Recap: NCAA Baseball Regional Day 1

Big day of games. This is actually the first time I’ve been able to see a college baseball tournament, and I can hardly think of a better way to spend a Friday in the summer. Just be prepared to battle the heat.

East Carolina 9, Western Carolina 8- I thought Western Carolina had this game. The Catamounts were holding on to a 5-4 lead when they scored 3 runs in the top of the 6th to make it 8-4 in their favor. But the Pirates (whose fan base outnubmered WCU’s by about 15 to 1) immediately responded with 3 runs of their own in the bottom of the sixth. WCU was able to get out of their jam in the seventh inning, but Jamie Ray’s outfield single in the 8th drove in two runs to give ECU the lead for good. After their big sixth inning, the Catamounts offense was shut down completely by the Pirates bullpen.

The comeback by ECU was thrilling, but it’s been a while since I’ve sat outside for three hours in the middle of a June day in North Carolina. 90 degrees, 90% humidity. Just lovely.

UNC 6, Jacksonville 0- Thankfully, the heat cooled off significantly for this game, which made it a lot more fun for the fans. The heat really got to one fan, whose heat exhaustion was severe enough to require medical attention. In Game 1, I would say the stands were only about 70% full, and considering the heat, I was surprised it was that much. For Game 2, every seat in Boshamer Stadium was occupied.

The Tar Heels went ahead early, as Josh Horton, Chad Flack, and Kyle Seager hit three consecutive RBI doubles in the bottom of the 2nd inning to attain a 3-0 lead. That was enough cushion for starting pitcher Robert Woodard, who continued his perfect record at home this season. He allowed seven hits in 8 innings, but no runs. After grounding out the final batter in the eighth inning, he left the field to a standing ovation by the Carolina faithful. Tim Federowicz drove in two more runs in the bottom of the 8th to seal the game. Timmah!
Saturday- West Carolina plays Jacksonville in the elimination day game, while ECU and Carolina play the evening with a berth in the regional’s final game at stake. Pitching for the Tar Heels will be freshman standout Alex White, who is from ECU’s town of Greenville, NC. That should bring a bit of intrigue to the game: the hometown hero, now playing for the enemy.

The next set of games should be a lot of fun, especially since I know more about the teams. I hope that Saturday’s weather is a little cooler, so I can pay more attention to the game and less attention to whether or not my face is going to melt. But I guess that’s what sunblock is for.

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Previewing the Tar Heels in the NCAA Baseball Tournament

UNC will host an NCAA Regional this weekend, as 64 teams will be whittled down to 16 by week’s end. East Carolina will pose a serious challenge, but the Tar Heels should make it to the Super Regionals. But first, let’s go through their team and look at their chances.

(Tar Heel Blue has complete statistics from the regular season.)

Pitching: UNC made it to the finals of the College World Series in 2006  in part because they had three fot the best pitchers in the country: Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard, and Robert Woodard. Only Woodard returned from last year, but the Heels still have a great pitching staff. Woodard set a new UNC record for career wins, and underclassmen Alex White, Luke Putkonen and Adam Warren have combined for an 23-5 record, with ERAs of 3.35, 4.23, and 2.09, respectively. Since most of Warren’s games are against bad teams, White and Putkonen will be in the starting rotation with Woodard.

UNC also has excellent relief pitching. Matt Danford has played more than 100 games in relief for the Tar Heels over his career, and Andrew Carignan is considered one of the best closers in the nation.

Offense: The Tar Heels have one of the most powerful offenses in the ACC, taking 24 of their 48 wins this season by 5 runs or more. Seven of UNC’s starting 9 have a batting average above .300, and the team averages 7.5 runs per game. The offense is led by  Dustin Ackley, Reid Fronk, and Tim Federowicz, each of whom have at least 50 RBIs in a 60 game season.

They number for UNC to reach is 6 runs. The Heels are 37-1 when they score at least six runs, and 11-11 when scoring 5 runs or less.  Runs could be scarce in this tournament, so the pitching will need to be extraordinary for UNC.

Bench: The Tar Heels have a deep bench, with 6 players having made at least 20 appperances this season. Two of those bench players, Benji Johnson and Mike Cavasinni, were starters on the 2006 College World Series team.

There is great anticipation for this team to make another run to Omaha. Tickets to the regional sold out in one day. I’ll be at the games this weekend to “report on our progress.” Action starts today with East Carolina facing Western Carolina and UNC facing Jacksonville. According to the bracket, The winner of this regional will face the winner of the Columbia, SC regional. Seven of the 8 teams in these two regionals are from North or South Carolina, so it should be very interesting.

P.S. I was hoping we would draw Coastal Carolina in the Super Regional and then have them host. Not only would it be great baseball, it would be an excuse to go to Myrtle Beach for the weekend. Oh, well.