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PREVIEW: NORTH CAROLINA VS OREGON STATE
June 22, 2007

SCS.comFor the second straight year, Oregon State and North Carolina will meet in the College World Series finals with a chance to win a National Championship. For the Beavers, who swept their side of the bracket in Omaha by beating Cal State Fullerton, Arizona State, and UC Irvine, this will be an opportunity for them to defend their 2006 title and win another one. Oregon State has been simply brilliant in Omaha, thriving in every facet of the game. The Beavers have pitched extremely well, swung the bats exceptionally, and played solid defense.

North Carolina, meanwhile, won their opening game against Mississippi State before dropping their next outing against Rice. But the Tarheels would fight off elimination, beating Louisville and Wayne Graham’s Rice squad twice to return to the CWS finals for a second straight year.

It was a resurgence in the UNC pitching staff that helped Mike Fox’s squad have a chance to play Oregon State again for a National Championship. The first two games in Omaha saw UNC starters fail to make it through the second inning, but in crucial elimination games, starters Luke Putkonen, Robert Woodard, and Adam Warren pitched effectively and kept the UNC team in games. It will be the same College World Series finals as last year, with Pat Casey’s Oregon State Beavers and Mike Fox’s North Carolina Tar Heels squaring off again for a chance to bring home a National Championship.

BREAKING IT DOWN

Starting Pitching

Both of these teams have solid starting staffs, but it is the Beavers who have the edge in this category. Because they swept through their side of the bracket, the Oregon State pitching staff is set up perfect. Freshman Jorge Reyes (6-3, 3.00 ERA) will get the start for Pat Casey’s squad when the CWS finals begin on Saturday. The second game of the finals will see OSU start Mike Stutes (11-4, 4.03 ERA). If a third game is necessary, Daniel Turpen (10-1, 3.44 ERA) will take the hill in the finale of the College World Series. Each member of the Beaver starting staff has thrown exceptionally well in Omaha and will need to do so again for Oregon State to repeat as champs.

For North Carolina, the pitching staff is not quite as fresh as Oregon State's, but is still in a good position. Mike Fox will more than likely throw freshman righty Alex White (6-6, 4.74 ERA) in Game 1 of the CWS finals. The second game on Sunday should see Luke Putkonen (8-1, 4.44 ERA) take the hill for the Tar Heels. If a Monday game is needed, senior Robert Woodard (11-2, 3.19 ERA) or Adam Warren (12-0, 2.17 ERA) will take the mound.

Both Oregon State and UNC boast strong starting pitching staffs, but with the way that the Beaver staff has performed so far in Omaha, they get the nod over the Tar Heels.

Edge: Oregon State

Bullpen

The bullpens for Oregon State and UNC in the CWS have been used quite differently. Pat Casey’s squad has barely had to go the ‘pen in Omaha, as their starters have gone deep into ballgames. The story is very different for UNC, who has had to use many pitchers in their five CWS games so far.

For Oregon State, there is an abundance of strong arms out of the bullpen. Joe Paterson (10-6, 3.65 ERA), Mark Grbavac (0-1, 2.35 ERA), and Anton Maxwell (3-1, 2.42 ERA) provide outstanding middle relief for the Beavers. When the 9th inning starts and the Beavers are leading, North Carolina will see “lights out” closer Eddie Kunz (2.91 ERA, 12 SV). Though Oregon State hasn’t had to use the bullpen much in Omaha thus far, if they need to this weekend, they will get solid relief out of the ‘pen.

North Carolina has had to use the bullpen a lot as a few starters have been knocked out early in ballgames. Rob Wooten (6-1, 2.26 ERA) has been used in middle relief for the Tar Heels in every game of the NCAA Tournament and has been brilliant. Matt Danford (5-0, 3.06 ERA) also provides solid relief out of the UNC bullpen. Like Oregon State, UNC has a great shut-down guy. Andrew Carignan (1.21 ERA, 18 SV) might be the best closer in college baseball and has the experience of pitching in big games in Omaha this year as well as last year. Because of the man who closes the game for the Tar Heels in the 9th inning, UNC has a narrow edge over Oregon State out of the ‘pen.

Edge: North Carolina

Hitting

Both Oregon State and UNC have hit the ball fairly well in Omaha up to this point. The Beavers are averaging a little over 7 runs a game in the CWS and have come up with the clutch hits in crucial situations. Outfielder Mike Lissman (.325, 10 HR, 61 RBI), catcher Mitch Canham (.321, 10 HR, 57 RBI), and shortstop Darwin Barney (.301, 4 HR, 53 RBI) have been the consistent performers for the Beavers in Omaha and have carried the team on their backs. The team batting average of .285 is deceptive because OSU gets hits when they need hits. Oregon State batters thrive in big situations, and that’s one reason why they’re here in Omaha trying to defend their 2006 title.

North Carolina boasts a strong lineup that hits for both power and average. Freshman Dustin Ackley (.403, 9 HR, 72 RBI), shortstop Josh Horton (.335, 9 HR, 53 RBI), and catcher Tim Federowicz (.339, 4 HR, 64 RBI) are the better hitters in the UNC lineup. Leadoff man Reid Fronk (.319, 11 HR, 56 RBI) is the “table setter” for the Tar Heels. On paper, UNC has a clear advantage over Oregon State in the hitting category, but with the way that the Beaver lineup has produced so far in Omaha, a tie will be given in batting.

Edge: Tie

Intangibles

With both teams having lineups that thrive in big situations and also having coaches like Oregon State skipper Pat Casey and UNC head man Mike Fox, intangibles will be key in the CWS finals. Oregon State is the team that makes the big defensive play, gets the clutch two-out hit, and makes the pitch that gets them out of the big inning. The double play tandem of shortstop Darwin Barney and second baseman Joey Wong is sure to play excellent defense, and veteran catcher Mitch Canham is likely to get the needed hit.

For UNC, the intangibles mostly come from the bullpen where closer Andrew Carignan has been exceptional in Omaha the last two years. Shortsop Josh Horton and third baseman Chad Flack are the veteran players who can help lead the Tar Heels to a National Championship.

Oregon State and UNC have come up with the big plays in Omaha up to this point, but because the Beavers are the defending National Champs and have that “swagger,” they get the edge over UNC in this category.

Edge: Oregon State

FINAL THOUGHTS

In Omaha this weekend, there will be a rematch of the 2006 CWS finals between defending champ Oregon State and North Carolina. The Beavers have played flawless baseball in Omaha, while the Tar Heels have battled elimination to return to the CWS finals for the second straight year. Oregon State has the advantage over UNC in starting pitching and in the intangible category, while UNC has the edge out of the bullpen. Both teams’ hitting has been strong in Omaha in the last week.

The winner of the CWS finals will be determined by whose pitching staff goes deep into ballgames and whose lineup comes up with the big hits. The favorite is Oregon State, as they haven’t lost in Omaha and are playing great fundamental baseball, but UNC has started to catch fire at the plate, as well as on the mound.

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