John Manuel

UNC proving to be the class of the Triangle on the Diamond

Posted April 25
Updated April 26

North Carolina has proved to be the class of Triangle-area college baseball this season, with another series win this weekend at Pittsburgh.

At 31-9, 16-5 in the ACC, North Carolina has a four-game lead on Virginia in the Coastal Division; ranks third in the latest Baseball America Top 25; ranks second in the NCAA’s RPI; and is poised not only to host a regional with a solid finish but to be one of eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament.

UNC’s only series loss was back in March to No. 9 Long Beach State. The Tar Heels have yet to solve their third-starter issue but has the league’s top pitcher in junior righty J.B. Bukauskas, who is leading the ACC in the pitching triple crown (7-0, 1.53 ERA, 89 SO). Freshman righty Gianluca Dalatri, whose 69 innings pitched leads the league, is a fine wing man.

The Tar Heels welcome No. 6 Clemson to Chapel Hill, part of an eight-game homestand, for what should be a thrilling series, as the Tigers bring a strong offense led by sophomore Seth Beer plus a pitching staff that leads the ACC with 396 strikeouts and is vastly improved from last season, when Clemson nonetheless won the league tournament and was a national seed.

The Tar Heels were scheduled to play midweek games at Boshamer Stadium against Elon on Tuesday and Campbell on Wednesday, weather permitting. At some point, the Heels will have to figure out their No. 3 starter role, with junior Jason Morgan and freshman righties Tyler Baum and Austin Bergner the main candidates. Baum has started solely in the midweek to this point, but a mid-week rainout could push him into consideration for a start against Clemson.

Meanwhile, watch the Tar Heels' lineup to see if coach Mike Fox puts freshman Ashton McGee back at second base to spell junior Zack Gahagan, who has struggled of late offensively. The Heels tried it Sunday in the 11-9 loss to Pitt with senior Adam Pate getting a rare start, this time as the DH.

Room To Improve At 8-13

Meanwhile, N.C. State and Duke both enter the stretch run in nearly identical, below-par condition.

Both teams are under water in ACC play at 8-13 and both are .500 teams overall, with the Wolfpack 20-20, the Blue Devils 21-21.

That 8-13 ACC mark is a popular one; five ACC teams have 8-13 marks in league play, with seven teams holding better records.

The Wolfpack and Blue Devils hold two-game leads over Georgia Tech and Boston College, both 6-15, in trying to reach the 12-team ACC tournament field in Louisville, Ky., this year.

The Pack’s three-game sweep in Boston this weekend was another opportunity by the boards for a State team that just has never gotten going. Coach Elliott Avent said Monday during his GoPack.com who that pitching was “the root of everything” for the Pack, and State still is unsettled in its weekend rotation.

Junior lefthander Brian Brown pitched well in a Sunday defeat, striking out 11 in 6.2 innings, and freshman righty Michael Beinlein (2-1, 3.86) has solidified the third starter spot, but Avent said he’d move senior righty Johnny Piedemonte (3-0, 1.88) into the Friday starter role heading into this weekend’s series at Doak Field against Virginia Tech.

State’s unsettled staff has been an issue all season, but at some point the Wolfpack hitters must shoulder the blame for the team’s struggles. In 21 ACC games, the Pack has hit just .236 with 13 home runs while ranking 11th with 83 runs—less than four per game. Overall for the season, N.C. State is a bit better at .262 with 36 homers, but . . .

  • State’s 147 walks ranks 12th in the league, and with 27 HBPs, State ranks last in that category. Only Boston College ranks behind the Pack in free passes.
  • With 24 stolen bases, the Wolfpack ranks 12th in the league; just nine have come in ACC play.

“Power’s our deal,” Avent said Monday. “We haven’t been able to string a lot of singles together, and it was difficult to hit in Fenway and at Boston College (over the weekend). We just couldn’t find a way to score.”

That’s been true much more often than it has not. The Hokieis bring a relatively potent offense to the Doak this weekend with 26 homers in league play and 71 overall. Tech’s 5.66 ERA ranks dead last in the league and its’ .966 fielding percentage ranks second to last, but the Pack offense will have to apply pressure to take advantage of the Hokies’ weaknesses.

Will the Pack’s offense be up to the task?

Duke visits Notre Dame, another 8-13 club. Duke has lost six straight ACC series since opening with a series win against Virginia Tech. While the Blue Devils have yet to be swept, they remain unable to put opposing clubs away, often due to their bullpen. In 21 league games, the Devils have an unsightly 6.27 ERA and just 133 strikeouts in 186.2 innings, at 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings the second-worst ratio in the league.

Duke competes; just ask Louisville ace Brendan McKay, whom the Devils defeated Friday in Louisville behind seven strong innings by Mitch Stallings and the 12th home run of the season by Griffin Conine.

The son of ex-Marlins big leaguer Jeff Conine, Griffin is tied (with N.C. State’s Joe Dunand, among others) for fifth in the league with 12 home runs.

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