Road to Omaha begins for UNC, NC State, UNCW and Elon

csmith@newsobserver.comMay 30, 2013 

The road to Omaha begins Friday for four in-state teams that enter regionals with varying expectations.

North Carolina and N.C. State are favored to reach the super regionals and possibly the College World Series, while UNC Wilmington and Elon are viewed as underdogs to survive the weekend.

Here is the breakdown of each team’s quest, with help from Baseball America national college baseball writer Aaron Fitt:

North Carolina

For the Tar Heels, twice a runner-up in Omaha, the No. 1 overall seed means higher expectations than ever.

North Carolina features ACC Player of the Year Colin Moran, ACC tournament MVP Cody Stubbs and freshman Skye Bolt to complement the power arms of ACC Pitcher of the Year Kent Emanuel, Benton Moss and second-team All-ACC reliever Trent Thornton.

The Tar Heels begin their charge toward a sixth College World Series appearance in eight seasons against Canisius at 6 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium.

Last season, the Tar Heels failed to advance out of regional play. But Fitt doesn’t foresee a similar outcome.

“Carolina got one of the friendlier draws out of the entire field,” Fitt said. “They got Towson, who to me should not be a No. 3 seed, because with a No. 89 RPI I can’t understand how you are not a No. 4 seed. So, (UNC) essentially got two No. 4 seeds in their regional.”

If the Tar Heels host a super regional, they likely will face South Carolina or Clemson – two teams that are coming into the tournament hobbled at a combined record of 0-5 last week in their conference tournaments.

The Tar Heels won two out of three against Clemson at home this season.

Most fans know South Carolina’s recent history – back-to-back national championships in 2010-11 and runner-up last season – but Fitt said this isn’t the same team under first-year coach and former Tar Heel Chad Holbrook.

“South Carolina, for me, is one of the last hosts and that is yet another friendly draw for Carolina,” he said. “They’ve got the name recognition and the mojo from past seasons, but this South Carolina team was swept two times against Arkansas and Florida and lost a two-game series to Vanderbilt.

“Great teams just don’t do that.”

N.C. State

The Wolfpack is hoping to make it to Omaha for the first time since 1968, their lone College World Series appearance.

Coach Elliott Avent was noticeably upset at the Wolfpack’s seeding, but it will host Mississippi, William & Mary and Binghamton this weekend. Its first game is Friday at 7 p.m. against Binghamton at Doak Field.

Ole Miss appears to be the most formidable opponent, and the Rebels likely will save junior ace Bobby Wahl for a Saturday night winner’s-bracket game, possibly against N.C. State and its ace Carlos Rodon.

Wahl is 9-0 with a 1.99 ERA and has allowed one run or none in 11 starts. Baseball America projects him as a possible first-round pick in next week’s draft.

“I think Ole Miss is a good two seed that has a chance to beat anybody with Bobby Wahl on the mound, because he’s as good as anyone in the country,” Fitt said of the Rebels. “None of these teams seems like a bad matchup, but there was a time earlier in the season where we had Ole Miss as a top-10 team and they can be very dangerous.”

If seeds hold and the Wolfpack advance, they travel to Oregon in the super regional.

Fitt thinks the Wolfpack should have been seeded ahead of the Ducks, but said Oregon is a formidable foe.

“Oregon was a very poor choice,” Fitt said. “I don’t understand how you can be a national seed when you play five series against postseason teams and lose them all … that’s not a national seed resume. I can see a case for maybe Indiana over them, but I don’t see a case for Oregon over N.C. State.

“As much as I am down about Oregon as a national seed, they are still a strong team. They have good pitching and play great defense. I was also there for a regional last year, and the atmosphere there is rocking, so it’s not an easy place to play.”

The Wolfpack could host the super regional if Oregon loses this weekend.

Elon and UNC Wilmington

The Phoenix and Seahawks meet again Friday in the Charlottesville, Va., regional, where they are steep underdogs. Host Virginia earned the No. 6 national seed, is 9-2 in its past 11 games and is a favorite to move on to the super regionals.

The Seahawks, who knocked off North Carolina in late April, are making their sixth trip to the NCAA tournament. They appeared in Baseball America’s Top 25 poll and won the Colonial Athletic Association regular- season title but were bounced early in the conference tournament. Michael Bass, Ryan LaGrange and Luke Dunlap hit over .300, and Bass stole bases on 24 of 25 attempts.

Elon, which rocked N.C. State 24-12 in early March, also is making its sixth NCAA trip. It won the Southern Conference tournament and is led by Ryan Kinsella, whose 20 home runs were second in the nation.

UNCW swept two regular-season games against the Phoenix.

Smith: 919-829-4841

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