Know Your Enemy: Hogs vs. Heels preview with Tar Heels Wire’s Zack Pearson

·5 min read

Arkansas escaped Oklahoma last weekend in what was one of the most electrifying and most viewed, regionals of the weekend.

After opening the Stillwater Regional with a win over a feisty Grand Canyon team last Friday, Arkansas went 2-1 over the host Oklahoma State Cowboys to claim the regional, and move on to their fourth consecutive Super Regional.

Arkansas’ next stop on the road to Omaha is Chapel Hill, N.C., home of the North Carolina Tar Heels, where they will do battle with the winners of the Chapel Hill regional beginning Saturday morning.

The Atlantic Coast Conference champions had a similar road to a regional title, as they had to dig themselves out of the loser’s bracket. After falling to Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday night, the Tar Heels would get revenge by beating the Rams twice to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s not the only similarity that Arkansas and North Carolina share. Both teams also overcame slumps during the season, and are now playing their best baseball when it matters most.

Arkansas ended the regular season by dropping their final two SEC series of the season to Vanderbilt and Alabama respectively, before bowing out of the SEC Tournament after two games. Arkansas seems to have found their spark again, as they were able to post 37 runs in the final three games of the Stillwater Regional.

North Carolina’s struggles began in the last week of March, and basically lasted all through April. The Tar Heels were swept by Miami during their series March 25-27 in Coral Gables, and would go on to drop four straight ACC series before regaining their footing against rival NC State during the first weekend in May. The Tar Heels would end the season by winning their final three ACC series, and going a perfect 4-0 in the ACC Tournament.

Need more information on this weekend’s Super Regional foe? Well, you have come to the right place. Zack Pearson of Tar Heels Wire has had his finger on the pulse of North Carolina baseball all season long, and was nice enough to provide insight on the Tar Heels from a local’s prospective.

Here’s the next installment of “Know Your Enemy” from Razorbacks Wire:

What are Zack's thoughts on the Tar Heels' season?

It’s been a bit of an odd season for the Tar Heels. They got off to a hot start going 15-2 to open the year but then kind of just dipped midway through. There was a point where myself, and many others thought this team wouldn’t make the field before they turned things around. They had a 5-11 stretch in which they just seemed lost and were really struggling before turning things around. They finished the season at one point going 15-2 again to save their year including winning the ACC Tournament. If you asked me this mid-year, I’d say they didn’t have a shot at the field. But now? I think they are one of the hottest teams left and have really turned things around. They are firing on all cylinders and have a good amount of guys contributing right now.

Who is the key arm for North Carolina?

I’m going to go with the obvious answer of Max Carlson who will start the first game of this series for UNC. He’s been their ace this season and the Tar Heels will have him going on full rest for the first time in the postseason. Carlson has been fantastic for UNC all season long with a 3.61 ERA in just over 72 innings pitched. I name him the most important because it’s key for UNC to get off to a good start in Game 1. If he comes out strong and dominates, it should set the tone for the Tar Heels.

 A bonus pitcher to watch out of the bullpen is Gage Gillian. He came up big for UNC in their regional series win and was really good in that final game against VCU. Their bullpen is proven and Gillian is a strong piece there.

Who are the key bats in the lineup?

I have to start with Vance Honeycutt. The freshman has been fantastic and is the first player in UNC history to post a 20-plus home run and 20-plus stolen base campaign here in 2022. The centerfielder is one of the best hitters in the country and can get it done with his glove as well. 

This is a good UNC lineup centered around Honeycutt. But guys like Angel Zarate, Alberto Osuna, and Danny Serretti are names to watch. This lineup can hit for power and has guys that find ways to get on base for those big RBI spots. It’s. better lineup than advertised, especially at the top. 

What was the most critical moment of the Chapel Hill Regional for North Carolina?

There’s a few moments that really stand out but the one I’m going with is (head coach) Scott Forbes getting suspended two games by the NCAA. During Saturday’s loss to VCU, Forbes was ejected after arguing two (bad) calls that went against UNC. Later on, the NCAA announced the suspension of Forbes for two games. The Tar Heels lost that game and faced a scenario where they had to win three-straight to advance. They did just that by beating Georgia and VCU on Sunday night, then VCU again on Monday night. In the loss to VCU the bats were ice cold until the ninth inning but those three games after, UNC really turned things on.

Honorable mention: Vance Honeycutt robbing the game-tying solo home run against Georgia. Kept the Tar Heels in front as they got the final out to win. 

What needs to go right for North Carolina to win the Chapel Hill Super Regional?

Might seem obvious. But score lots of runs. They need to jump all over Arkansas early on in Game 1 and the game(s) after. There’s a reason why Arkansas is here and why they were considered one of the top teams in the preseason polls. This is a VERY tough matchup for UNC and if they fall behind early and find themselves in a game where they trail by 4-5 runs, it could be over early on.

1

1