After becoming the first team in program history to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals out of the loser’s bracket, the North Carolina baseball team will host the Arkansas Razorbacks in a best-of-three series starting this Saturday at Boshamer Stadium.
The Razorbacks are fresh off of winning the Stillwater Regional. Arkansas defeated No. 7 seed Oklahoma State twice in three days, including a regional-clinching 7-3 victory on Monday.
Here are three keys for the Diamond Heels to avoid being upset by the Razorbacks and punch a ticket to the NCAA Men's College World Series.
Limit Arkansas' late-game offense
Across the Razorbacks’ batting order, no particular name is going to jump off of the stat sheet.
Rather, Arkansas boasts numerous hitters who have all put up serviceable numbers, combining to create an offense that can score from any part of the lineup. With six hitters batting over .270 and four Razorbacks launching at least 10 home runs this season, Arkansas can strike at any point in the game.
This balance has helped the Razorbacks produce late-game heroics that proved detrimental to Oklahoma State. In their three games against the Cowboys, the Razorbacks scored a combined 19 runs in the games’ final two innings.
The Diamond Heels have sophomore pitcher Davis Palermo to counter Arkansas’ end-of-game fireworks. The right-handed pitcher has become one of North Carolina’s most reliable closers and has only surrendered 16 earned runs in 55 innings pitched.
Maintain bats across the board
North Carolina’s start of the batting order poses a dangerous, five-headed attack.
There’s leadoff hitter Angel Zarate, who holds a .360 batting average and is as consistent as anyone on the team at getting on base.
Then, there's the three-hole manned by junior Danny Serretti, the team leader in batting average at .365.
In the clean-up spot, first-year Vance Honeycutt has made a name for himself in his first season in Chapel Hill, tallying 24 home runs and 29 stolen bases.
Couple these players with sophomores Mac Horvath and Alberto Osuna — who have cranked 18 and 20 home runs, respectively — and the Diamond Heels possess a dangerous top-half batting order.
But in June, everyone needs to contribute.
And that’s just what the Diamond Heels did in the Chapel Hill Regional.
Sophomore Tomas Frick hit just his second and third home runs of the season, while sophomore Colby Wilkerson chipped in a season-high three hits against Hofstra.
Cap that off with senior Mikey Madej bringing home the regional’s Most Outstanding Player award, and North Carolina has shown it can receive contributions from everyone in its lineup — a trend that’s going to have to continue for the team to be successful against Arkansas.
Withstand the spotlight
Sometimes the bright lights can get to a team.
Some players perform their best under the highest pressure and the most eyes watching. Others crumble with the weight of expectations being too much to perform under.
Over the course of this season, the Diamond Heels have found themselves in numerous high-pressure situations.
Playing against arch-rival N.C. State in the ACC Championship game and clawing itself out of the loser’s bracket in the Chapel Hill Regional are just a few recent times in which UNC executed in the spotlight.
And its weekend series against Arkansas will be no different.
The Diamond Heels will likely compete in front of a sold-out Boshamer Stadium crowd, all with a trip to collegiate baseball’s greatest stage on the line. The importance of every pitch, hit and fielding play will be maximized.
If North Carolina can play through the emotions and high stakes — and even use the bright lights of its home field to its advantage — the Diamond Heels could be on their way to Omaha, Neb.