How can he be replaced?
This was the question on everyone's mind when North Carolina shortstop Logan Warmoth decided to forgo his senior season in Carolina blue to join the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
I was one the wracking my brain, looking through the roster and incoming players to see who could fill the gaping void at short. In the fall, I wrote a piece on the prospective spring lineup, and left shortstop blank.
I was stumped. Which is why I’m writing this. To apologize, and take my hat off to Ike Freeman.
The sophomore infielder has not only filled the void, but he has absolutely flourished. His batting numbers are near tops on the team, and his defense has been more than serviceable as well.
Of late, Freeman has been a clutch bat for UNC. Hitting in the heart of the lineup, usually around the five hole. He has gone 10-18 in the NCAA Tournament, showcasing how much of a factor he can be.
While he is not the sole reason for Carolina’s turnaround from a 7-7 start, their 36-11 run did correlate with him starting to heat up at the plate. His 50 RBIs this season ranks third on the team, and his 24 strikeouts ranks last among UNC’s regular starters.
Freeman will be a key cog in the Tar Heels hopes of winning at Omaha, especially because of Oregon State ace Luke Heimlich. Heimlich is a left-handed pitcher, so Freeman will have a splits advantage in the middle of UNC order.
Furthermore, Freeman will likely hit in the heart of the order, allowing him to come up in some big run-scoring spots. He'll need to shine in the big spots for the Tar Heels this afternoon.
He may fly under the radar sometimes, but make no mistake, Ike Freeman will play a pivotal role for UNC in Omaha.
As for the game against Beavers, UNC has their work cut out for them. In addition to the aforementioned Heimlich — who won the National Pitcher of the Year award by the College Baseball Foundation — they boast a slew of talented players.
Second basemen Nick Madrigal was selected fourth overall in the MLB draft, with outfielder Trevor Larnach and shortstop Cadyn Grenier — winner of the Brooks Wallace award, which is given annually by the College Baseball Foundation to the best shortstop — also hearing their name called on the first night. Switch-hitting Catcher Adley Rutschman is also a force in their lineup, and an early candidate to go in the top 5 picks of the 2019 MLB draft.
So, does UNC have a chance? I think so, but this will be their toughest opponent of the postseason by far.
A lot of people around college baseball are picking Oregon State to win it all, so if North Carolina is going to extend their six-game winning streak, they will need to be firing on all cylinders from the start.
My score prediction: 7-5, UNC. An Ike Freeman two-run double will be the difference.
Let's go Heels!
Photos by Caleb Jones and Turner Walston