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Monday November 29th

North Carolina baseball faces crucial 18-game stretch to finish out regular season

Ike Freeman (8) makes the game-ending catch during the first game of Saturday's double header against UMass Lowell. UNC beat UMass Lowell 5-0 during the first game on Saturday, March 2, 2019.
Buy Photos Ike Freeman (8) makes the game-ending catch during the first game of Saturday's double header against UMass Lowell. UNC beat UMass Lowell 5-0 during the first game on Saturday, March 2, 2019.

After winning four of its first six ACC series, the postseason is drawing near for the No. 12 North Carolina baseball team.

In just 18 games and four more ACC series — three of which will be played at home — the Tar Heels will finish out the regular season with three games against No. 11 N.C. State before entering postseason play.

But before UNC gets there this last stretch of games will prove crucial, either for the team to reach its potential at the right time, or flail when it matters most.  

Fortune favors the home team

North Carolina already has a blueprint to postseason success in the late-season hot-streak that propelled the program to the College World Series in 2018. 

This time last year, UNC won 13 of its last 18 regular-season games and entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the country. Amidst that run, the Tar Heels swept three conference opponents in N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech to close out ACC play on a high note. 

Following the model of head coach Mike Fox's program in 2018, there's much working in the favor of the Tar Heels to repeat that recipe again. 

Leading into the end of the regular season on May 18, UNC has just four more away games the rest of the regular season. 

Outside of a series at Pittsburgh, 14 home games await UNC at Boshamer Stadium moving forward, which bodes well for a team that has only lost two games in Chapel Hill this season. The Tar Heels last lost a home game on March 15, and last season began a home winning streak that extended into 2019. 

On top of a home field advantage, UNC has already been playing quality baseball as of late. Over the last 14 games, UNC has emerged victorious 11 times. 

If the team has high aspirations, all it has to do is keep up the consistency it has had over the last several games, starting with an annual matchup with South Carolina on Tuesday at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte. 

Hot hitting

If there is any indication the Tar Heels are capable of a run like the one that propelled them to the College World Series last season, the most recent slate of games against Notre Dame could be that sign denoting what the team is capable of. 

In three games against the Fighting Irish, UNC hitters launched 10 home runs, as part of 38 hits over the course of the weekend in South Bend. 

Since ACC play began, the Tar Heels have averaged nine hits per game, with an above .500 record in the conference to show for it. 

Over last weekend, Michael Busch and Dylan Enwiller led the charge from the plate, hitting a pair of home runs each. 

While those two players shined, the Tar Heels best hitter for average this season has been junior shortstop Ike Freeman. The Rockwell, N.C. native is hitting for a .339 average over 37 games, bringing in 34 RBIs and a team-leading 43 hits.

Rankings

UNC will only face two ranked opponents the rest of the way, according to the most recent NCBWA poll. 

All three programs — the Wolfpack and No. 14 ECU — are evenly spaced out, with UNC only playing one per week. 

That means over the next several weeks, the Tar Heels should be favored in almost every game. 

While none of these factors guarantee a positive result to end the year, the opportunity for a solid launch into the most important part of the year should be all UNC could ask for with the postseason on the horizon. 

@_jackfrederick

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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