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North Carolina - Series Preview

Posted on April 13, 2018, in Baseball by Karl Hess.

UVA breezed to a win over Radford on Wednesday night. The level of competition, as well as the stakes, increase dramatically as the North Carolina Tarheels arrive in town for a three game series. A series win could make a loud statement that the Hoos are back on track. A series loss dampens the momentum the Hoos captured in last Sunday's thrilling walk off win over Virginia Tech.

Game Schedule

As of now, Sunday's game is still scheduled. But as we'll see in the weather outlook, Mother Nature may force UVA's hand and require a doubleheader on Saturday.

Friday - 6 PM

Saturday - 4 PM

Sunday - 1 PM

Projected Starting Pitchers

Friday - UVA:  RHP Derek Casey (4-2, 3.38 ERA, 56.0 IP, 11 walks, 70 strikeouts) vs UNC:  RHP Tyler Baum (3-0, 4.43 ERA, 44.2 IP, 20 walks, 51 strikeouts)

Last weekend against the Hokies, Casey delivered a man's effort on the mound. He pitched a complete game shutout. It was the first nine inning shutout by a UVA pitcher since Connor Jones did the same against Boston College in 2016. Against the Hokies, Casey gave up only 3 hits and didn't walk a batter. He also struck out 7 to increase his team lead to 70 on the season. His strikeout total continues to rank him second in the ACC behind Wake Forest's Griffin Roberts who has 79. Casey's performance against the Hokies earned him recognition as the ACC Co-Pitcher of the Week. Connor Jones was the last UVA pitcher to win that award.

Starting opposite Derek Casey will be sophomore right hander Tyler Baum. During his Tarheel career, Baum has started 23 of his 24 career appearances including all 8 this season. Baum was a more successful pitcher as a freshman but he's pitched well enough in spots this season to be the Friday starter for UNC. Baum has earned a no decision in his last three starts for the Heels. Last weekend against Miami, he pitched 5.2 innings in an 8 to 4 UNC win. While on the mound, Baum gave up 6 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 3 walks, struck out 8, and threw 3 wild pitches. This will be Baum's first action against the Hoos in his career.

Saturday - UVA:  LHP Daniel Lynch (2-3, 3.71 ERA, 53.1 IP, 13 walks, 68 strikeouts) vs UNC:  RHP Austin Bergner (4-1, 4.29 ERA, 35.2 IP, 21 walks, 42 strikeouts)

With another double digit strikeout effort against the Hokies, Lynch has almost caught Derek Casey for the team lead. With 68 strikeouts, he now sits third in the ACC. Lynch's 10 strikeouts against the Hokies gave him four consecutive games of ten or more strikeouts. Lynch joined Danny Hultzen as the only UVA pitcher to accomplish that feat. Hultzen was able to do it in five consecutive starts to being the 2011 season.

The Heels will send another sophomore to the mound against the Hoos in right hander Austin Bergner. Coming into this season, Bergner was mostly used as a reliever as a freshman. He made 24 relief appearances against only 3 starts. This season, he's mostly been a starter with 6 starts in 8 total appearances including his last 6 appearances in a row. As his numbers show, he's had an up and down season despite a nice record. Bergner struggled last weekend against Miami and in starts against Louisville and Liberty. His start against Florida State was his most impressive outing of the year. He struck out 10 in 6.1 innings against the Seminoles while giving up only 2 runs (both earned). Last weekend in that start at Miami, Bergner lasted only 3.0 innings. He gave up 5 runs (4 earned), 7 hits, 2 walks, and struck out only 1. Despite Miami's hot start, the Tarheels still won the game 9 to 6.

Last season, Bergner pitched 3.0 innings of scoreless relief in a 12 to 2 UNC win against UVA. Bergner earned the W in the game. He gave up 2 hits, 1 walk, threw 1 wild pitch, and struck out 2 during his stint on the mound.

Sunday - UVA:  TBD vs UNC:  TBD

Neither team has named a starter for the third game in the series. For UVA, it would be a shock if Grant Donahue doesn't get the start as there's been no word of Evan Sperling returning to action soon. None of the other UVA options are experienced enough for this level of competition yet and Bobby Nicholson figures to be unavailable after starting against Radford on Wednesday.

Look for UNC to start either junior right hander Rodney Hutchison or junior right hander Taylor Sugg. Hutchison has started the third game of UNC's last two ACC series while Sugg got the ball in the previous three.

Weather Watch (courtesy of Weather.com)

Friday has blessed the fans with one of those perfect Charlottesville days. There's no precipitation around, the skies are clear, the humidity is low, there's a stiff breeze, and the temps are in the lower 80s. 

Saturday afternoon promises more of the same. The weather will be an almost carbon copy of Friday's. There will be no issues having a doubleheader especially given Sunday's forecast.

Thunderstorms are on the menu for Sunday afternoon in Charlottesville. Chances are at 60% and rising beginning at noon.

Media Coverage

Once again, ACC Network Extra is scheduled to provide live video streaming of all three games in the series. You can catch it on your ESPN streaming platform of choice.

WINA.com is currently scheduled to provide streaming of the radio call for Friday's and Sunday's games. Likewise, they'll have the same coverage schedule with over the air radio coverage. Given the likelihood that Sunday's game becomes part of a Saturday doubleheader, radio fans should plan on Friday's game being the only one available.

Prediction

The Tarheels are probably the best team UVA has played this season although Duke would likely argue that point. The Heels and Blue Devils are currently tied for first in the ACC Coastal division. And while the Hoos have won 4 of their last 5 games, the 12th ranked Tarheels have won 7 of 8 and 13 of 16.

The key will be limiting UNC in the first inning as the Heels are outscoring opponents 30 to 9 in the first. They also hold a 13-2 record when scoring in the opening inning. For UVA to win the series, they'll need credible efforts from all three starters. It would also help tremendously if those hits that were only singles for so much of the season continued the recent trend of becoming doubles, triples, and home runs.

While the Hoos almost always play UNC tough at home, a UVA sweep is certainly the least likely outcome this weekend. Unfortunately, I see UNC taking 2 of 3.