USF will face another early challenge against No. 6 North Carolina

USF is coming off a 6-1 win against No. 5 Florida earlier this week as it travels to take on No. 6 North Carolina. ORACLE ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

When USF baseball takes the field this weekend for a three-game series against No. 6 North Carolina, it will be doing something it doesn’t do often — leave Florida for non-conference games.

The trip to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, marks USF’s first non-conference series outside of the state of Florida since 2015 and just the second time in the last 10 years.

“I think it’s good to get on the road early so we get that experience before we get into conference play,” coach Billy Mohl said. “So I’m looking forward to it.”

The series against the Tar Heels continues a stretch of eight straight games against teams that made the NCAA Tournament in 2018 to open the season, with North Carolina advancing as far as the College World Series last season.

“We’d always like to have one marquee series before we get into conference play to show those guys what it’s like once you get into conference play,” Mohl said. “I think this is one of the better schedules we’ve put together … it’s challenging — that way, when we get to conference, it’s just another game.”

North Carolina’s weekend rotation is led by three juniors — Gianluca Dalatri, Austin Bergner and Tyler Baum. The trio combined for a 13-6 record with 189 strikeouts in 2018.

All three faced USF when the Bulls and Tar Heels opened the 2018 season in Tampa, though with mixed results. Dalatri only lasted 3.2 innings, giving up three runs on six hits, while Bergner and Baum picked up the wins in North Carolina’s Saturday and Sunday wins in that series.

Regardless of results in last year’s series, Mohl said North Carolina’s starters are high quality and the opposition will help him gauge where his team stands as conference play approaches.

“It’s three potential first-rounders [in the MLB Draft] that we’re going to face,” Mohl said. “But it’s great because once we get into conference play, we’re going to be facing those arms all the time so it’ll give us a nice litmus test.”

Offensively, the Tar Heels are led by junior first baseman Michael Busch, who had a breakout 2018 season, leading the team in a number of offensive categories, including runs scored (70), homers (13), RBIs (63) and walks (55). Joining Busch are four other returning position players that helped lead North Carolina to within four wins of a national championship last season.

“They’ve got some veterans in there, who have been through the battles. They were in Omaha last year,” Mohl said. “So they’ve got experience. Very similar to our guys — we’ve got experience out in the field.

“It’s going to be a battle. We’re going to have to pitch really well and score enough runs to win these games.”

On the pitching front for USF, Mohl said junior Collin Sullivan and senior Alec Wisley will start during the series, with the third game “up in the air.” Sullivan pitched on opening night against Samford, recording 10 strikeouts over six innings while picking up the win.

No matter who pitches for USF or North Carolina, they may be in for stop-and-go baseball. The forecast for Chapel Hill calls for rain most of the weekend.

“The weather is not good. There’s an 80 percent chance of rain pretty much every day,” Mohl said. “But, you know what? Come the end of the season, we get in the conference tournament, the weather’s always a factor, so we’re going to have to learn how to adjust. Better to do it now than wait until May to do it.”

If the weather doesn’t alter things, first pitch is set for 3 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The games will be aired on ACC Network Extra.