The North Carolina baseball team’s 2021 season ended abruptly in Lubbock, Texas, in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament with a 12-2 loss to UCLA in June.
Featuring an outstanding outfield with three draft picks, an all-Region pitcher and a power-hitting first baseman with a .465 slugging percentage, the Tar Heels managed to sweep Clemson and Louisville, take down a highly-ranked ECU team and beat their rivals from Durham, the Duke Blue Devils, 21-8.
Head coach Scott Forbes, now in his second year, faces the task of replacing those talented players with a combination of transfers, in-house options and incoming first-years, as the season is set to start in a couple weeks.
“If you let yourself learn the first year, you’ll pretty much learn the most of any year,” Forbes said. “We were happy with the way things went, being able to get into the regional, but that’s not our ultimate goal.”
On the mound pitching this season, sophomore right-hander Max Carlson, junior left-hander Brandon Schaeffer and senior right-hander Gage Gillian should command most of the workload, but also expect graduate Shaddon Peavyhouse, sophomore Davis Palermo, senior Caden O’Brien and sophomore Connor Bovair to provide relief from the bullpen or spot starts throughout the season.
Forbes has not announced his weekend starters yet, so the UNC pitching rotation should be fluid to start the season.
“Last year, we had a lot of talent, and I think that’s the same case this year,” O’Brien said. “If we can buy into the M.O. that we always have a chip on our shoulder, that people are always counting us out and we have to prove people wrong, I think that will help us out a lot.”
Sophomore catcher Tomas Frick returns after starting 52 of 53 games last year, bringing strong defensive ability and an added year of experience behind the plate. He threw out 34.8 percent of base stealers a season ago, so expect that number to only go up in 2022.
As for the infield, junior shortstop Danny Serretti returns following a strong end to last season. The New Jersey native teams up with sophomore Johnny Castagnozzi — making the transition from second to first base — and fellow sophomore Mac Horvath at third to create a talented group with another year under their belts.
Second base is the only position in question, but the two leading candidates for the spot are sophomores Colby Wilkerson and Patrick Alvarez.
Though Serretti is academically a junior, this will be his last season in a Tar Heel uniform, and he’s expected to be the leader of this team that hopes to improve on last year’s regional finish.
“Back when I was a freshman, I was just trying to learn from the guys and ride their coattails,” Serretti said. “Now, I’m the guy that these new kids are looking at and I’m trying to show them the Carolina way.”
Last season's best group was its outfielders, with Justice Thompson and Caleb Roberts in center and right, respectively. Angel Zarate, who started in left field, is now a redshirt junior in right and will be in charge of acclimating speedy first-year Vance Honeycutt to center and sophomore Tyler Causey — previously a third baseman — to left. Other outfielders to keep an eye on are sophomore Will Stewart and first-year Reece Holbrook.
“Honeycutt, that dude can absolutely fly,” Zarate said. “It’s been fun teaching them the ways of the outfield, and it’s really not too tough of a job, you just track the ball down and catch it.”
This year’s schedule features weekend series against East Carolina, Florida State, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, a matchup with South Carolina at Truist Field in Charlotte and two road series against Duke and N.C. State.
Opening Day is Feb. 18 at home against Seton Hall at Boshamer Stadium, with opening pitch at 3 p.m.
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