2022 NCAA Tournament Chapel Hill Regional Preview
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Hofstra (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 3 Virginia Commonwealth (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
No. 1 North Carolina (38-19)
All-Conference Team Honorees: SS Danny Serretti (2nd), OF Vance Honeycutt (3rd), OF Angel Zarate (3rd)
Season in a Sentence: North Carolina got off to a slow start in ACC play, to the point where it was on the wrong side of the bubble entering May, but the Tar Heels got going in time to work their way firmly onto the bubble by mid-May and then played so well late in May, including winning the ACC Tournament, that they found themselves hosting when the bracket was revealed.
Best Pitcher: Davis Palermo, RHP—UNC has some quality starting pitchers like Max Carlson and Brandon Schaeffer, but it’s often a program that likes to build out its pitching staffs starting from the back, and on this particular pitching staff, Palermo has been a key piece on the back end. He has a 2.49 ERA, 64 strikeouts and a .175 opponent batting average in 50.2 innings, and he has five saves.
Best Hitter: Danny Serretti, SS—Vance Honeycutt is probably the most dynamic player for the Tar Heels and his 11 homers in the month of May make him hotter than just about anyone, but Serretti is the choice here for how steady he’s been this season. After seeing his average go above and below .300 several different times early in the season, it went over .300 for good on March 20 and it’s only gone up since then. He’s hitting .370/.446/.557 with 16 doubles, seven home runs and 45 RBIs. In ACC play, his slash line was even better at .393/.490/.574.
Outlook: If North Carolina plays as well in June as it did in May, there’s nothing anyone else in this regional can do and the Tar Heels will be moving on to super regionals. That’s how hot they have been. Carlson and Schaeffer pitching well enough to bridge the gap to the pitchers in the bullpen UNC wants to go to will be important.
No. 2 Georgia (35-21)
All-Conference Team Honorees: SP Jonathan Cannon (1st)
Season in a Sentence: Georgia got off to a solid start in SEC play, winning three of its first four conference series and eyeing a spot as a regional host at the end of the season, but injuries to the pitching staff among other things conspired to send the Bulldogs into a bit of a tailspin late in the season, including losing their last four series and their only game in the SEC Tournament, which has them limping into the postseason a bit, both figuratively and literally.
Best Pitcher: Jonathan Cannon, RHP—There might not be a pitcher more essential to his team’s success than Cannon. On the days he pitches, Georgia expects to beat anyone. He has a 3.62 ERA, 65 strikeouts compared to just 10 walks and a .216 opponent batting average in 74.2 innings.
Best Hitter: Connor Tate, OF—The veteran outfielder is hitting .341/.433/.602 with 17 doubles, 12 home runs and 55 RBIs. That’s enough to lead (or tie for the lead) in every single one of those categories. He was also even better in SEC play, as he put up a .372/.463/.673 slash line. The Georgia lineup has generally done a nice job of picking up slack for the injury-depleted pitching staff this season, but Tate is the centerpiece.
Outlook: It’s simple (but that makes it no less true) that Georgia has to win Cannon’s start, presumably the opener against VCU. Beyond that, without a team in this regional that stands out as having lights-out starting pitching, Georgia will have a puncher’s chance to make it out of the regional if it can swing the bats well and win slugfests on its own terms.
No. 3 Virginia Commonwealth (40-18)
All-Conference Team Honorees: 1B Tyler Locklear (1st), 2B Ben Nippolt (1st), DH Will Carlone (2nd)
Season in a Sentence: VCU has had a great season from start to finish, even if for much of the campaign it was looking up in the Atlantic 10 standings at Davidson, which enjoyed the best regular season in program history, but in the end, the Rams won the A-10 auto bid on Davidson’s home field to send them to regionals for consecutive seasons for the first time since going three times in a row between 2001-2003.
Best Pitcher: Campbell Ellis, LHP—VCU eschews using pitchers in traditional starting roles and chooses instead to value a versatile staff featuring a bunch of pitchers who can throw a handful of innings every time out. In that arrangement, Ellis is as close to a workhorse as VCU gets. He has 70.1 innings this season across 20 starts, with just one of those starts going longer than four innings. He has a 3.45 ERA, a 60-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .240 opponent batting average.
Best Hitter: Tyler Locklear, 1B—As Locklear goes, so goes the VCU offense. He’s hitting .403/.540/.801 with 23 doubles, 19 home runs, 75 RBIs and 41 walks compared to 22 strikeouts. He leads the Rams in all three slash line categories, doubles and RBIs, and he not only leads the team in homers but his total makes up more than one-third of the team total of 56.
Outlook: VCU being able to deploy its pitching effectively in this regional will be key, especially with Georgia being more of an offensive team in general and UNC’s bats being smoking hot right now. With the rest of this regional likely coming in looking to make sure Locklear doesn’t beat them, it will also be important that the Rams get offensive production from someone other than him in big moments.
Player Development Drove Central Florida to NJCAA Title
A new approach from head coach Marty Smith helped Central Florida capture its first-ever NJCAA championship.
No. 4 Hofstra (30-21)
All-Conference Team Honorees: OF Brian Morrell (1st), SP Brad Camarda (1st), RP Michael O’Hanlon (1st), C Kevin Bruggeman (2nd)
Season in a Sentence: The Pride really responded to first-year coach Frank Catalanotto, as they won 30 games in a season for the first time since 2012, and more importantly, won the CAA Tournament to earn the program’s first-ever regional appearance.
Best Pitcher: Brad Camarda, RHP—Camarda goes into regionals with a 9-1 record, a 3.46 ERA, 74 strikeouts and a .224 opponent batting average in 91 innings. He had a heavy workload in the CAA Tournament, as he had three appearances, including two starts. All told, he gave up 11 hits and five runs in 15 innings, including seven strong innings in the win against Northeastern to clinch the auto bid.
Best Hitter: Brian Morrell, OF—After beginning his career at Notre Dame as a pitcher and then spending two seasons at St. John’s, the second of which was his first taste of regular playing time as a position player, Morrell really hit his stride this season at Hofstra. He’s hitting .352/.420/.561 with 13 doubles, eight home runs and 39 RBIs, all of which leads the team.
Outlook: It’s a crowning achievement just for Hofstra to be here, but the turnaround from 2021 to this season is sharp enough that you have to assume the Pride won’t just be happy to be here once they take the field Friday. Camarda throwing the ball well to begin the weekend is key, as that will allow Hofstra to set up its pitching the rest of the way.