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REGIONAL PREVIEW: COLUMBIA, SC AND CHAPEL HILL
May 29, 2007

Columbia, SC | Chapel Hill

SCS.com Border rivals South Carolina and North Carolina are once again at home for Regional play this spring, and it would shock few if the two ended up going head-to-head in Super Regional activity a week from now. First, though, they'll have to get past their Regional fields, which will be no easy task. USC will welcome in the ACC's NC State as the two seed, as well as Charlotte and Wofford. UNC, meanwhile, will play host to a pair of Carolina schools themselves, as they take on East Carolina and Western Carolina, as well as Jacksonville University this opening weekend of postseason play.

COLUMBIA, SC REGIONAL
  vs Chapel Hill Regional

The Field

(1) South Carolina (42-18)
The Gamecocks were the preseason SEC favorite, but instead finished second behind Vandy in the East, and were eliminated in the SEC tournament semis by Arkansas. Still, USC has their eighth straight 40+ win season, and hosts for the first time since 2004.
(2) N.C. State (37-21)
The Wolfpack finished third in the ACC Atlantic Division with a 16-14 record and went 1-2 in the ACC tournament. This year marks their fifth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.
(3) Charlotte (47-10)
Charlotte steamrolled through the Atlantic 10, posting a 23-4 league record. The 49ers then swept the A-10 tournament, winning all three games by double digits and scoring 44 runs. Charlotte's making their first appearance in the tournament since 1998, and only their third in history.
(4) Wofford (30-31)
Wofford is a first-time entrant in the field of 64. The Terriers finished ninth in the SoCon at 8-19, but won five games in a row to win the SoCon tournament and the school’s first bid to the postseason. Wofford is first in the nation with 106 homers.

The Venue

Sarge Frye Field is named after the late longtime supervisor of athletic facilities and former Army sergeant Weldon B. Frye. The field is one of the nation’s most renowned hitter’s parks, which is why the Gamecocks perennially rank among the top power teams in the country. The dimensions are 325 down the left and right field lines, 365 to left and right center, and 390 to center. This postseason will mark the last games in the stadium, as USC will be moving into a new stadium in 2008, which will be just as much of a hitter‘s park as the current facility.

The Best

Starting Pitcher - Adam Mills, Charlotte - Vanderbilt’s David Price and San Diego’s Brian Matusz get most of the national attention, but Mills has been just as good as those two. He is 13-2, with a 1.06 ERA, and 136 Ks in 135.2 innings. The senior leads the nation in ERA and shutouts, is second in wins and complete games, and third in strikeouts.
Runner-up: Ben Austin, Wofford
Relief Pitcher - Eryk McConnell, North Carolina State - McConnell was a starter last season, but has been excellent as the closer this spring. He has a 3-2 record, a 1.19 ERA, and 11 saves in 27 appearances.
Runner-up: Jeff Jeffords, South Carolina
Infielder - Justin Smoak, James Darnell, & Travis Jones, South Carolina - These three have all hit 18 homers and driven in over 60 runs. Jones and Smoak are both solid in the field, having each only made four errors all season.
Runner-up: Mike Gilmartin, Wofford
Outfielder - Brad McElroy, Charlotte - The Canadian outfielder and JC transfer leads the 49ers in average (.412), doubles (24), homers (10), RBI (65), and runs scored (64). In the field, he has been pretty sharp, with just four errors in 115 chances.
Runner-up: Ryan Pond, N.C. State
Homerun Hitter - Brandon Waring, Wofford - South Carolina has their quartet of power hitters, and so does Wofford, led by Waring, who is tied for the national lead in long balls with 27. The junior third baseman was named the SoCon tournament’s MVP after hitting five homers and driving in 16 runs. For the year, he’s hitting .405 with 73 RBI.
Runner-up: Justin Smoak, South Carolina
Pro Prospect - Andrew Brackman - Brackman has been one of the hottest names in college baseball since his freshman year. At 6’10 with a rocket fastball, he’s a hot commodity. Even though the results haven’t quite been there, he’s still projected as a top-five prospect in the draft.
Runner-up: Justin Smoak, South Carolina
Coach - Ray Tanner, South Carolina - Tanner has done nothing but win since he arrived from N.C. State after the 1996 season. This year marks USC's ninth regional appearance in 11 years under Tanner, and his tenure also includes six super regionals in eight seasons, three trips to Omaha, nine 40+ and three 50+ win seasons, and several conference and division titles.
Runner-up: Elliott Avent, N.C. State

The Forecast

South Carolina and North Carolina State are the top two seeds and no doubt most people‘s picks to make it to the final, but they better watch out for their opponents on opening day. Even if Charlotte doesn‘t pitch Mills on Friday, the 49ers' #2, Spencer Steedley, is a stud on the mound as well, as is Zach Rosenbaum. South Carolina, meanwhile, has to take care of Wofford. The Gamecocks and Terriers are the nation’s top two power teams (Wofford with 106 homers, USC with 104), and with Sarge Frye being a hitter’s park, that could mean a big-time slugfest on Friday. Wofford ace Ben Austin has 11 wins this season, so if the Terrier bats get going, an upset could be in the offing.
It may well be their first appearance in the tournament, and it may be Charlotte’s first in nearly a decade, but don’t expect them to just be glad to be there. Another thing to keep in mind is while South Carolina has a deep and talented rotation, it’s also prone to inconsistency. It won’t be a surprise to see one of the lower seeds in the championship game on Sunday. Charlotte might be the pick to do it, because they have the arms, and they have enough offensive firepower, but Wofford could get there simply based on the strength of their lineup. Even so, you've got to have the Gamecocks as the favorite at home, though it's not as overwhelming as one might expect. The storyline to keep in mind is a potential meeting between South Carolina and Ray Tanner‘s alma mater and previous employer, N.C. State.

The Predictions

Eddie Jimmy Jonathan
Charlotte South Carolina South Carolina

CHAPEL HILL REGIONAL
  vs Columbia, SC Regional

The Field

(1) North Carolina (48-12) [#3]
The Tar Heels were the national runner-up last season, and have had another outstanding season in 2007. They won their second straight ACC Coastal Division title, and then won the ACC tournament by defeating Wake Forest 3-2 in the title game.
(2) East Carolina (39-21)
The Pirates missed the tournament in 2006, snapping a string of seven consecutive regional appearances. But, a sweep of Cal State-Fullerton highlighted a hot start this season, and the Pirates rounded it off with a second-place finish in both the C-USA standings and the conference tournament to seal a return to the field of 64.
(3) Western Carolina (40-18)
The Catamounts tied College of Charleston for the Southern Conference title with a 20-7 record, but both went 0-2 in the SoCon tourney. But the Catamounts ended up being one of the last teams in the field, whereas the Cougars missed out. Non-conference wins over Georgia Tech, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, and North Carolina State no doubt helped them receive their first bid to the tournament since 2003.
(4) Jacksonville (34-26)
Last season, the Dolphins won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title and received an at-large bid. This year, JU came through the loser‘s bracket in the A-Sun tournament and knocked off Belmont twice to receive their second straight bid. Initially, Wofford was mistakenly assigned here, but due to WCU and Wofford being conference foes, the committee swapped out the Terriers for the Dolphins, who were initially assigned to the opposite regional.

The Venue

UNC’s Boshamer Stadium has been open since 1967. Dimensions are 335 down the left and right field lines, 370 in left center, 400 in center, and 362 in right center. The regional (and potentially super regional) games will be the last ones at the current Boshamer, as construction is going to begin on a new stadium over the summer.

The Best

Starting Pitcher - Robert Woodard, North Carolina - Woodard isn’t known for overpowering stuff, but what he is known for is winning. He’s 9-2 this season, which takes his career record to an impressive 32-5.
Runner-up: Tyler Sexton, Western Carolina
Relief Pitcher - Andrew Carignan, North Carolina - When Carignan enters the game, that almost always means bad news for the opposition. The junior recorded 15 saves last season, and has recorded 13 this season, along with having a miniscule 1.20 ERA in 31 appearances.
Runner-up: Shane Matthews, East Carolina
Infielder - Kenny Smith, Western Carolina - After three years at UNC-Wilmington, including two as a full-time starter on NCAA tournament teams, the second sacker transferred to WCU for his final campaign. That move has certainly paid off. Smith enters the regionals with a .396 average, 23 doubles, 18 homers, and 79 RBI, which ranks second in the country. He’s also stolen 14 bases and is fielding at a .981 clip.
Runner-up: Dustin Ackley, North Carolina
Outfielder - Reid Fronk, North Carolina - Fronk hit .292 with nine homers and 44 RBI as a sophomore, but has upped those totals to .322/11/50 this season. He also has made only one error in 129 chances in the field.
Runner-up: Pete Clifford, Jacksonville
Homerun Hitter - Steven Strasbaugh, Western Carolina - You can basically take your pick among the WCU power hitters. Smith has 18, catcher Blake Murphy has 15 (5 in two games vs. Wofford a few weeks ago), left fielder Jonathan Greene has 13, and first baseman John Ingram has 11. But the best might be the junior outfielder. Strasbaugh’s totals are relatively modest this season (.282/12/52), but he‘s been inconsistent this season. He has 41 career homers in three seasons, and is widely regarded as one of the top power hitters in the South.
Runner-up: Blake Murphy, Western Carolina
Pro Prospect - Josh Horton, North Carolina - Horton is one of the top shortstops in college baseball. His numbers at the plate (.329/8/43) are down from last year’s big season (.395/7/59), but he’s still solid with the stick. What’s important is his progress in the field, where his error numbers have dropped from 23 last season to 13 this season.
Runner-up: Steven Strausbaugh, Western Carolina
Coach - Mike Fox, North Carolina - Fox has been at the helm at his alma mater for nine seasons. This year marks the eighth regional appearance under Fox, and the seventh (and sixth in a row) 40+ win seasons for UNC.
Runner-up: Billy Godwin, East Carolina

The Forecast

The Tar Heels are 31-7 at home this season, so they’re an overwhelming favorite. Jacksonville, however, is capable of giving them fits in the first game. In the other day one contest, Western Carolina’s bats might be too much for East Carolina. If it indeed comes down to the Catamounts and Tar Heels, WCU certainly has what it takes to be able to pull an upset. You can‘t overlook their powerful offense, which has 23 games of 10 or more runs, and a season average of nearly 8.5 runs a game. The UNC pitching staff has given up only 32 long balls this season, so something is going to have to give there.
Don’t sweat the Tar Heel bats though. While UNC hasn’t been the offensive power it was last season, the Tar Heel lineup can put runs on the board when necessary. But if it comes down to pitching, that’s where the home team stands to have a big advantage over their opponents, with Woodard, Adam Warren (10-0), Alex White, and Luke Putkonen all quality starting arms, and Carignan at the back end to shut it down.

The Predictions

Eddie Jimmy Jonathan
North Carolina North Carolina North Carolina
U.S.A.
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