NCAA Baseball Regional Day Four Recap

North Carolina 6, Western Carolina 5Another dramatic 9th inning comeback by the Tar Heels. I rushed to this game from my class, and was welcomed in the same way the regional began: a scorching hot and humid day that sent many spectators for the shade of the pavilion in the back of the stadium. Heat aside, it was a near picture-perfect day for baseball.

The Tar Heels got off to an early start, scoring a run in each of the first two innings and ultimately taking a 3-0 lead in the middle of the 4th inning. But then the Catamount offense started clicking in the bottom of the fourth, as starting pitcher Luke Putkonen began to struggle. Two key mistakes, a HBP by Putkonen and a fielding error by 3rd baseman Chad Flack, led to an RBI single by Johnathan Greene and a 2 RBI double in left field by Nick Liles, respectively. Putkonen was able to eventually get out of the inning, but WCU took a 4-3 lead.

After Blake Murphy hit a solo home run and the Catamounts put another player on base, Putkonene was pulled from the game and replaced by  reliever Rob Wooten. He did an excellent job keeping the Tar Heels in the game, pitching 3.2 innings of relief without giving up a run.

The Tar Heels floundered offensively until the 7th inning, when UNC loaded the bases for Tim Federowicz, who hit a two-out RBI single to cut the deficit to 5-4. Unfortunately, Josh Horton Struck on the next at bat, stranding all three baserunners and relinquishing a golden opportunity late in the game.

The Tar Heels would get one last chance in the 9th inning. Mike Cavsinni (pinch running for Tim Fedroff) and Dustin Ackley were on second and third with two outs, and Western Carolina brought in pitcher Chris Masters to pitch to Horton. Josh hit a line drive into deep right center, bringing in the two runs to take a 6-5 lead and sending the Boshamer crowd wild. Andrew Carignan slammed the door in the bottom of the 9th, giving UNC the 6-5 win.

The Tar Heels wil host the Super Regional this weekend against South Carolina for the rights to go to Omaha for the College World Series. You can bet that I’ll be there.

NCAA Baseball Regional Day Three Recap: Cats Kick Some Pirate Booty

Whoa. I didn’t think that title through very well, did I?

Western Carolina 9, East Carolina 5Tropical Storm Barry finally caught up to us on Sunday. The rain forced the NCAA to delay the elimination game until 7:00 pm and the regional final game until Monday at 1pm. (On the flipside, that means one more day of baseball! WHOOOOO!!!) The weather became cold during the game, which I was completely unprepared for, especially considering that just two days earlier it was so hot outside that you could the metal bench seating as a stove top.

East Carolina jumped to an early start with 2 runs at the top of the 1st inning. But the Catamounts responded in the bottom of the second, as Brent Greer’s 3 RBI triple helped WCU get a 4-3 lead. The Pirate remained, close, but could not get any offense after the fourth inning. Already up 7-5, Western Carolina scored two more runs in the bottom of the 8th to seal the game.

(An interesting side note: very few home runs have been hit in this regional, but all of them have been hit by either ECU or WCU. Perhaps purple + yellow = hitting power. If so, the Lakers are in the wrong sport.)

Tomorrow-With the result of this game, WCU will move on to face the Tar Heels on Monday, and ECU is surprisingly eliminated before getting the chance to face UNC again. The Pirates are a consistently good baseball team, and even though Chapel Hill has been a great host, I have to say that East Carolina has the best fans of any team in this regional. The Pirates were very well represented in the stands all weekend, and their fans were the most vocal by far, through thick and thin. The remainder of this regional won’t be the same without the Pirate faithful.

Baseball Regional Day 2 Recap: HEEEELLLLL YEEEEAAAHHHH!!!

That was AWESOME! I’ll tell you about the Tar Heels, but first a recap of Game 1.

Western Carolina 7, Jacksonville 0I can’t say that I couldn’t foresee this happening. Jacksonville was clearly the weakest team in the field, but expected them to at least get some runs in this tournament. With the loss to the Catamounts they are eliminated, having produced 13 hits, 0 runs, and 4 errors. Western Carolina, was led by Steven Strasbaugh on offense (3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI) and by Drew Saberhagen, son of Bret Saberhagen (8 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 5 K). With this win they will play on Sunday in a rematch with ECU for the right to play Carolina in Sunday’s night game. But on to the main event.

North Carolina 11, East Carolina 10This may have been the most exciting baseball game I’ve ever attended in person. East Carolina is a very good team. Whenever it looked like the Tar Heels would have some control over the game, the Pirate offense blasted the door back open. After the Tar Heels struck first blood, ECU scored five runs in the top of the third inning, including a bases clearing double by Stephen Batts, to take a 5-1 lead. The Pirates offense did a very good job at the plate, but the umpire in this game sucked royally. His bad calls went for and against both teams in the game, and there was likely not a single person in the stadium who thought the ump (whose name is Scott Inman) did a good job in this game. Having said that, we got lucky in this game. We scored 4 and 3 runs in the 3rd and 6th innings, respectively, and the Pirates defense had 2 key fielding errors in each.

Still, the offense did enough to give ECU a seemingly safe 10-8 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning and the middle of the order (Horton, Flack, etc.) retired in the 8th. Shane Mathews came in to pitch for reliever Jason Nietz, and Mike Cavasinni came in to pinch hit. Mathews walked the first two batters. Garret Gore then hit a sacrifice bunt, sending Kyle Shelton and Cavasinni to 2nd and 3rd base with one out. With Reid Fronk at-bat, Mathews threw a wild, pitch, allowing Cavasinni to score from third and cut the deficit to one. The crowd in Boshamer stadium roared to a level usually reserved for football and basketball games. Finally, Fronk singled on a grounder up the middle, scoring Shelton, tying the game. Then came the two star UNC freshmen, Tim Fedroff and Dustin Ackley. Fedroff hit a single to bring Fronk to second base, then Ackley’s line drive down the middle scored the winning run, sending the crowd completely insane, cheering nonstop for three solid minutes after Fronk reached home plate.

It was a fantastic game, and I am now officially hooked on college baseball. I will have a more detailed (and definitely more entertaining) recap of this game later in the week.

Tomorrow- Western Carolina and East Carolina face each other again, as the Cats try to avenge blowing a 4 run lead against the Pirates on Friday. The Tar Heels await the winner, who will have to beat UNC twice if they wish to advance into the Super Regionals next week.

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.

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.