Category archive: North Carolina Tar Heels
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.
Here are some notes from Thursday's game. (Compiled by the NCAA.)
• Arizona State is now second nationally with 51 wins this season (LSU has 53 wins). It is Arizona State's 16th 50-win season and second under coach Pat Murphy. Thursday's win was the 1,000th career victory for Murphy -- he is 1,000-455-4 in 24 seasons as a head coach.
• North Carolina falls to 14-17 all-time at the CWS, making its eighth appearance in Omaha. UNC is 12-9 over its past three CWS appearances.
• North Carolina has been eliminated by the eventual national champion in each of the past three seasons (Oregon State, 2006 and 2007; Fresno State, 2008).
• Kole Calhoun's six RBIs were a career high. He had driven in four runs on two previous occasions (Washington State on April 10; at Arizona on April 29). Thursday's was the first six-RBI game at the CWS since Fresno State's Steve Detwiler had six against Georgia on June 25, 2008.
• Dustin Ackley finishes the 2009 CWS with a CWS all-time record 28 hits and has hit .412 (28-for-68) over the past three seasons. Ackley finished the 2009 CWS with a .500 average (8-for-16).
• Ackley finishes the season with 111 hits, tying Braeden Riley of Sam Houston State for the national lead. Ackley finished the 2009 season with a .417 average to tie for third in UNC history, while also ranking in the top 10 in homers (22, third), RBIs (73, sixth) and runs (75, sixth).
• Josh Spence is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his two starts, fanning 16 over 14 innings in Omaha. Spence has thrown 248 pitches and has gone seven innings in both of his CWS starts.
• Drew Maggi extended his own ASU freshman runs-scored record to 63 with two runs scored Thursday. The previous high was 60 by Barry Bonds in 1983.
• Garrett Gore set a CWS record with his 21st appearance, breaking Daryl Arenstein's record for career games set from 1970 to 1973. Gore went 2-for-4 on Thursday and finished the CWS with a .375 (6-for-16) average. Gore finished the postseason with a .436 (17-for-39) average with three homers and 11 RBIs and has six multihit games in his eight NCAA contests.
• Matt Harvey's four wild pitches set a CWS single-game record. The previous high was three, set 14 times -- most recently by Koley Kolberg of Arizona against Georgia on June 18, 2004. Harvey had thrown only nine pitches in his first 70.2 innings entering the 2009 CWS. Harvey's five walks also were a season high, bettering his previous high of four, set five times this year.
• The 12 runs allowed by North Carolina were a season high. UNC had allowed 11 runs twice this year, most recently against Virginia on May 22.
The final score in Thursday's College World Series elimination game was 12-5 in favor of the Sun Devils (51-13), who move on to face Texas on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN360).
The winning pitcher was starter Josh Spence (10-1), who went seven innings and threw 127 pitches (84 strikes). He gave up three earned runs and struck out eight while walking two. And the big offensive line belonged to left fielder Kole Calhoun, who went 2-for-3 with a grand slam and six RBIs.
Carolina finished the season with a 48-18 record. The 12 runs scored by ASU were the most surrendered by UNC in a game this season -- at exactly the wrong time.
As an encore to his game-tying grand slam in the fifth inning, Calhoun ripped a two-run double to right center in the seventh to give Arizona State a 6-4 lead over North Carolina.
ASU opened the bottom half of the seventh with a Jason Kipnis single to right, followed by a Carlos Ramirez walk. That chased reliever Colin Bates and brought in Patrick Johnson. On Johnson's first pitch to Calhoun, the left fielder squared to bunt and then quickly took his bat back and drove the ball to the wall as Kipnis and Ramirez came around to score.
Only the Sun Devils weren't finished. Not by a long shot.
They loaded the bases with a pair of walks, and then a passed ball charged to catcher Mark Fleury allowed Calhoun to score from third to make it 7-4 ASU.
Another walk, this time to Jared McDonald, loaded the bases again, and then Zack MacPhee laced a single to left that scored Johnny Ruettiger and Riccio Torrez for a 9-4 Sun Devils lead.
A double steal moved McDonald to third and MacPhee to second, and then Drew Maggi singled to center to bloat the ASU lead to seven runs at 11-4.
Maggi stole second and then moved to third on a groundout by Kipnis. But a Ramirez single to left plated Maggi for a 12-4 margin.
Eight runs on five hits, if you're keeping score at home.
It certainly looks like the Tar Heels are finished, which would mean Carolina's season is down to six outs if it can't find any more offense. But stay tuned, because stranger things have happened in this ballpark on this stage.
It was Calhoun's 12th home run of the season and the 46th grand slam in College World Series history -- not to mention Calhoun's second home run off Moran at this CWS. In Sunday's 5-2 ASU win, Calhoun hit a three-run homer in the 10th inning off of Moran to give the Sun Devils a 5-1 lead. So, in two at-bats against Moran in Omaha, Calhoun is 2-for-2 with 2 HRs and 7 RBIs.
The Tar Heels took a 4-0 lead when by scoring one run in the second and three in the fourth.
With four innings to play, it's a whole new ballgame.
The Texas coach and small-ball guru is here at Rosenblatt tonight taking in the North Carolina-Arizona State game. And he saw UNC score its first two runs on sacrifice bunts -- both executed with two strikes.
The Tar Heels plated a total of three runs in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead over the Sun Devils.
Jacob Stallings, whose sac bunt in the second gave UNC a 1-0 lead, picked up his second RBI in the fourth on a sacrifice to the same spot to the right of the mound. It allowed Garrett Gore to score from third for a 2-0 lead. Then back-to-back RBI singles to left by Mike Cavasinni and Ryan Graepel extended the UNC lead to 4-0.
ASU starter Josh Spence has thrown 89 pitches (55 strikes) and he has to be near the end of his night on the mound. Remember, he threw 122 pitches on Sunday and is going tonight on three days' rest.
A sacrifice bunt by DH Jacob Stallings -- on a 1-2 count -- scored Levi Michael from third base for a 1-0 Tar Heels lead. Michael, who had originally reached base on a fielder's choice when the Sun Devils couldn't turn a double play, advanced to third on a two-base throwing error by ASU shortstop Drew Maggi that also allowed Ben Bunting to advance to second.
The run doesn't count against ASU starter Josh Spence because it is unearned, but it sure counts on the scoreboard.
With one out, Jason Kipnis reached on an infield single and then advanced to second on the first of two wild pitches by North Carolina starter Matt Harvey. A walk to Carlos Ramirez made it first and second with one out, but Kipnis was caught trying to steal third and then cleanup hitter Kole Calhoun went down looking to end the inning.
The walkways between the outfield sections are standing-room-only and are packed several people deep for their entire length. As expected, this should be a great crowd tonight.
Kind of makes you wonder what it's like to be here for an Omaha Royals game.
Temperatures are back in the 90s again today (Sun Devils weather?), and there's strong breeze, although it's a little more to dead center than to left field like it was Wednesday.
But that hasn't stopped the College World Series' most dedicated fans: the ones who lined up outside for general admission seats, raced through the gates as soon as they opened at 4 p.m. local time and then set up shop in the prime locations over left and right field to catch batting-practice home runs. As usual, it was a fruitful exercise, if you can stand the heat.
Tonight's game between North Carolina and Arizona State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN360) is a rematch of Sunday's Bracket Two opener, the Sun Devils won 5-2 in 10 innings. Unlike four days ago, tonight's loser goes home, joining Cal State Fullerton, Southern Miss and Virginia.
In a slightly surprising move, Arizona State coach Pat Murphy has decided to go with lefty Josh Spence as his starter. Spence got a no-decision against the Tar Heels on Sunday, but his array of offspeed offerings against a predominantly left-handed UNC lineup was successful for most of the night. He went seven innings, and surrendered one earned run on eight hits to go along with eight strikeouts and three walks.
The performance wasn't surprising, but the fact that Spence threw 122 pitches Sunday and is coming off three days' rest makes tonight's start somewhat unexpected. But there's no tomorrow without a win today.
At stake tonight is a berth in Friday's Bracket Two Championship against Texas (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2HD). A win tomorrow against the unbeaten Longhorns would force a winner-take-all game Saturday to advance to Monday's CWS Championship Series.
Here are the starting lineups for tonight's elimination game, the 10th game of the 2009 College World Series:
North Carolina (48-17)
24 Ryan Graepel SS
13 Dustin Ackley 1B
10 Kyle Seager 3B
4 Garrett Gore RF
8 Mark Fleury C
1 Levi Michael 2B
3 Ben Bunting LF
5 Jacob Stallings DH
11 Mike Cavasinni CF
43 Matt Harvey RHP (7-2, 5.35 ERA)
Arizona State (50-13)
37 Drew Maggi SS
28 Jason Kipnis CF
55 Carlos Ramirez C
49 Kole Calhoun LF
11 Matt Newman RF
23 Johnny Ruettiger DH
30 Riccio Torrez 1B
22 Jared McDonald 3B
2 Zack MacPhee 2B
45 Josh Spence LHP (9-1, 2.26 ERA)
HP: Perry Costello
1B: Joe Burleson
2B: Mark Chapman
3B: Chuck Lyon
One thing that struck me was that Ackley is bigger up close than many viewers may realize. On the field, he looks like he has a medium build at most -- but in person, I saw that he has a bigger, wider back than you might suspect. His hands are also exceptionally large. That tells me he has exceptional bat control. And that's something we've obviously seen throughout his career.
Tim Steadman/Icon SMIOrel Hershiser believes Dustin Ackley, above, is one of the best hitters ever to play college baseball.
He also has the thin ankles of a racehorse. That tells me he can really move, cut and dart. You don't really see that much in a first baseman, but he's been playing there largely because he's coming off Tommy John surgery.
The Seattle Mariners, who took him second overall in the June 9 Major League Baseball draft, really think Ackley will play at first base in the majors, but scouts have been saying he might not play there because he's smaller and may not hit with enough power. I think that with his body and the way he moves, he could play in the outfield as well.
Ackley has been compared to Darin Erstad, who has had a nice, long career. Coming out of college, Ackley is a better prospect than Erstad. Bats and arms come from all over the draft, but Ackley is, at least statistically, one of the best college hitters ever. His swing is very smooth and at times can look a little long. But it's more of the length of a Raul Ibanez or Carlos Beltran, for whom it's deceptively powerful.
He also really seems to have that "steering wheel" bat like Tony Gwynn's. His hard ground balls -- which for other players often find the fielders' gloves -- have a knack for finding the holes. I asked him about that, and he told me it's just been good fortune.
But I believe that if you don't feel like you are guiding it, it's probably because you have an idea of where you want to hit the ball and you can position yourself to give yourself the best chance. Plus, he squares up more balls than anyone else. So when he hits a three-hopper, it's firm and often gets through, where another hitter's ground ball may take four hops and becomes an out instead of a hit.
The difference between three hops and four may seem minor, but over the course of time, it will lead to more hits. And in the majors, it will be more even pronounced with the much longer season.
But Ackley is not only a ground-ball hitter. He has the kind of body that I think can get a lot stronger, and he should be able to hit for more power as he matures. The Mariners have a keeper on their hands.