UNC baseball reaches NCAA tournament for 13th consecutive season

acarter@newsobserver.comMay 26, 2014 

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    Campbell to play at South Carolina

    Big South Champion Campbell will head to Columbia, S.C., to open NCAA Regional play, hosted by South Carolina.

    The fourth-seeded Camels will open against the No. 1 seed Gamecocks at 7 p.m. Friday on ESPN3. Joining the pair will be No. 2 seed Maryland and No. 3 seed Old Dominion, who will face off at 1 p.m. at Carolina Stadium.

    The Camels are 40-19 , hitting the 40-win mark for the third straight year.

    Campbell won the Big South Tournament Championship for the third time in program history, also taking the crown in 1988 and 1990.

    The Camels won the conference title with a 9-1 win over second-seeded and host Winthrop on Sunday, earning the Big South’s automatic NCAA bid.

    Campbell battled back with five straight wins in the tournament after falling in the team’s opener.

    News Services

There have been some tense moments lately for the North Carolina baseball team – moments when coach Mike Fox and his players wondered whether they had done enough to earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament.

That tension gave way to relief Monday, when the Tar Heels learned they had made the tournament for the 13th consecutive season.

Fox said last week during the ACC tournament that he and his players were “fighting for our NCAA lives.”

After learning UNC had made it, he said, “I didn’t really know (if we’d make it). You just hope you did enough.”

The Tar Heels will begin tournament play Friday against No. 2 seed Long Beach State in Gainesville, Fla. UNC is the No. 3 seed in the Gainesville regional, where Florida is the No. 1 seed – and the No. 2 seed nationally – and College of Charleston the No. 4 seed. The winner of the double-elimination four-team tournament will advance to a Super Regional the following weekend.

UNC’s NCAA tournament hopes were in doubt after the team’s worst regular season since 2001, the last year the Tar Heels failed to make the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels struggled to adapt after the loss of several key players from a season ago.

While UNC’s pitching was often good enough to give it a chance, the team struggled offensively. Its .273 batting average is UNC’s worst since 1989 and driving in runners has been a challenge.

The Tar Heels, who won two of their four games in the ACC tournament, enter the NCAA tournament with 34 victories – their fewest after the regular season and ACC tournament since 2001.

The Tar Heels, it seemed, were on the margin this time, too. Baseball America included UNC in its final tournament projection, and the magazine described the Tar Heels as one of the final at-large teams in the field.

But, Fox said, “It doesn’t really matter how you get in.”

He credited his team’s invite in part to its difficult schedule, which bolstered its RPI.

UNC has made trips to Omaha and the College World Series a nearly annual event in recent years, but the Tar Heels face a tougher road to get there. To reach Omaha this time, UNC will have to advance out of a regional and a Super Regional, and likely do it all on the road.

UNC hosted NCAA regionals the past three seasons, and it has started NCAA tournament play in North Carolina in every year but one since 2006. This is the first time since 2010 that UNC will travel for a regional. That year, UNC’s season ended in Norman, Okla., after two losses to Oklahoma.

In recent seasons, UNC has started play in the NCAA tournament among the favorites to reach Omaha. It’s different this year.

UNC will travel to Florida as an underdog. During the past month of the season, Fox said, “There were so many games we had to win” to reach the tournament.

One of them came against Florida State. Another at Miami. And another last week against N.C. State in an ACC tournament play-in game.

Entering the NCAA tournament, Fox is hoping those experiences help his team in Gainesville.

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