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UNC Baseball is off to a hot start

In the face of heavy losses from last season to this one, some new faces have stepped up and the Heels haven’t missed a beat

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 01 Div 1 Championship Chapel Hill Regional - North Carolina v Liberty Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Baseball season always starts with a bit of a whimper. It’s right in the midst of basketball season, for one, and the non-conference portion of the schedule can be a bit of a yawner for those who aren’t really invested in the sport. But with basketball season going... well, like it’s going, it might just be time for some of you to maybe divert some of the energy you devote to Carolina basketball to the diamond, where a team that lost a bunch of good players to the MLB Draft has rebounded admirably and is off to a 5-0 start after a 14-0 win over Elon on Wednesday. The Heels started the season ranked #23 by D1Baseball, and after sweeping Middle Tennessee State to start the season, are starting to climb up various rankings: Some have them as high as 13, though they’re still flitting around the top 20 in most rankings. That will surely change when they see some stiffer competition, as they will near the end of the month when they head to Minneapolis for the Cambria College Classic.

So far, the real story of the season has been Dylan Harris, who leads the team in basically all hitting categories with a .438/.571/.813 slash line. He has two home runs in the Heels’ 5 games as the leadoff hitter. Harris was known for his eye last year more so than for his bat, drawing a ton of walks despite not hitting incredibly well, but so far this year, he’s combined those two skills and gotten the Heels off to fast starts in nearly every game. Freshman catcher Eric Grintz has been a real surprise, too. He’s second on the team with a .429 batting average and leads the squad with 8 RBI at the 6 spot. Oh, and Joey Lancellotti, who we knew as a closing pitcher in his first two years as a Heel, is now the team’s DH after Aaron Sabato’s move to first base. He started out red-hot, with 2 hits and 2 RBI in his first game before a walk-off dinger to clinch the series against MTSU. He’s cooled off a little since then, and is hitting .235 so far, but he’s already shown his ability with the bat and promises to give some excitement to the season. Oh, and he’s the Friday starting pitcher, too.

Sabato was expected to star this season after a record-setting freshman year, but so far he’s been quiet. He was 1-17 in his first 18 plate appearances with 3 walks and an HBP, but then smashed a 2-run homer to really open the floodgates against Elon on Wednesday. That might unlock his bat for the rest of the season, because we already know how good he can be.

On the pitching side, I already mentioned Lancellotti as Friday starter, where he did admirably with five strikeouts in 5.1 innings. Mike Fox has experimented wildly with pitching staffs to start the season, as he should be with comparatively weaker competition and a lineup to rejigger after Luca Dalatri and Max Alba’s injuries in preseason. Alba should be back soon, but Dalatri is out indefinitely. It’s been working so far, though, as the Heels have allowed 9 runs in 5 games, and 4 of those came against MTSU on Sunday. Caden O’Brien was phenomenal in his only appearance so far, with 7 Ks in just 3 innings, and newcomers Michael Oh and Kyle Mott have pitched 4.0 scoreless innings apiece. Again, all of this will be tested when the Heels face bigger bats than MTSU, Elon, and High Point, but it’s all promising for a staff that lost Tyler Baum, Austin Bergner, Dalatri, and Hansen Butler from last year’s bullpen.

The Heels’ season continues this weekend with a series against Dallas Baptist University at Boshamer Stadium. With any luck, they’ll keep things rolling.