The North Carolina baseball team is set to begin a three-game series against N.C. State at Boshamer Stadium this Friday.
The Tar Heels (13-6, 8-4 ACC) climbed to No. 11 in the Baseball America poll this week after an impressive sweep against Clemson, taking two out of three against Boston College last weekend and beating No. 8 East Carolina on Tuesday.
Despite finishing with a 14-3 record in the shortened 2020 season, the Wolfpack (5-9, 1-8 ACC) have struggled out of the gate this year. The team suffered five straight losses before pulling off a 5-3 win against UNC-Wilmington in its most recent game.
UNC and N.C. State did not face each other in the shortened 2020 season, so Friday will be the first time these rivals have squared off in almost two years.
The last meeting took place in May 2019, when the Wolfpack took two out of three games in Chapel Hill, including a dominant 11-0 shutout win in the series finale. Despite losing the series, the Tar Heels bounced back just over a week later to claim the ACC Tournament title.
In the history of the rivalry, both teams have been relatively evenly matched. Of their 101 matchups, UNC has won 52 games and N.C. State has won 49. Typically, both teams have similar records when they face off, but this year has been much different. While the Wolfpack have struggled, the Tar Heels have jumped near the top of the ACC Coastal Division standings.
Part of the Tar Heels' early season success can be attributed to the leadership of Scott Forbes as head coach. This is Forbes' 20th season with the team and first as its head coach, as he has also served in a number of different roles throughout the years. His experience with North Carolina — being an assistant on seven College World Series appearances and the same number of ACC division titles — has been invaluable to UNC, as the team has three wins over top-10 opponents.
A plethora of talented players has also contributed to UNC's hot start. Friday's starting pitcher Austin Love boasts a 4-0 record and leads the team in strikeouts with 37. He was also named ACC Pitcher of the Week in February after a nine-strikeout game secured an 8-1 win over James Madison.
At the plate, the Tar Heels have been led by sophomore outfielder Justice Thompson, who leads the team with a .356 batting average and 1.041 OPS. He is joined by redshirt sophomore outfielder Angel Zarate, who is hitting .315 and has reached base safely in 39 consecutive games.
UNC’s successful start to the season includes a 10-2 record at home. N.C. State has only played one away game this year, which was its recent win against UNC-Wilmington. Given the Wolfpack's struggles so far this season, playing on the road could be problematic when facing a UNC team that has thrived at Boshamer Stadium.
The first pitch of the series is slated for 6 p.m. on Friday, and will be followed by afternoon games on Saturday and Sunday. This rivalry weekend slate could ultimately dictate the direction of where the Tar Heels are headed as they reach the heart of their ACC schedule.