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Thursday August 18th

Preview: UNC baseball set to open 2021 season against Kentucky

<p>UNC pitcher first-year Will Sandy (41) throws a pitch for the Tar Heels against South Florida Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019 at Boshamer Stadium. UNC beat South Florida 2-1.</p>
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UNC pitcher first-year Will Sandy (41) throws a pitch for the Tar Heels against South Florida Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019 at Boshamer Stadium. UNC beat South Florida 2-1.

The North Carolina baseball team will finally get another swing at a season on Friday, Feb. 19, after last season was cut short in March due to COVID-19.  

The Tar Heels will make their return to Boshamer Stadium for a three-game series against the SEC's Kentucky Wildcats. The last time UNC took the field for a competitive game was on March 11, 2020. Here's a look at how the Tar Heels and Wildcats stack up entering opening weekend. 

North Carolina 

UNC will enter the season unranked with a whopping 22 first-years or redshirt first-years listed on its roster, which can partially be attributed to the extra year of eligibility that was granted to spring sport athletes after last season.

The Tar Heels will also be under a new coaching regime with head coach Scott Forbes, who was named the successor to legendary skipper Mike Fox last August after spending 19 years as an assistant coach in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels return a solid group of pitchers with a mix of experience and young talent. The pitchers will be under the guidance of a familiar face in second-year pitching coach Bryant Gaines. Gaines will be heading into his 11th season in Chapel Hill after spending four years as a player for the Tar Heels and is in his second stint on the coaching staff.  

Leading the way for the pitchers is junior Joey Lancellotti, who had a 2.22 ERA in a team-high 24.1 innings of action last spring. Lancelotti also saw time at the plate, starting in 18 out of 19 games while hitting .233 with 10 RBIs and two home runs.

Sophomore Will Sandy, who was second in total innings pitched, will also return to the mound for the Tar Heels, giving them a formidable one-two punch to lead the rotation. 

To round out the staff, the Tar Heels also return some key pieces in redshirt junior Chris Joyner, redshirt sophomore Austin Love, sophomores Kyle Mott and Caden O'Brien, first-year Connor Ollio and redshirt first-year Max Alba. All of these pitchers threw 10 or more innings last season.

At the plate, the Tar Heels lost a crucial cog in their lineup in first baseman Aaron Sabato, who was picked 27th overall by the Minnesota Twins in last year's MLB draft. Despite the loss, UNC returns the majority of its everyday lineup from last year's team.

Leading the Tar Heels at the plate will be sophomore Danny Serretti, redshirt sophomores Angel Zarate and Earl Semper, junior Mikey Madej, senior Dallas Tessar and first-years Eric Grintz and Will Stewart. 

Kentucky

The Tar Heels will meet up with a veteran-led Wildcats group coached by skipper Nick Mingione. Kentucky sported an 11-6 record before its season was cut short last season right before the start of conference play.  

The Wildcats return with the majority of a solid pitching staff that threw an impressive 4.38 team ERA during the shortened season. 

Leading the pitching staff for the Wildcats are seniors Mason Hazelwood and Jimmy Ramsey, with juniors Cole Daniels, Alex Degen and Hunter Rigsby. Each of these pitchers had a sub-four ERA through 10 or more innings of action in the shortened season. 

At the plate, Kentucky will return eight of its top 10 batters from a veteran lineup that brought in 135 runs during a 17-game schedule last spring. 

Sophomore outfielder John Rhodes returns as the most impressive member of the Wildcats' lineup after being named last year's National Co-Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball News and batting .426 in 61 at-bats, including 19 RBIs and 10 doubles.

First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 3 p.m., as both teams will be looking to shake off the rust after nearly a year off.

@austinb_unc

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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