#26 North Carolina Softball 2016 Preview

North Carolina Tar Heels
Overall Rank: #26
Conference Rank: #4 ACC
North Carolina Logo 
The Tar Heels made the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time in 15 seasons last year, when they went 1-2 in the Athens (Ga.) Regional hosted by Georgia. North Carolina finished second in the ACC last season and set multiple offensive team records, including 92 total home runs. Shortstop Kristen Brown hit 24 homers to break the school single-season record, while also bringing her career mark up to 47, which also broke the school career record. The junior also drove in 67 runs, another single-season record.
2015: 37-16, 16-5
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Donna J. Papa
Field Players:
The Tar Heels put up crazy offensive numbers, including those 92 home runs and had four hitters hit double-digit long balls. Brown comes back after hitting 24 balls out of the yard, scoring a team-leading 57 runs and driving in 67. Taylor Wike led the team in hitting last season, batting .418, knocking out 66 hits, 10 doubles, three triples and seven home runs. She was also second on the team in runs scored with 53. Kendra Lynch was one of the other Tar Heels to hit double-digit home runs, finishing the season with 12 and driving in 35. Aquilla Mateen finished third on the team in average, hitting at a .373 clip and was second on the team with 63 hits. She also tied Brown in stolen bases with seven.
The Tar Heels had a nice one-two freshman punch last season consisting of Kaylee Carlson and Sydney Matzko, who combined to start 44 of 53 games. Unfortunately, Carlson transferred to Auburn, leaving Matzko as the de facto ace. Last season, Matzko went 14-5 in 30 appearances, including 15 starts and finished with a 2.39 ERA. The Heels do have two more pitchers on the roster, senior Lauren Fuller and Lynch is also a pitcher.
Who to Watch:
Matzko and freshmen Katie Bailiff and Kiana Sherlund are the players to watch. Matzko for obvious reasons, as she will have more of the pitching burden placed upon her. Will she be able to avoid a sophomore slump with the additional work? Kiana Sherlund was the No. 24 recruit in the country according to Flo Softball. She missed her senior season as she recovered from surgery for a torn labrum, but as a junior she hit .630 with five home runs, 26 stolen bases and 39 runs scored. Katie Bailiff was the No. 26 recruit in the country according to StudentSports.com and hit .559 her senior year, as well as hitting 26 career home runs and driving in 145 in her high school career.
Final Projection:
It'll be hard to replicate last season's power outburst, but having two of the double digit hitters from last year, including the powerful Brown, back, the power might not drop off too much. Both Lynch and Brown's stats have jumped largely over their careers, so it's not too far-fetched to say their development will continue this season. Something that might determine how the Heels season goes is whether they develop another pitcher to go with Matzko or if she does most of the heavy lifting. UNC is fortunate that they get Florida State, Notre Dame and Louisville at home during conference play, but must travel to Pitt. Nonconference games to look forward to include matchups with Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, USC Upstate and James Madison.
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Aquilla Mateen, OF, 169
Hits: Taylor Wike, INF, 66
Home Runs: Kristen Brown, SS, 24
RBIs: Kristen Brown, SS, 67
Runs: Kristen Brown, SS, 57
Stolen Bases: Aquilla Mateen, OF, 7; Kristen Brown, SS, 7`
Wins: Sydney Matzko, P, 14
Innings Pitched: Sydney Matzko, P, 105.1
Strikeouts: Sydney Matzko, P, 77
Complete Games: Sydney Matzko, P, 6
Madness 2016 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#28 Kiana Sherlund
#70 Katie Bailiff
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#9 Kristen Brown