them can miss bats with their plus changeups, and both pitch around 90 with their heaters. Blue-chip freshman Joey Lancellotti and sixth-round pick Rodney Hutchison give this unit two power-armed righties with big fastballs and putaway breakers, and funky Cadyn O’Brien is the key option from the left side. Edge: Push.
Offense: The Tar Heels have a big edge in this category — they rank 17th nationally in scoring (7.2 runs per game), while the Hatters rank 132nd (5.7 runs per game). As usual, UNC has a very patient offense that ranks 10th nationally in walks. Michael Busch and Kyle Datres provide significant star power in the top third of the lineup, and lefthanded hitters Brandon Riley and Ashton McGee have come on strong down the stretch after struggling in the first half, making UNC more dangerous. The Tar Heels don’t have huge power, but they do have occasional pop up and down the order — Brandon Martorano and Zack Gahagan have combined for 16 homers, giving UNC some sneaky threats down at the bottom of the lineup. Stetson doesn’t have anybody with gaudy numbers in the lineup, and for much of the season the Hatters simply scratched and clawed to manufacture just enough offense to win behind its stellar pitching and rock-solid defense. But Stetson’s bats have heated up late, and its aggressive baserunning has also helped the offense find another gear. Brooks Wilson, Mike Spooner, Jacob Koos and Jonathan Meola lead a balanced lineup that grinds out at-bats from top to bottom. Edge: North Carolina.
Defense: The Tar Heels and Hatters are both fielding at a .974 clip, which is solid but not spectacular. Fielding percentage doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, and Trimper has said he considers his defense to be a major strength for the Hatters. Catcher Austin Hale, shortstop Jorge Arenas, and center fielder Koos make Stetson strong up the middle. A big key for UNC has been Ike Freeman’s steady play at short, where he had to take over for departed first-rounder Logan Warmoth. The Heels have a pair of rifle-armed catchers who can shut down the running game in Cody Roberts and Martorano, and Riley has good instincts and range in center. Edge: Push.
Experience/Intangibles: No player in either roster has super regional experience, as UNC’s last super regional appearance was 2013. But the North Carolina coaching staff has made plenty of deep postseason runs; head coach Mike Fox and associate head coach Scott Forbes have been to Omaha six times since 2006. And the veteran core of UNC’s roster also got a taste of the postseason last year, and has been driven by the memory of that disappointment ever since. This is uncharted territory for Stetson, which will now get its first taste of postseason baseball on the road. Boshamer Stadium is hardly one of the most intimidating venues for opposing teams, but UNC fans did show up in force and bring uncharacteristic energy in the regional last week, and ticket sales have been strong for this weekend despite the midday start times. Certainly, the Tar Heels get another little boost in this matchup from being at home. Edge: North Carolina.