While North Carolina baseball came up short in their quest for an ACC Tournament title, the expected was confirmed on Monday when the Tar Heels were among the 64 teams put in the bracket for this year’s NCAA Tournament.
While there was some consternation at Carolina getting a #3 seed instead of a #2, which most people projected, there’s nothing that can be done about it now. Besides, last year Ole Miss went from a #3 seed and one of the last teams in all the way to Omaha and a College World Series championship. UNC will hope to replicate that feat this year, as they open their NCAA Tournament run tonight.
Before you can even start to think about Omaha, the Tar Heels have to get through regionals, for which they’re headed to Terre Haute, Indiana. With the action set to get underway today, let’s check out the teams UNC will be facing off against this weekend.
Tonight in their opener, Carolina will be facing off against the regional’s #2 seed: Iowa. The Hawkeyes will come into the tournament on a bit of a roll, having gone 12-4 over the last month and a bit. They made it to the final of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament before falling to Maryland.
Iowa had six players named in the All-Big Ten honors with pitcher Brody Brecht and hitters Keaton Anthony and Sam Peterson making the first team. Brecht and second team All-Big Ten pitcher Marcus Morgan form a solid 1-2 punch at the top of Iowa’s rotation, and they also feature some relievers with impressive numbers.
Beyond Anthony and Peterson, the Hawkeyes also feature Brennan Dorighi in their lineup, all three of whom have OPSes over 1.000. For the season, Iowa’s lineup averaged over eight runs per game, which could be dangerous for a UNC pitching staff that isn’t always lights out.
Headlining the regional is the host and #14 overall national seed: Indiana State. The Sycamores have had arguably the most impressive season in program history, going 42-15, winning the Missouri Valley regular season and conference tournament titles.
ISU’s pitching has impressively allowed less than four runs per game on the season, led by MVC Pitcher of the Year Connor Fenlong. In 100 innings across 15 appearances, Fenlong has a 3.24 ERA and is allowing opposing hitters to just a .223 batting average. Fellow pitcher Lane Miller has put up similarly impressive numbers, albeit not in as many innings and games.
The Sycamores’ lineup is maybe not as dynamic as some others in the regional, but they do have some guys who can get you. Mike Sears has 19 home runs on the year, while Adam Pottinger has a .970 OPS.
The #4 seed in the regional will be Wright State, who are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament. This will be the Raiders’ 11th tournament appearance, and their sixth in the last decade. WSU battled their way through the loser’s bracket of the Horizon League Tournament, rallying to win their last three games to punch their ticket. They actually went under .500 on the road for the season, but they’re still potentially dangerous.
Wright State’s offense averaged over seven runs per game and were led Patrick Andrew, Gehrig Anglin, Jay Luikart, and Sammy Sass, who were all first team All-Horizon players. At the top of their rotation is the Horizon’s Pitcher of the Year Sebastian Gongora, who had a 2.87 ERA and struck out 77 batters in 78 innings this season. WSU are definitely the underdogs in this regional, but they certainly can’t be counted out.
On a Tar Heel front, UNC got some bad news with the revelation that Vance Honeycutt will be out for regionals. While the Heels still have plenty of talent as far as offense goes, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year will obviously be a big miss.
Carolina is set to open their run on Friday night at 7 PM ET, with the game airing on the ACC Network.