Campbell among state’s NCAA baseball hopefuls

csmith@newsobserver.comMay 20, 2013 

  • N.C. teams with hopes for NCAA baseball bids

    The most teams ever selected from the state of North Carolina since the field expanded to 64 back in 1999 was six in both 2007 and 2008. While this year’s crop doesn’t appear to be close to that mark, there are several teams with hopes of making the field.

    No. 5 North Carolina (47-8)

    RPI: 2

    Season recap: After jumping out to the hottest start in the country, the Tar Heels have fallen back in the polls after losing two straight series against Georgia Tech and Virginia. With All-ACC Pitcher of the Year Kent Emanuel and Player of the Year Colin Moran, Carolina still appears to be on track for a deep run that could conclude in Omaha.

    Best win: 7-1 win over then-No. 6 N.C. State.

    To make NCAA: The Heels and the Wolfpack are both locks for the NCAA regionals. The only question that remains is whether they will host a super regional.

    No. 9 N.C. State (42-13)

    RPI: 9

    Season recap: The Wolfpack followed a completely different path than Carolina, struggling early, but finishing strong thanks to First Team All-ACC players Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner, along with the power of second teamer Tarran Senay. While there are still questions about the rotation outside of Rodon, the Pack has one of the best bullpens in the country and is hitting its stride heading into the ACC tournament.

    Best win: 7-3 win over then-No. 1 North Carolina.

    To make NCAA: See above.

    No. 25 Campbell (46-9)

    RPI: 43

    Best win: A pair of wins over Duke – 9-3 at Duke and 6-3 at home.

    To make NCAA: The Camels appear to be a lock to make the tournament, but a win over Charleston Southern and a run in the Big South tournament could help earn the team a more favorable draw in regional play.

    No. 34 UNC Wilmington (37-19)

    RPI: 25

    Season recap: After getting off to a 6-6 start to the season, the Seahawks have garnered attention nationally while going 18-8 in the Colonial Athletic conference. A tough strength of schedule has also helped bolster the Hawks in the rankings and will help them when regionals are announced.

    Best win: 9-8 win over then-No. 1 North Carolina.

    To make NCAA: Wilmington has a good shot at making the NCAA field, but winning the Colonial Athletic tournament would solidify the Hawks chances at making a second straight appearance in the regionals.

This year has been 23 years in the making for the Campbell baseball program.

For a program that finished with just 17 wins in 2011 and had never reached the 40-plus win plateau, Camels coach Greg Goff now has two straight 40-win seasons and broke his own record of 41 wins last season with a 46-9 record this year.

With that record, Campbell appears to not only be the favorite to win the Big South Conference Tournament for the first time since 1990, but also looks like a lock to advance to a regional for only the second time and first since that 1990 season.

“This season has been really fast, but I guess winning does that to you,” Goff said. “It’s really been an awesome journey for this team. These 18- to 22-year-olds have unselfishly given to this team and this program. That to me has been awesome because you don’t see that every day.”

With the fifth-best record in the nation, the Camels are No. 43 in RPI and have garnered attention from every national poll, ranking No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Much of the success for this team comes from a breakout season by senior outfielder Ben McQuown. The Oahu, Hawaii, native moved from the No. 2 spot in the lineup to the leadoff role this season and has transformed his game.

After making a name for himself with a school record 20 sacrifice hits last season, he has stolen a nation-leading 49 bases this season.

“This year my mindset completely changed being the leadoff guy,” McQuown said. “I worked hard on getting more stolen bases during the summer and I’ve had the green light almost all season. Once I get on base, Coach Goff just expects me to get on second. That’s been working out for me so far.”

While McQuown has been the pacesetter for the Camels, junior infielder Elijah Trail might be one of the more important players on the team when his bat is hot.

In the 46 wins this season, Trail boasted a .308 average, seven home runs, 50 RBI, 13 doubles and a .535 slugging percentage. During the nine losses, the junior has a .067 average with no extra base hits, no RBI and a .067 slugging percentage.

While Goff couldn’t explain the disparity between Trail’s numbers, he said the No. 5 batter in his lineup has been a catalyst for the Camels’ success this season.

“He’s a huge factor in how well we do,” Goff said. “The guys in front of him are going to get on base and he just has to drive some of those guys in. He’s that key ingredient that we need when it comes to getting timely hits.”

With All-Big South first team selections Trail and McQuown leading the Camels offensively, starters Ryan Mattes and Heath Bowers have been consistent on the mound in nearly every start this season.

Mattes and Bowers have combined for 16 wins and earned All-Big South first team and second team honors, respectively. Bowers came into the season with hopes of being a midweek starter, with his first appearance coming in relief against Eastern Michigan. But since then, the sophomore has taken over the No. 2 spot in the rotation and has been the best pitcher on the team with a 9-0 record, 1.71 ERA and 8.11 strikeouts per nine innings.

“I thought that I could make an impact for this team this year,” Bowers said. “So I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by what I’ve done this year, but I’ve achieved more than I thought I could. I’m really happy to be in the role I’m in and thriving.”

Campbell plays its first game of the Big South tournament at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday against Charleston Southern in Lynchburg, Va.

Smith: 919-829-4841; @RCorySmith

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