UNC Baseball, in decisive fashion, swept Virginia Tech this weekend to clinch the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament. The Heels, after stumbling initially to an 8-7 record after 15 games, have turned their season around dramatically to finish with a 37-17 (21-8) record, including series sweeps against Georgia Tech and NC State. While the Heels’ hot streak seemed to have fizzled of late, with a series loss at home to Duke and nonconference losses to Coastal Carolina and UNC-Wilmington, the season-ending series against last-place Virginia Tech might have been just what the Heels needed to rebound. None of the games were remotely close (scores of 9-1. 11-2, and 6-1), and the Diamond Heels enter the postseason with some pop in their bats and some confidence in the bullpen.
The big news of the weekend was the return of ace pitcher Gianluca Dalatri, whose recovery from an elbow injury (he did not require surgery) had been shrouded in mystery, with reports varying wildly on when, or if, he would be able to return this season. He made it back for the Saturday game against the Hokies and looked fantastic, pitching 4 scoreless innings, throwing 35 of his 47 pitches for strikes, striking out 3. He gave up 2 hits and walked one batter. If Dalatri is truly ready to play, that will be a huge boost to a Tar Heel bullpen that has faced some instability recently. Former Friday starter Tyler Baum, for example, has been relegated to relief duty after some recent struggles. Against a Virginia Tech team that couldn’t get going at all this weekend, Baum didn’t make it through a full inning on Saturday before Mike Fox ordered a pitching change. Baum is a talented pitcher, and hopefully he can turn back the clock to regain his midseason form for the postseason. In either case, though, having an arm as good as Dalatri’s back in rotation is a welcome sight for Tar Heel fans.
On the batting side of things, scoring 26 runs in 3 games should be a confidence boost to any batting side, but special mention should be given to Ashton McGee, who went 6-for-11 over the weekend, including a 3-for-4 showing on Friday where he was a triple short of the cycle. McGee has been in incredible form since April after a hard slump to begin the season. Look at this comparison from Pat James of GoHeels.com:
Entering the Wake Forest series, held the last weekend of March, @DiamondHeels’ Ashton McGee was batting .159. Since then, he’s hitting .326 (30-for-92) over his last 26 games. That includes his 3-for-4 effort in today’s win over Virginia Tech.— Pat James (@patjames24) May 19, 2018
Brandon Riley also had a good series, going 6-12, after a cold streak of his own in which he had just 3 hits in his previous 20 at bats. As I mentioned before, the Heels’ ability to score runs almost at will this series makes it seemingly a perfect close to the season.
The ACC Tournament schedule was released earlier today, and while it might be confusing to follow, I’ll try to explain below.
The tournament’s format is comparable to the FIFA World Cup. There are four groups of 3 teams that all play each other, and the leader of each group advances to the semifinals. If all three teams go 1-1, the highest seed in the group advances. UNC, as the #1 seed, is in a group with #8 Georgia Tech and #12 Pittsburgh, and as long as they win one game, they will advance to the semifinals. They would obviously prefer to win both, but it’s good to know what’s needed. UNC will be in action on Wednesday at 7:00 PM and then on Friday at 3:00 PM. All games will be at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, NC.
Best of luck to the Diamond Heels!