Chapel Hill Regional BreakdownPostseason
Most Exciting Player: North Carolina’s Kyle Datres can be electric. He leads North Carolina in batting average (.339), doubles (15) and steals (10).
Best Hitter: Facing a ton of elite pitching in the ACC, Michael Busch established himself as a major threat, leading North Carolina in runs (59), homers (11), RBIs (52) and OPS (.968).
Best Defensive Player: Purdue’s Nick Dalesandro led Big Ten catchers by throwing out 20 would-be basestealers. Purdue coach Mark Wasikowski said he’s got the quickest release and exchange of any catcher he’s ever coached. Dalesandro is also durable, starting 21 of 23 Big Ten games.
Best Pitcher: Purdue’s Tanner Andrews (7-4, 2.71) has the lowest ERA by a Purdue starting pitcher in 26 years. In the Big Ten Tournament, Andrews pitched a complete game to beat Ohio State 8-2. He struck out seven and got 14 groundball outs to become the first Purdue pitcher in eight years to pitch a complete game in the league tournament. He gets a slight nod over Houston’s Aaron Fletcher, the AAC pitcher of the year (coming off a rough start in the conference tournament).
X-Factor: North Carolina sophomore righthander Gianluca Dalatri (1-2, 2.50, 24 strikeouts in 18 innings, four starts) is a preseason All-American who missed most of the season due to an elbow injury. But the 6-6, 255-pound Dalatri came back for two starts, most recently throwing five scoreless innings against Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament. He went 7-3 with a 3.34 ERA last year, leading the Heels with 97 innings. If he is fit, he can be a workhorse for UNC — and he looked great last week, sitting at 90-93 with his typical quality four-pitch mix.
Best Starting Rotation: North Carolina has the best overall staff, but Houston’s 1-2 punch of Aaron Fletcher and Trey Cumbie is stellar at the top of the rotation. Cumbie was named American Athletic Pitcher of the Year in 2017 when he went 10-2 with a 2.04 ERA with four complete games. Fletcher was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year this season, going 6-4, 2.43. Cumbie is 7-3, 3.44 this year, giving the Cougars two aces if they pitch to their potential.
Best Bullpen: North Carolina uses is bullpen aggressively, and its two most valuable pitchers this year have been righthanded relievers Brett Daniels (6-0, 2.35) and Josh Hiatt (3-2, 2.76), who have combined to pitch 100 innings over over 58 appearances. Both have fastballs around 90 mph, legit plus changeups and improved breaking balls. Lightning-armed freshman Joey Lancellotti leads a solid supporting cast.
Best Offensive Team: The Tar Heels, who average 6.9 runs per game, tend to grind out at-bats. They have a .390 team on-base percentage, third-best in the ACC. They are also third in the league in walks, helping to make up for the lack of overwhelming power or speed.
Best Defensive Team: Houston flashed good leather all season, turning 53 double plays and posting a .977 fielding percentage.
No. 1 Seed Win Probability (1-10): 6. This UNC team isn’t an overwhelming juggernaut, but it does a lot of things well, and it is hungry for redemption after getting upset as the No. 2 national seed by Davidson in last year’s Chapel Hill Regional. Experience is a real advantage for this UNC group, and so is a favorable Friday matchup against North Carolina A&T, one of the bottom three RPI teams in the field.