Chapel Hill Super Regional Primer
Show of hands, who had this in their bracket when they were released two weeks ago? I know I didn’t, I had everything picked out until the final pitch of the Saturday night game in Atlanta. Then Steven Williams crushed one towards Duluth and here we are, back in the Super for the second time in as many years. What a time to be alive! The present the Tigers receive for avenging two of their midweek losses by stealing a series in Atlanta? The ACC Tournament Champion North Carolina Tar Heels. There isn’t a ton of history between these two programs and any there is has all gone Auburn’s way with a 7-0 record spanning from 2001-03 including a series sweep in Chapel Hill. So who are these baseball Tar Heels and what can we expect from them this weekend. Let’s dive in.
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS 45-17 (17-13 ACC)
When you take a look at the UNC record for this season, it is very impressive with a 40+ win season and a 7 game winning streak to boot while also going 10-5 in their last 15. However, this is a team that is vulnerable to slipups, series losses on the season to Georgia Tech, NC State and Pitt are the only blemishes on a pretty sterling 2019 for Mike Fox and the Heels. Over the past weekend though, North Carolina was very impressive and took advantage of mistakes from their opponents like a good team should.
The Heels are a very well-balanced team and are paced on the mound by two starters that were taken in the first two days of the MLB Draft this week. The guy the Tigers will see Saturday morning is Tyler Baum who went in the 2nd Round to the Oakland A’s (66th overall), Tyler Baum. Baum is having an ok season (completely tongue in cheek) holding a 7-3 record with a 3.95 ERA in his 86.2 innings in his 16 appearances. The 6 foot 3 inch righty had a fastball that will go from 88-93 but normally sits around the upper part of that end, and uses that as his get me out pitch. His changeup will get down to 75-83 but his breaking ball will be the one to watch Saturday morning. Baum can get it in the 76-80 range but has trouble locating it for strikes sometimes. If he is not locating and Auburn doesn’t expand the strike zone on swings and misses and sits fastball, they can make noise.
The other top arm the Heels possess for the rest of this season is Austin Bergner, who went in the 9th round to the Detroit Tigers. Bergner enters this weekend with a sparkling 6-1 record but a 5.21 ERA in his 15 appearances (77.2 IP). He is definitely your classic hard throwing starter with 72 Ks on the season to just 27 walks. Look for his fastball to be in the 91-94 range but will bump up a bit faster than that at times. His put away pitch is without a doubt his change and the breaking ball that he will get massive swings and misses as teams sit on his fastball. Game 3 is where things get interesting for the Heels as there are plenty of options, but who will Coach Fox trust? Will Sandy was the Sunday option for UNC for most of the season, getting 11 starts in 21 appearances, but holds a 5.94 ERA and a 2-2 record in his 53 innings of work. Command seems to be his issue, giving up 56 hits and 30 walks while 35 of his 38 runs allowed were earned. Out of the pen, remember the name Austin Love (3.23 ERA in 61.1 IP), Caden O’Brien (4.91 ERA in 33 IP) and Hansen Butler (1.8 ERA in 20 IP, Drafted by the White Sox in the 25th round). Auburn will see all three more than likely this weekend, especially Austin Love.
At the plate, Auburn will meet the headliner for the Heels, Michael Busch early. The leadoff man for North Carolina went in the 1st round to the Dodgers (31st overall) and for good reason. Checking in at 6 ft Busch has more of an infielders arm strength but has a really nice bat. Hitting .290 on the season with 16 homers and an OPS of 1.008, he will be a tough out for anyone on the Auburn staff. The problem is, he isn’t having the best season on the team, even with those numbers. That honor goes to the freshman 1st baseman, Aaron Sabato. Sabato is hitting .341 with 16 home runs (both he and Busch are tied for the team lead) and an OPS of 1.129. Those are crazy numbers for anyone, much less a freshman. Other names to concern yourself with from a hitting standpoint are Danny Serretti (.295 BA), Ike Freeman (.294 BA, drafted by Cleveland in the 14th round) and Dylan Enwiller (.258 BA, 11-11 in Stolen Bases). Other notes to concern yourself with and will keep you up at night. Only 3 of the ‘regular starters’ (played in at least 75% of the Tar Heels games) have 5 or fewer home runs on the year. This lineup has power and will cash in on mistake pitches if you make them.
While this definitely won’t be the Tigers toughest test for sure, but this will be a test. You have to go back to the Mississippi State or Texas A&M series when Auburn has faced as good of a 1-2 punch on the hill, and these guys may be better that Small and Ginn or Dox and Lacy. Word has it that Auburn will go with Jack Owen on Saturday and Bailey Horn on Sunday and then an All Hands game on Monday if it should go to that. The main thing to watch for is if Auburn can string together base hits and keep the pressure on the Heels by scoring runs. Auburn’s pitchers don’t have to be perfect, but stay out of trouble and use the defense to get outs as this North Carolina team will put the ball in play. Two years ago, Auburn got to championship Sunday only to fall in the end. Last year, Auburn rushed through the regional round and got to the door step of Omaha. This year Auburn blasted through a loaded regional…can they continue the trend of taking one more step? We will know in four short days on Tobacco Road.