In most of the last week and change, it seemed highly unlikely that North Carolina baseball would be here hosting a super regional, and yet here they are.
For one, while they got to host a regional as the #10 overall seed, they potentially could’ve been matched up against the #7 overall seed Oklahoma State. The Cowboys would’ve had hosting privileges for super regionals should both teams advance.
It then seemed unlikely that UNC would advance when they dropped the winner’s bracket game to VCU. That meant that they would have to take the long road, winning three games in two days, including two against the Rams, who at that point had won 17 in a row.
However, thanks to some clutch plays and some big performances, they did just that, beating Georgia and then VCU twice to complete the comeback and win the regional. As that was happening, Oklahoma State couldn’t pull off the same feat as the Heels, and lost the decisive game of their regional to Arkansas. As a result, the Razorbacks are headed to Chapel Hill for super regionals for a spot in Omaha at the College World Series. Ahead of this weekend’s action, let’s take a look at UNC’s opponents.
Make no mistake at Arkansas’ lack of national seed, they are a very good team. They were D1Baseball.com’s #2 team in the preseason rankings, and were projected as a regional host until fairly late in the season. A late season swoon that saw them go 4-8 down the stretch and an early SEC Tournament exit ruined those chances, but those struggles did not end up mattering as they went 3-1 through regionals.
If regionals are anything to go off, this weekend could feature some high scoring affairs. UNC and Arkansas averaged 10 and 11 runs respectively last weekend, while allowing an average of 4.8 and 7.5.
As you would expect with what they did this weekend, the Razorbacks feature a deep lineup. Nine different Arkansas’ hitters have an OPS over .800, led by Cayden Wallace at .963, having hit 15 home runs and 17 doubles on the season. Wallace and second baseman Robert Moore both considered top 100 prospects in the upcoming MLB Draft according to MLB.com.
On the pitching front, while there aren’t many Razorbacks with sparkling numbers, there is some talent on their staff.
UNC will likely see Connor Noland in the opener. Noland has made the most starts and threw the most innings of anyone on Arkansas at 16 and 93.2. He gave the Hogs seven strong innings in this NCAA Tournament opening win over Grand Canyon. However, he’s struggled somewhat of late, with an ERA over 7 since April, including three runs allowed in a relief appearance against Oklahoma State in his most recent appearance.
Other pitchers the Heels will likely face off against including All-SEC Freshman team members starter Hagen Smith and reliever Brady Tygart.
The Tar Heels will likely be in for quite a fight this weekend if they want to go to Omaha. That being said, they’ve done quite a good job at fighting through games all throughout their late season run.