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June 16, 2006

SCS.comThe top half of the 2006 CWS bracket is almost like a mini-ACC Tournament, as it features #1 national seed Clemson, #8 Georgia Tech, and ACC Coastal Division regular season champion North Carolina, who knocked out #4 national seed Alabama last weekend in Tuscaloosa to advance to Omaha. Five seed and 2004 national champion Cal State-Fullerton returns to Omaha after missing out last year and crashes the ACC party.

All-Bracket Team

C – Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech
1B – Chad Flack, North Carolina
2B – Justin Turner, Cal State-Fullerton
SS – Josh Horton, North Carolina
3B – Whit Robbins, Georgia Tech
OF – Tyler Colvin, Clemson
OF – Jeff Kindel, Georgia Tech
OF – Jay Cox, North Carolina

SP – Wes Roemer, Cal State-Fullerton
SP – Andrew Miller, North Carolina
SP – Stephen Faris, Clemson
SP – Lauren Gagnier, Cal State-Fullerton
RP – Jonathan Hovis, North Carolina
RP – Daniel Moskos, Clemson
RP – Andrew Carignan, North Carolina
RP – Ryan Paul, Cal State-Fullerton

Also Considered – Tim Federowicz, C, North Carolina; Andy D’Alessio, 1B, Clemson; Taylor Harbin, 2B, Clemson; Blake Davis, SS, Cal State-Fullerton; Danny Dorn, OF, Cal State-Fullerton; Steven Blackwood, OF, Georgia Tech; Blake Wood, SP, Georgia Tech; Josh Cribb, SP, Clemson; Brad Rulon, Georgia Tech

Who’s Hot

Chad Flack, North Carolina – Flack made himself an instant Tar Heel legend with two swings on Saturday night, first hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the 8th to give UNC a 5-4 lead over Alabama. Then in the bottom of the 9th, the junior first baseman fulfilled every kid’s backyard baseball dream, drilling a two-out, two-run homer just over the right field wall to give his team an 8-7 victory and send them to Omaha for the first time since 1989.

Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech – Wieters was about as good as it gets in the Atlanta Regional, going 8 for 9 to garner MVP honors. He kept it up in the Super against College of Charleston, homering in the first game and then scoring two runs in the second game. All in all, he’s reached base 20 times in 26 total plate appearances over five postseason games (11 hits, 9 walks). The sensational sophomore has also pitched 1.2 scoreless innings on the mound.

Danny Dorn, Cal State-Fullerton – Dorn caught fire in the regionals, going 6 for 14 with 7 RBI in three games. In the two super regional games against Missouri, the senior outfielder kept his hot bat going, collecting four hits in nine at-bats and driving in four more runs. He had two two-run doubles in the deciding game against the Tigers. The 2003 Freshman All-American has had a great career as a Titan, and while this year has not been on par with his other three seasons, he’s finishing in fine fashion.

Taylor & Tyler (Harbin & Colvin), Clemson – Colvin’s selection by the Cubs as the 13th overall pick in the draft was a bit of a surprise, but the junior left fielder did a great deal to validate the pick by crushing a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in game one of Clemson’s super regional with Oral Roberts. The success of the Clemson cleanup hitter has laid the way for Harbin, who bats behind him in the Tiger lineup. After a monster freshman season, the Tiger second baseman wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire for the majority of this season. But, the sophomore second sacker has found his stroke. In five postseason games, he’s 8 for 14 with four homers, 12 RBI, and eight runs scored. On top of that, he’s stolen five bases, taking his total for the season to 13.

Sean Clark, Clemson – Before the ACC Tournament, Clark had pitched only 10 innings. But, the light has come on for the recent graduate. He pitched eight scoreless innings in the ACC Tournament title game vs. NC State and then followed that up with eight more shutout innings against UNC-Asheville in the Clemson regional. Against Oral Roberts, he came in after Stephen Faris gave up four runs in the first couple of innings and held the Golden Eagles down long enough to give the Tigers a chance to come back.

Who’s Not

Wes Hodges, Georgia Tech – Hodges has been a little off at the plate lately, but part of that might be attributed to a stress fracture in his leg that he’s been fighting through. He’s missed several games, but in the ones he has played in, his hitting hasn’t quite been on. When on, Hodges is one of the best hitters around. If he can grit his teeth and keep on fighting on the big stage of Rosenblatt, that’ll add yet another lethal weapon to the Jackets’ arsenal.

Andy D’Alessio, Clemson – D’Alessio had a star performance against Elon in the Clemson Regional, putting three’s across the board (3 for 3, 3 RBI, 3 runs scored) and upping his homer total to 22 by bashing two bombs. Outside of that one game, he’s 1 for 12 with two RBI. Has he reverted back to the off-and-on hitter he was last year, or is this just a little bump in the road for the junior first baseman? His 22 homers and 80 RBI show what he’s capable of. Even with his struggles, he’s still the nation’s leader in RBI.

Clemson pitching - There’ve been a few shaky periods in the postseason from both their starters and their bullpen, but they’ve been bailed out by their big bats every time. But the quality of the pitchers they’ll be facing in Omaha will be just a little better than what they’ve faced in their last few games, so they’re going to need to shore up any issues they have…quickly.

History Indicates

Clemson – The Tigers have been to Omaha ten times previously. They finished tied for third in 2002, falling one game short of the championship game. They were in prime position to reach it after winning their first two games against Nebraska and Georgia Tech, but the Tigers dropped two in a row to in-state rival South Carolina to miss out.

Georgia Tech – This year Tech makes their third trip to Omaha. Their previous trips were in 1994 and 2002. In 1994, a team loaded with future MLB stars Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, and Jay Payton made it to the championship game, where they lost to Oklahoma 13-5. In 2002, they won their opener against South Carolina but dropped their next two games, first to Clemson, then to the Gamecocks, to go home in fifth.

Cal State-Fullerton – The Titans are no stranger to Omaha. Their ledger is pretty impressive, having made 13 previous trips, coming away with the national title on four occasions (1979, 1984, 1995, 2004) and finishing runner-up in 1992 to Pepperdine. Their last trip was two years ago, when they were a rather unheralded Titan team upset Texas to win the championship.

North Carolina – The Tar Heels have made four previous trips to Omaha (’60, ’66, ’78, ’89), with a third place finish in 1978, their best result there. In their last trip 17 years ago, they went on the road and beat an SEC team to advance to Omaha, just as they did this year. UNC took down favorite Mississippi State in Starkville that year, but couldn’t follow that up with Omaha success, going two and through, dropping games to future ACC rival Florida State and to Arkansas. They also went winless in ’60 and ’66.

Chances, Chances

Clemson – As most college baseball fans should know, the Tigers definitely have the bats to ride on through to the title series. But, they also are more than competent on the mound. In Omaha, it’s all about having the pitching depth to last you five games or more, and the Tigers are set in that area. They have more than enough starting arms that they can throw to help ensure no one is overused. Faris, Josh Cribb, and Jason Berken have been very good, but none of them will draw the starting assignment in the opener against Georgia Tech, as that honor goes to Clark.

Georgia Tech – The ACC knows a thing or two about good hitting. As good as Clemson’s bats are, Georgia Tech’s are even better, and that’s even with one of their leading hitters (Danny Payne) out injured and another (Wes Hodges) hobbling around on a bad leg. The question mark about Georgia Tech all season is their pitching staff. They’ve answered the call in the postseason, getting quality starts in all five postseason games.

Cal State-Fullerton – Three pitchers with 12+ wins and ERAs under 3.00, plus having several members who already know what it’s like to experience a championship (2004), are ingredients for Omaha success. Mr. All-Everything Wes Roemer (13-1) has walked only six batters all season, and that efficiency around the plate might trick a hitter to believe he’s going to serve it up right there for them. However, he’s been on the right side of unhittable all year.

While Roemer gets most of the notice, they have two other starters who have also put up fantastic numbers this season. #2 starter Lauren Gagnier (14-4) retired the first 23 batters he faced against Missouri. #3 starter Dustin Miller has won his last twelve decisions, and he’s fresh, having not had to throw against the Tigers. The Titans have been and will be without injured closer Vinnie Pestano, but the bullpen has still been effective when necessary, led by new closer Ryan Paul, whose numbers are nearly as good as Pestano’s.

North Carolina – We all know how well North Carolina can pitch, but it’s their bats that have been on fire in the postseason, producing 62 runs and 11 homers in five games. In Omaha, however, they may very well need only half of that total to win a championship, if the past few years are anything to go on.

UNC torched Wade LeBlanc in Tuscaloosa, and they also beat up on Winthrop’s fantastic freshman Alex Wilson in the regionals. They face another tough task in getting past Wes Roemer in their opener. If they can duplicate what Missouri did and create multiple opportunities early against him in the super regional, but actually capitalize unlike the Tigers did, that could spell a win for the Heels, if Andrew Miller can be his usual self. However, to get far, they’re going to need Daniel Bard, who’s had consistency issues and didn’t fare well against Alabama, and Robert Woodard, to step up and give quality starts.

But, above all that talent, the Tar Heels have showed themselves to be a tough and resilient ballclub, as the late innings against Alabama proved. You can’t count them out, even when they’re down, and that’s a mark of a championship team.

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