Super regional report: UNC familiar to Hobbs, Lanzilli

CHAPEL HILL, NC — Two members of Arkansas’ baseball team are back near their old stomping grounds.

Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs had the same title at Wake Forest from 2015-18 and right fielder Chris Lanzilli played for the Demon Deacons from 2018-21.

The Wake Forest campus is about 80 miles from Chapel Hill, where the Razorbacks will play North Carolina this weekend in an NCAA super regional. Wake Forest and North Carolina compete in the ACC.

Hobbs’ overlap at Wake Forest helped Arkansas land Lanzilli when he entered the transfer portal last summer.

“I told Coach (Nate) Thompson and Coach (Dave) Van Horn, ‘Hey, there’s a guy with about 40 career home runs that might want to come to Arkansas,’” Hobbs said. “Those guys jumped at it pretty quick….I handled a lot of (the recruitment) because I knew him. Chris wanted to play in the SEC and Chris wanted to go play for a winner, and I think once he got out here and saw the place it was pretty easy for him to say, yeah, I want to do this.”

Hobbs and Lanzilli will be participating in their second series at Boshamer Stadium. The Demon Deacons were swept by the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill in 2018, a series that included a 3-2 final in 15 innings.

“It was just an absolutely great ballgame,” Hobbs said. “The ballpark is great, man. It’s really nice. It’s pristine. They do a wonderful job on the infield, whoever their groundskeeper is doing a great job, and their fans show up and they’re loud.”

Three ACC pitching coaches from the 2018 season will be on the field Saturday. In addition to Hobbs, North Carolina head coach Scott Forbes was the Tar Heels’ pitching coach that season, and second-year UNC pitching coach Jason Howell was previously at Georgia Tech.

“I’m going to see a lot of people that I’ve known, that I’ve competed against, that I’ve known a great deal,” Hobbs said, “and you want to beat those guys.”

Early start

Today’s game will start at 10 am Central time to fit the desired television slot for ESPN.

“I like it,” said Connor Noland, who will be Arkansas’ starting pitcher. “You don’t have to wait around all day for the game.

“Kind of takes all the nerves and anxious waiting out of the equation.”

Razorbacks shortstop Jalen Battles said he likes playing in the light of day.

“It’s easier to see in the day than at nighttime,” Battles said. “I feel like it’s a good advantage for hitters.”

The Tar Heels also don’t seem to mind the early start.

“I mean, I haven’t played that early of a game since high school or travel ball,” North Carolina center fielder Vance Honeycutt said. “But the time of day doesn’t really matter.

“You’ve got one goal, to get out there and get it done.”

Tar Heels left fielder Mikey Madej said he has no problem with the early start.

“Night games, it’s fun playing under the lights and all that,” Madej said. “But the worst part about night games is you wake up and you have all day [to wait to play]and I’m just anxious to get out there.

“Now I’m going to be able to wake up, get to the stadium, eat and get ready to go. I’m excited for that.”

Madej said the Tar Heels will wake up at about 6 am today.

“A lot easier than getting up for a 6 am lift,” he added.

North Carolina’s players wake up at 6 am in the fall for weight-lifting sessions.

The Razorbacks and Tar Heels will be able to sleep a little later with Sunday’s game starting at noon.

The ‘Bosh’

North Carolina has been one of the nation’s best teams at home this season with a 33-7 record at Boshamer Stadium.

North Carolina’s notable series victories at home include ones over East Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Wake Forest and Florida State. Two visiting teams, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, won twice in Chapel Hill this season.

The Tar Heels’ 4,100-seat ballpark opened in 1972, but was torn down and rebuilt as part of a $26 million renovation before the 2009 season.

Capacity at the stadium can be expanded to more than 5,000 with overflow seating.

North Carolina’s announced average attendance of 2,138 this season ranked 31st nationally.

The largest crowd for a North Carolina game in last week’s regional was 4,160.

The Tar Heels will host their sixth super regional since the rebuild and third in four seasons. They won a home super regional against Stetson in 2018 and lost a super regional to Auburn in 2019.

Boshamer Stadium has similar dimensions to Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium, home of the SEC Tournament, including 335 feet to left field, 400 feet to center and 340 feet to right.

“Right-center gap sometimes plays a little short, but you usually have to hit it good for it to go out,” said North Carolina Coach Scott Forbes. “And if you do hit it, you get rewarded for it.

“It’s been a pretty fair, straight-forward park in my opinion during all these years.”

Friday’s practice was the first time Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn had been in the stadium.

“Beautiful ballpark, great surface,” Van Horn said. “A lot of tradition here at North Carolina.”

Arkansas shortstop Jalen Battles had high praise for Boshamer Stadium.

“I feel like it’s one of the top prettiest parks I’ve played in,” Battles said. “It’a so beautiful with all the trees around.

“The surface plays well, so we’re going to have lots of fun here.”

A 2018 Baseball America article ranked Boshamer Stadium the sixth-best in the country at the time.

ACC vs. SEC

The Arkansas-North Carolina series is one of three during the super regionals between teams from the SEC and ACC.

Two SEC-ACC matchups began Friday, when Tennessee lost 8-5 to Notre Dame and Texas A&M defeated Louisville 5-4.

“I think the ACC is super strong this year,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “The talk is that their league was deeper than ours. It really doesn’t matter now. It’s all about playing well.”

This is the second consecutive season and the fifth time overall the Razorbacks have played an ACC team in a super regional. Arkansas won super regionals over Florida State in 2004 and 2009, and lost supers to Clemson in 2002 and North Carolina State last season.

Carolina in mind

North Carolina is the only state hosting two super regionals this week.

East Carolina defeated Texas 13-7 on Friday in Game 1 of the Greenville Super Regional. Greenville is about 110 miles east of Chapel Hill.

Other states hosting super regionals this week are Virginia (Blacksburg), Tennessee (Knoxville), Texas (College Station), Mississippi (Hattiesburg), Oregon (Corvallis) and California (Palo Alto).

On the call

Mike Morgan (play-by-play) and Gaby Sanchez (color analyst) will call all of the games from Chapel Hill.

Saturday’s game will be televised by ESPN and Sunday’s game will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2. No details have been announced for Monday’s if-necessary game.

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