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Preview: The keys to victory in UNC baseball's ACC Tournament matchups

UNC outfielders Angel Zarate (10), Justice Thompson (20), and Caleb Roberts (11) wait in the outfield during a timeout at the game against UNCW on Tuesday May 18, 2021 at Boshamer stadium. The Tar Heels won 14-9.

On Tuesday, the ACC Baseball Tournament will return for the first time since 2019, where it will be played at Truist Field in Charlotte. But the reigning champion Tar Heels will have quite the road ahead of them if they want to repeat.

The tournament features the top twelve teams in the ACC standings, who are split into three-team pools that play round-robin style for the first four days of the tournament. The winners from each of those pools advance to a four-team, single-elimination bracket with the semifinals on Saturday and the championship game on Sunday.

As part of Pool C, the No. 6 seed Tar Heels will play No. 10 Pittsburgh on Tuesday and No. 3 seed NC State on Friday. In the event that all three teams are tied at the end of pool-play, the highest seeded team will advance, meaning UNC will need to win both games to make the semifinals.

Here’s a breakdown of UNC’s matchups, including keys to victory for both games:

Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. Tuesday

Pitt’s low seed isn’t so much an indicator of the team’s talent as it is a byproduct of the uber-competitive ACC. They finished conference play just one game below .500, compared to the Tar Heels who were even at 18-18. 

The Panthers’ overall winning percentage for the season (.537) was actually higher than UNC’s (.520), but because tournament seeds are based on conference winning percentage, UNC was seeded higher.

When the Tar Heels last played Pitt back in April, they dropped two of the three games in the series. At the time, the Panthers were ranked as high as No. 17 in the major national polls, but UNC played them close, losing the first two games in a Saturday afternoon doubleheader by a combined margin of five runs. The Tar Heels’ bats came alive for the Sunday finale, winning 10-9.

For North Carolina to come out on top on Saturday, they will have to look out for Pitt’s leadoff batter, sophomore third baseman Sky Duff. Simply put, Duff knows how to get on base. His batting average of .365 is fourth-best in the ACC and his on-base percentage of .462 is fifth-best. 

UNC cannot allow Duff to get the Panther’s offense going early, as the Tar Heels are just 8-14 in games where they’ve allowed their opponents to score in the first inning.

NC State, 7 p.m. Friday

NC State was one of two teams this season to sweep UNC in the regular season, winning all three games of their weekend series in March. It wasn’t particularly close either; the Wolfpack outscored the Tar Heels 23-6 over the course of the three days.

NC State wins its games at the plate – they lead the ACC with a team batting average of .292 and their team slugging percentage of .507 is top-ten in the country. Junior outfielder Jonny Butler leads the offense with an ACC-best .406 batting average.

Where the Wolfpack falters is its pitching staff, which has an ERA of 5.16, fourth-highest in the ACC. The team tends to give up a lot of extra-base hits, which UNC will have to capitalize on if they hope to win the matchup.

At points throughout the season, the Tar Heels have struggled to put runs on the board when it counts – the team’s 252 RBIs are fourth-worst in the ACC – but in their more recent series they’ve been better at responding after big innings by their opponents.

NC State will more than likely flash their offensive might against UNC on Friday, and when they do, the Tar Heels must be ready to keep up the pace.

@DTHSports |

Lucas Thomae

Lucas Thomae is the 2023-24 sports managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as an assistant sports editor and summer editor. Lucas is a senior pursuing a major in journalism and media with a minor in data science.