Category archive: East Carolina Pirates
Are you ready for some baseball? Division I college baseball gets under way at 10 a.m. ET on Friday with the first two games of the Big East-Big Ten Baseball Challenge. If everything goes according to plan, one of the final games of opening weekend will feature Florida International's Garrett Wittels attempting to break Robin Ventura's 58-game hitting streak on ESPNU/ESPN3.com (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET).
While the first pitch of the season has yet to be thrown, it's never too early to start looking forward to June and the first College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Defending champion South Carolina lost its top two starting pitchers from last year's squad but returns a talented offensive core and has one of the best bullpens in the country. Last year's CWS field included several programs on the upswing. Arizona State was the only team from the 2009 field to return to Omaha in 2010; this year, the Sun Devils could be the only team not to earn a return trip to Nebraska. The talent level isn't down in Tempe, but unless the NCAA sanctions are reversed, ASU is barred from the postseason.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikESPN Preseason All-American Trevor Bauer leads a talented Bruins staff.
The 2011 season will see another change that could have an even bigger effect than the CWS' move three miles up 13th Street. College baseball is changing the specifications for aluminum bats from measuring the ball exit speed (BESR) to the coefficient of restitution (BBCOR). Early indications from fall practices are that power numbers will be down -- a lot. Small ball could become an even bigger part of the college game, which would favor several West Coast teams in a year when that region already appears to be extremely strong. Combined with the flipped orientation from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park -- where the wind is more likely to blow in than out -- pitching and clutch hitting could share the spotlight in late June.
Predicting the field, and especially the teams with the best chances at reaching Omaha, is tricky in mid-February. Using the 2010 preseason coaches' poll, only three of the top eight teams earned national seeds, and just two finished their season at Rosenblatt. Eventual national champion South Carolina and runner-up UCLA both started just outside the Top 25. High early-season expectations are usually enough to get into the tournament, as only East Carolina and Ohio State failed to make the field after appearing in the preseason Top 25.
This is the first time I've attempted to pick the field before the season started. My results at the end of last season were good but not great, but in some cases I favor my bracket to the official NCAA field. I was within one seed on six of the eight national seeds, overseeding Virginia by three spots and picking South Carolina over Georgia Tech for the final top-eight spot (with the way things played out, that looks like a good decision). Of the 34 at-large bids, I had 32 in my final bracket, and the two I omitted topped my "first nine out" section. California was my first team out (and most egregious miss, since it was the No. 2 seed in Norman) but went 0-2; Louisiana-Lafayette was my second team out and went 1-2 in the Austin Regional. The two teams from my bracket that missed regional play were Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast; Kentucky had a solid RPI but missed the SEC tournament, while FGCU won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title in its first year of tournament eligibility behind ace Chris Sale but fell in the conference tournament. Of the 16 regional sites, I got two exactly right (Atlanta and Norwich) and three of four teams for three more (Auburn, Gainesville, Louisville).
Now that I've dispensed with the caveats, here's my initial projection:
Los Angeles Regional
Last five in: Florida International, Nebraska, Western Carolina, San Diego State, Liberty
First nine out: Kentucky, Elon, NC State, Pittsburgh, Tulane, Oklahoma State, Cal Poly, Southeastern Louisiana, USC
With the exception of Arizona State, which is banned from the postseason, all the teams that played in the final CWS in Rosenblatt earn regional hosting assignments and No. 1 seeds, with the top four national seeds all gunning for a return to Omaha. The other four national seeds all fell 2-1 in super regionals last year, so this bracket is biased toward last year's elite teams. The road from opening day to Selection Monday is bumpy enough that the final field probably won't look like this, but there's a lot of returning talent from last year, and the top squads have reloaded quickly.
Eleven of the 30 conferences with automatic bids send more than one team to a regional. The usual suspects lead the charge, with the SEC (eight), Pac-10 (seven), ACC (six) and Big 12 (six) each in the running to send at least a half-dozen teams to the postseason. The Big East and Sun Belt seem poised to send three teams to a regional for the second straight year, while Conference USA and the Big West should pick up a third bid after only nabbing two last season. For the three conferences slated for two bids, there's one clear leader and one bubble team: Coastal Carolina (Big South), TCU (Mountain West) and College of Charleston (Southern) should be locks to make the field, but Liberty, San Diego State and Western Carolina could be on the wrong side of the bubble if they don't secure automatic bids.
Darryl Dennis/Icon SMIDanny Hultzen and the Cavs are focused on getting to Omaha this season.
Connecticut has the talent to earn a national seed, but the Huskies are in uncharted territory. Last year's great northern hope was Ohio State, and the Buckeyes failed to qualify for the Big Ten tournament after starting the year in the Top 25. UConn needs to overcome a tough early-season trip to California and a bull's-eye on its back during Big East play; that will make the Huskies stronger for postseason play but could cost them some wins and a top spot.
The order of finish for the SEC is always tough to determine, especially considering how quickly a strong recruiting class can pay dividends. Odds are that the eight teams that reach the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala., will still be playing in June, but at this point it's hard to count any of the 12 teams out. The top three teams coming into the season are all in the Eastern Division, and it's unlikely that three teams from the same division would all earn national seeds -- much like the early part of the season last year, South Carolina draws the short straw.
The top half of the ACC seems more clear-cut, with Virginia, Florida State and Clemson jockeying for a national seed. Danny Hultzen and six returning hitters give Virginia an early advantage, but the Seminoles and Tigers aren't far behind. At least one of those teams should earn a top-eight spot, with the other two battling for the final spot with the SEC third-place team, the Big 12 second-place team and Connecticut.
The biggest issues for the Pac-10 could be the depth of the conference and Arizona State's postseason ban. The Sun Devils should still pile up wins this year, and every conference win is a lost opportunity for the other Pac-10 schools. The conference won't match its eight bids from last season; seven bids seems most likely, but if ASU sweeps any of the middle-of-the-pack teams, six bids is a possibility.
Three and a half months of action on the field before the NCAA tournament field is announced. Let the games begin!
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.
Make no mistake about it, because it was the theme of the Chapel Hill Super Regional at Boshamer Stadium as North Carolina finished off East Carolina 9-3 on Sunday to sweep the best-of-three series and advance to the College World Series for the fourth consecutive season -- a first-ever accomplishment for an ACC team.
AP Photo/Sara D. DavisAdam Warren had eight strikeouts and allowed only one walk in North Carolina's 9-3 win over East Carolina.
Yes, MLB star-in-waiting Dustin Ackley hit a three-run homer to give the Tar Heels a 7-0 lead in the sixth inning. And yes, UNC pounded out 13 hits to mark the sixth straight game with double-digit hits for a team that's offense was questioned coming into the season.
But it was the pitching performances from starters Alex White on Saturday and Adam Warren on Sunday -- against a power-hitting ECU lineup -- that allowed UNC to coast its way back to Rosenblatt Stadium by a combined score of 19-4.
White recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts in Game 1 and Warren followed it up with an eight strikeout performance on Sunday. For the two-game set, the entire UNC staff posted 23 strikeouts to just four walks.
In his last three starts -- all wins -- Warren has combined for 23 strikeouts and just two walks in beating Duke, Kansas and East Carolina.
So Sunday was really just another day at the office for the senior from New Bern, N.C.
"I just tried to go out there and throw strikes," Warren said. "I tried not to let it get in my head that this was my last start in the stadium, but obviously that big inning we had in the sixth allowed me to pound the zone and let our defense help me out."
If Warren won't pump his own tires, let his teammates lend a hand.
"It was unbelievable," Ackley said. "Both of those guys threw [late into the game]. When you take that kind of pressure off your bullpen it's just fun and everybody is able to relax and hit more and play defense.
"Especially with pitching, when guys like that have confidence it just makes everyone else more confident."
And let's not forget this was against a Pirates lineup that had six players with at least 13 home runs and a team batting average of .340.
"Those guys are really good hitters," UNC third baseman Kyle Seager said of the ECU lineup. "Their numbers are gaudy and yet both of our pitchers were absolutely dominant. Adam was sensational today, and you can't say enough about Alex because they both give you a chance to win every single time."
With the win Warren improved to 9-2 on the season with a 3.23 ERA and 97 strikeouts against just 34 walks. And opponents are hitting just .239 against him in his 92 innings of work.
White's numbers are nearly as impressive. He's 8-4 with a 4.13 ERA and 109 strikeouts against just 41 walks -- with an opponents' batting average of .234 in 98 innings of work.
"They can pitch away with their fastball in the low 90s as good as anybody you'll see," East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said. "We've seen guys that throw hard all year but not with that type of command. That's a good one-two punch."
And out of the bullpen, coach Mike Fox has a pair of go-to guys as well. Brian Moran is 7-1 with a 1.95 ERA, four saves and a .184 OBA, while Colin Bates is 4-2 with a 2.84 ERA, six saves and a .238 OBA.
"They've got the pitching to go out there and play very well," ECU first baseman Brandon Henderson said. "They've got some very good arms. They're going to be able to compete out there."
Just another way of saying UNC is armed and dangerous heading to Omaha.
The Tar Heels beat East Carolina 9-3 to close out the Chapel Hill Super Regional with a two-game sweep. ECU finished the season 46-20, and UNC takes its 47-16 record to the College World Series.
So the University of North Carolina-Omaha will be going "home" to Rosenblatt Stadium next weekend.
More to come postgame.
The Pirates loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth and plated three runs to cut the UNC lead to 8-3 heading into the ninth. Kyle Roller's groundout RBI scored Austin Homan to make it 8-1. And then Brandon Henderson hit a two-run single to right off reliever Brian Moran to score Trent Whitehead and Ryan Wood.
The final line for Carolina starter Adam Warren: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 118 pitches.
Three outs and counting for the boys from Greenville.
Carolina scored again. It's now 8-0 after seven innings thanks to a Seth Baldwin sac fly that scored Garrett Gore.
UNC's Dustin Ackley led off the eighth with a groundout to first. Upon returning to the Carolina dugout, most of the 4,271 in attendance gave Ackley a standing ovation after what will likely be his last-ever at-bat in Chapel Hill. The junior will be a top draft pick in the June 9 MLB draft and should be cashing a professional check sometime after UNC's season ends in Omaha.
The East Carolina bus is running. Literally. Outside of the third-base side of Boshamer Stadium.
Six outs left in the ECU season, unless the Pirates can somehow hijack this game.
With two on and two out, freshman Levi Michael sent a 1-0 pitch from East Carolina starter Kevin Brandt sailing over the left-field wall. The problem for Carolina fans is it was just to the left of the foul pole for a 340-foot strike.
Four pitches later, Michael grounded out to second to end the threat.
Michael is the truest of true freshman, as he was still a high school student back in January. But the Welcome, N.C., native graduated from North Davidson High School after the first semester and started here at UNC in January. All he's done since then is start in 61 games and hit .300 (entering today) with 13 HRs and 56 RBIs. Not bad for a should-be high school senior playing on one of the top college teams in the nation.
The Heels still lead 2-0 as we've reached the halfway point at the Bosh.
The visiting Tar Heels plated two runs in the top of the third to take a 2-0 lead over East Carolina.
Garrett Gore led off with a single up the middle and was moved up to second on a sacrifice bunt by Mike Cavasinni. After Jacob Stallings struck out swinging, Ben Bunting walked. Then Dustin Ackley walked to load the bases and Kyle Seager made it hurt when he hit Kevin Brandt's first pitch (Brandt's 50th of the day) back between the pitcher's legs into center field for a two-out, two-run single to score Gore and Bunting.
Now it's Adam Warren's turn to try to hold the lead for Carolina.
North Carolina and East Carolina each have one hit and starting pitchers Adam Warren (UNC) and Kevin Brandt (ECU) have looked good. Warren has thrown 34 pitches (20 for strikes) and has registered three strikeouts. Brandt threw 29 pitches (19 strikes) and also picked up three K's.
With a pitcher-friendly strike zone from home plate umpire Jim Garman, it could be a long afternoon for the batters. Then again, it's college baseball and this year's NCAA tournament has been a mash fest so far.
It could be the exception for Game 2 (Noon ET, ESPN) of the Chapel Hill Super Regional as the local forecast is only calling for partly sunny skies with a chance of rain this afternoon -- although the sun has remained out since the Heels took the field.
In Saturday's opening game, UNC (46-16) used a seven-run sixth inning to break open a tight game en route to a 10-1 win over East Carolina (46-19). Alex White (8-4) went 8.1 innings and recorded a career-best 12 strikeouts to shut down the Pirates attack while third baseman Kyle Seager went 4-for-5 with a home run and 2 RBI to pace a Diamond Heel offense that saw each starter record at least one hit.
Today's game is sold out and fans of both UNC and East Carolina are combing the grounds outside the stadium looking for tickets. Yesterday's attendance of 4,316 set a Boshamer Stadium record, which surpassed the 4,231 who were here on April 25 vs. Maryland.
A win by the Tar Heels would send them to their fourth consecutive appearance in Omaha for the College World Series. A Pirates win would extend the super regional to a deciding Game 3 on Monday at 1 p.m. (ESPN).
Here are the lineups for Game 2 of the Chapel Hill Super Regional (remember that East Carolina is the home team today):
North Carolina (46-16)
3 Ben Bunting LF
13 Dustin Ackley 1B
10 Kyle Seager 3B
24 Ryan Graepel SS
1 Levi Michael 2B
8 Mark Fleury C
4 Garrett Gore RF
11 Mike Cavasinni CF
5 Jacob Stallings DH
28 Adam Warren P (8-2, 3.19, .235 OBA)
East Carolina (46-19)
1 Trent Whitehead CF
16 Ryan Wood 2B
25 Stephen Batts LF
19 Kyle Roller DH
23 Brandon Henderson 1B
34 Devin Harris RF
7 Dustin Harrington SS
2 Drew Schieber 3B
22 Jared Avchen C
35 Kevin Brandt P (9-1, 3.52, .234 OBA)
HP: Jim Garman
1B: Scott Erby
2B: Jim Schalley
3B: Chuck Lyon