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UNC Baseball: Chapel Hill Super Regional Preview

The Heels host the Super Regional for the second consecutive year.

Photo by Evan Davis

Eight ACC teams earned bids to the NCAA Baseball Regionals. Half of them survived the weekend — your ACC Tournament champion and #14 national seed North Carolina Tar Heels were one of them. As a reward for taking care of business (and overall #3 seed Georgia Tech falling apart in Atlanta) , the Heels will host one of eight Super Regionals this weekend. The Auburn Tigers visit Boshamer Stadium for a best-of-three series with a bid to the College World Series in Omaha on the line.

So, a UNC sports team faces another SEC team. What could go wrong!?

The Super Regionals are noticeably different than the opening weekend Regional format. Whereas the Regionals consist of four teams playing a double-elimination mini-tournament, the Super Regionals are a best of-three series between two teams who won their respective Regional pod. The field has been reduced from 64 teams to 16 and the winner of each Super Regional will advance to Omaha.

North Carolina (#14 National Seed)

Record: 45-17, 17-13 ACC, 3-0 Regional
Last CWS Appearance: 2018
Last Super Regional: 2018

Season Recap: Just read our Regional Preview from last week.

How They Got Here: The Chapel Hill Regional had a little bit of everything. Clutch pitching. Mental lapses. Head scratching miscues. Run-saving defense. Timely hitting. Massive home runs. Questionable calls by the umpire. Strike zones that changed with each pitch. It was everything we have come to expect from the Diamond Heels in June.

The Heels went undefeated in their regional, playing each team that made the trek to the Bosh. They escaped UNC-Wilmington despite the defense’s best efforts to give the game away on Friday and steamrolled Liberty on Saturday. On Sunday, they jumped on Tennessee early before that contest evolved into a a pitcher’s duel for the final 8 1/3 innings.

A game-tying home run in the bottom of the 9th by Aaron Sabato was arguably the highlight of the weekend, and with good reason. UNC had coughed up the lead the prior inning thanks to some shaky defense, and the freshman’s heroics arrived just in time. A three-hour weather delay immediately ensued. When play resumed, UNC-W had lost any magic it had owned prior to the delay. Four batters later, with the bases loaded and no outs, a misplayed rundown of Danny Serretti between third base and home on an unsuccessful suicide squeeze resulted in a walk-off win. (Yes. You read that right).

The rest of the weekend UNC didn’t commit an error, scored 21 runs, and only allowed 3 earned runs. The bats came alive against Liberty in a 16-2 victory, as the Heels recorded five home runs. Then defense and pitching held Tennessee at arm’s length in the final game. Starting pitcher Austin Bergner ran his season record to 6-1 with a dominating 7.0 inning performance where he allowed 4 hits and recorded 8 strikeouts against the Vols.

North Carolina winning streak now stands at seven games, having defeated seven different opponents in that stretch. Per Bryan Ives of ESPN, Mike Fox’s record at home in the postseason is an astounding 40-7.

Player(s) to Watch: Last week we mentioned Michael Busch and Aaron Sabato. Considering that they combined for 3 home runs, 4 RBI, and 7 runs scored we’ll pat ourselves on the back. Now that you know them, I’ll turn the attention to a lesser known contributor.

Dallas Tessar has been on a roll. With only five starts to his credit before the ACC Tournament began, Tessar has been in the starting lineup for all seven postseason games, recording a hit in all 7. This postseason, he’s hitting .346 with 2 runs, 5 RBI, and 1 home run. They aren’t eye-popping numbers, but for a guy who warmed the bench for the first 55 games of the season, that’s an impressive run. If the defense suffers mental lapses against the Tigers, any and all offensive production will be needed.

Auburn

Record: 36-25, 14-16 SEC, 3-0 Regional
Last CWS Appearance: 1997
Last Super Regional: 2018

Regular Season Recap: The Tigers didn’t exactly have a memorable regular season. They limped to a 14-16 conference record, earning a #8 seed in their conference tournament where they beat Tennessee, before falling to Vanderbilt and LSU.

In the regular season, they only won four series in conference play. Only one of those was a full 3-game sweep – against he Tennessee. In fact, the Vols were the only SEC team that the Tigers defeated in consecutive games. They stumbled into the tournament as the #2 seed in the Atlanta Regional….and promptly beat the #3 overall seed, Georgia Tech, in back-to-back games.

Welcome to college baseball, folks!

How Did They Get Here: As mentioned above, they won the Atlanta Regional. The Tigers opened the festivities with a 16-7 drubbing of Coastal Carolina. From there, they held on to win a pair of tight contests against the Yellow Jackets.

In the first game, Auburn needed four runs in the bottom of the ninth to remain in the winner’s bracket. A throwing error eventually led to the first run. A 2-out, 3-run home run plated the other three. That was all the confidence Auburn needed, and they held on the next day for a follow-up 4-1 win.

On the weekend, they scored 26 runs on 36 hits. That success at the plate helped mask four errors and 16 runs allowed. (Though not all were earned, thanks to some of those errors). They weren’t dominant, but sometimes you just have to be good enough.

Player(s) to Watch: We’ll go with three guys to watch.

Outfielder Judd Ward led the SEC in outfield assists, while leading the teams with a .288 average, .804 OPS, .397 on-base percentage and 67 hits. He’s second on the team with 95 total bases. Likely the most complete, all-around player on the Tigers’ roster, Ward can be dangerous in the field and at the plate.

His infield counterpart Edouard Julien also deserves some attention. He leads the team in walks (42), RBI (48) and runs (46, and is second in home runs (8) and doubles (14).

Finally, starting pitcher Tanner Burns is worth mentioning. With 14 starts on the year, Burns only has a 4-3 record, but likely deserves better with a 2.81 ERA. With 97 strikeouts to just 20 walks, he’s been the victim of poor defense and lack of run support. He’ll likely take the mound in Friday’s opening game.

The first game is scheduled for Saturday, June 8th at Noon.