Chapel Hill Regional Preview: Storylines Abound At The BoshPostseason
Checking The Field
North Carolina will host its third straight regional — and it’s a field loaded with storylines. Tennessee is making its first trip to regionals since 2005; third-year Liberty coach Scott Jackson is returning to the place he spent eight years as an assistant under UNC’s Mike Fox; and perennial contender UNC Wilmington is hoping to finally win its first regional in longtime coach Mark Scalf’s final go-round before retirement. Scalf began his coaching career as an assistant at UNC before returning to his alma mater, UNCW, in 1984.
1. North Carolina: Regular Season Results | Team Stats and Leaders
2. Tennessee: Regular Season Results | Team Stats and Leaders
3. Liberty: Regular Season Results | Team Stats and Leaders
4. UNC Wilmington: Regular Season Results | Team Stats and Leaders
Chapel Hill Regional Superlatives
Most Exciting Player: Greg Jones, SS, UNC Wilmington.
Jones is simply an electrifying athlete, with top-of-the-charts speed that has helped him steal 40 bases this year (sixth in the nation) and hit nine triples (third nationally). He’s also a switch-hitter with lightning-quick hands at the plate, helping him hit .343/.491/.551. There might not be a player in college baseball with more exciting raw tools.
Best Hitter: Michael Busch, 1B/OF, North Carolina.
A likely first-round pick in next week’s draft, Busch has a rare combination of lefthanded power and uncanny control of the strike zone, as evidenced by his 56-36 BB-K mark. His average dipped a bit this year, and he still slashed .294/.447/.569 with 15 homers. Busch was just born to hit.
Best Defensive Player: Jay Charleston, CF, Tennessee.
Charleston is a human highlight reel in center, a speed merchant with superb range and instincts, as well as a reckless disregard for his own well being. He flies around the middle garden like a man possessed.
Best Pitcher: Garrett Stallings, RHP, Tennessee.
There are plenty of quality arms in this regional, and some of the bullpen guys have lower ERAs, but nobody has provided more value than Stallings, an innings-eater who has gone 8-4, 3.24 with 103 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 97.1 innings this year. That strikeout-walk figure is a testament to Stallings’ calling card: his command of four pitches, including a 90-92 fastball that bumps 93, a 79-82 curveball that can be a hammer, a short, hard slider at 85-87 and a solid low-80s changeup. He has stuff and polish.
X-Factor: Garrett Crochet, LHP, Tennessee.
Crochet suffered a fractured and dislocated jaw in his final regular-season start against Ole Miss, and the Vols hope he’ll be available this weekend, but it’s not certain. He has top-of-the-draft talent — he’s already getting early buzz as a potential candidate to be drafted No. 1 overall in 2020 — but is still learning to harness it. The Vols inserted the big lefthander into the rotation on April 11, and he he allowed just two runs in 11.2 innings over his first two starts — but it’s been a rocky road since then. In his last four appearances, Crochet has struggled with his command and posted an 8.68 ERA. With a 92-95 fastball that touches 96-97 from the left side, an 85-87 slider that flashes plus, and a power changeup with good sink, Crochet obviously has the stuff to be a major weapon; but can the Vols figure out how to make the best use of that weapon this weekend, assuming he’s available?
Best Starting Rotation: Liberty.
This is a tough category; all four of these teams can make real cases for best rotation, but Liberty’s quartet of Andrew McInvale, Noah Skirrow, Joseph Adametz and Mason Meyer offers the best combination of consistent performance, reliable strike-throwing and quality stuff. And while UNC and Tennessee have had some hiccups in the rotation over the last few weeks, Liberty’s starting pitching came up big in the A-Sun tournament.
Best Bullpen: North Carolina.
This one’s a dead heat between the Tar Heels, Volunteers and Flames, but UNC has the best pure stuff in its pen along with good numbers, so we’re giving the Heels a slight edge. Stopper Joey Lancellotti (6-2, 2.17, 53 K in 49.2 IP) is a fierce competitor with a 93-97 fastball and a swing-and-miss low-80s slider. Austin Love (6-4, 3.36, 5 SV, 54.1 IP) showed 91-95 heat in career-high 6.2-inning stint at the ACC tournament last week, along with a devastating 85-87 changeup with filthy tumbling action and a quality 82-84 slider. And gritty fifth-year senior Hansen Butler (4-0, 2.00) has recaptured the stuff he showed earlier in his career before getting injured; he can run his fastball up to 93 with a big hammer curveball and a putaway changeup, helping him rack up 27 strikeouts in 18 innings.
Best Offensive Team: North Carolina.
UNC ranks 26th nationally in scoring; none of the other teams in this field rank better than 90th. Busch and ACC Freshman of the Year Aaron Sabato (.338/.446/.662, 14 HR, 56 RBI) form a fearsome tandem of power hitters who can drive the ball to all fields, anchoring a very good lineup. Standout freshman Danny Serretti plus hard-nosed juniors Ike Freeman, Dylan Harris, Ashton McGee and Brandon Martorano lead a deep, capable supporting cast.
Best Defensive Team: Tennessee.
This category is another slam dunk: Tennessee ranks 11th nationally with a .981 fielding percentage. Ricky Martinez and Andre Lipcius are two talented playmakers on the left side of the infield, Connor Pavolony has a cannon behind the plate, and the outfield is loaded with speed and athleticism.
No. 1 Seed Win Probability (1-10): 5.
With a talented roster well stocked with Omaha experience after last year’s run, North Carolina is the clear-cut favorite, especially on its home field. But this is one of the more competitive regionals in the field of 64, with four teams that are all legitimately capable of advancing.
Chapel Hill Regional Team Breakdowns
North Carolina (42-17, 17-13 ACC)
The Tar Heels returned plenty of power arms and several key bats from last year’s Omaha team, and some stellar freshmen helped plug a few holes, allowing UNC to snag a home regional for the third year in a row. …