Tar Heels prepare for postseason
North Carolina’s Tar Heels got everything they wanted out of their final ACC series, against Virginia Tech.
The No. 6 Tar Heels won all three games, beating the Hokies 6-1 on Saturday at Boshamer Stadium to close out the regular season on a high.
The Heels clinched the ACC Coastal Division for the second straight year.
More so, by winning Saturday, UNC finished 22-8 in the ACC, beating out Clemson to claim the No. 1 overall seed in the ACC Baseball Championship for the first time since 2013.
Anything else? The Tar Heels (37-17) got some timely hitting, especially from the bottom of the order. And sophomore righthander Gianluca Dalatri had everyone smiling, including himself, by pitching four scoreless innings in his first outing since being shut down in late-February with an arm injury.
“We knew we had to step it up coming into postseason time,” third baseman Kyle Datres said. “This was a great weekend for us to get going and get on a little bit of a hot streak going into postseason.
“Our defense played really well this weekend, we got Luca back out there and we started swinging it. Now we're excited to see what happens.”
The Tar Heels and Clemson, the Atlantic Division winner, both closed 22-8 in the ACC but UNC held the tiebreaker edge. UNC swept N.C. State, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, while the Tigers lost all three games to the Wolfpack.
The Tar Heels, who lost to Florida State in the tournament championship game last season, will be in a pool with eighth-seeded Georgia Tech (31-25, 14-16) and 12th-seeded Pittsburgh (27-25, 11-19) in Durham.
And Dalatri now is another pitching option. Dalatri had not pitched in 12 weeks, sidelined by a stress reaction in the elbow of his right arm. Dalatri did not require Tommy John surgery but the 6-6 sophomore — a consensus Freshman All-American in 2017 — had not pitched since the Feb. 23 game at East Carolina.
“I always felt I was going to come back this year,” he said.
Dalatri’s first pitch was a strike and he fanned the first batter, Jack Owens, with a 93-mph fastball.
“After that first batter, I knew everything was starting to click back,” Dalatri said.
Dalatri struck out Sam Fragale to end the inning and allowed two hits over four innings as UNC took a 3-0 lead. He threw 47 pitches and believed he had more in him Saturday.
“I felt pretty close to being 100 percent,” he said.
But UNC coach Mike Fox went with the scripted plan, saying, "We've got to be very careful with him. Four innings was enough. That was exactly what we needed out of him."
Tyler Baum took over for Dalatri in the fifth but walked a pair of batters and was relieved by Josh Hiatt. The Hokies’ Nick Owens scored on a wild pitch by Hiatt but Hiatt fanned Tom Stoffel to retire the side.
Junior Brandon Riley drove in a pair of runs Saturday with a double and a bases-loaded walk. Ashton McGee, who had a big series for UNC, had a two-run, two-out double in the fifth as the Tar Heels pushed ahead 6-1.
The postseason did not end well for UNC in 2017 after a Coastal title and 23-7 ACC record. The Tar Heels were beaten 7-3 by FSU in the ACC title game, then could not advance out of an NCAA regional at Boshamer Stadium, losing twice to Davidson.
Datres. a junior, said the Tar Heels haven’t forgotten, saying, “You want to remember that feeling and that misery, and we’ll use that to our advantage this year.”