Fresh off its 2-1 series victory over Virginia, the No. 17 North Carolina baseball team will head up to Blacksburg, Virginia, to face the commonwealth’s other ACC school — the No. 16 Virginia Tech Hokies — on Friday afternoon for a weekend series.
The Hokies come into this weekend at 5-1, straight off a 2-1 series win over top-10 Miami. The Tar Heels and Hokies have not gotten together on the diamond since March 2019 in Blacksburg — a series UNC won 2-1.
Prior to Sunday's loss to the Cavaliers, the Diamond Heels had won their last six games, sweeping James Madison, beating Elon and taking the first two games of the best-of-three series versus UVA. North Carolina’s average margin of victory in those games was about 2.7 runs per game, with the loss to the Cavaliers coming by just one run.
Head coach Scott Forbes’ club boasts seven players batting at least .240, including sophomore transfer outfielder Justice Thompson’s .520 average. Thompson leads the team in batting average, hits (13), runs (eight), on-base percentage (.586), slugging percentage (.920), stolen bases (three) and total bases (23). The Tampa, Florida, native is also tied for the team lead in home runs (two) and at-bats (25), and is tied for second in RBIs.
Redshirt sophomore outfielder Angel Zarate is batting .333 and has stolen two bases this season. Zarate and first-year infielder Johnny Castagnozzi are both hitting over .250 and have an on-base percentage of at least .350.
Defensively, the Tar Heels’ first-year catcher Tomas Frick leads the team in putouts with 64, followed by 38 for graduate first baseman Brett Centracchio. Shortstop Danny Serretti leads the team in assists with 11.
The North Carolina pitching staff has held high-powered offenses in check this season. The most runs the Tar Heels have given up in one game is four, and against the top-15 Cavaliers, UNC gave up no more than three. Redshirt sophomore pitcher Austin Love leads the team in ERA at 1.35 through 13.1 innings pitched, including a team-high 15 strikeouts.
The Hokies, on the other hand, boast an offensive lineup that has scored nine or more runs in a game three times, including 22 against Radford on Feb. 23.
Among players appearing in at least three games, outfielder Tanner Thomas leads the team in batting average (.400) and on-base percentage (.471). Of the main starters, infielder TJ Rumfield ranks first in home runs (three), slugging percentage (.833), total bases (20), at-bats (24), hits (nine) and doubles (two).
Head coach John Szefc has seven players batting at least .220. Among those is infielder Tanner Schobel, who leads the team with 10 RBIs — but Rumfield and outfielder Gavin Cross are not far behind with seven apiece.
On defense, Rumfield leads the team in putouts at 47, while infielder Kevin Madden has recorded 19 assists, the team-high.
To boot, Virginia Tech has only committed four errors on the season, one fewer than the Tar Heels.
On the mound, the team boasts a collective ERA of 2.21, and the Hokies are not afraid to go to their bullpen when needed, with 12 different players having pitched at least one inning. Anthony Simonelli is the only Virginia Tech pitcher to allow a home run, showing how rarely teams carry the fence against the Hokies.
This should be a low-scoring series because of how good both pitching staffs are. It's still only the first week of March, but North Carolina’s strength appears to be its defense, while Virginia Tech’s offense has put up gaudy numbers at the plate this season. They’re also right beside each other in the rankings, so all three games should be close.
Friday’s first pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Atlantic Union Bank Park in Blacksburg. Both Saturday and Sunday’s games start at 1 p.m.