Two teams potentially battling for the top spot in the ACC face off this weekend in Miami. The #2 North Carolina Tar Heels hit the road for the final time in the regular season to duel with the #1 Miami Hurricanes. Both teams are almost assured of the precious national seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will most likely do battle again next week in Jacksonville during the ACC Tournament; however, both teams want to make statements to the other that nothing comes without a fight. World Famous announcer Michael Buffer would be perfect for the opening of this series with his classic line, "Let's Get Ready To RRRRRRUUUMBLE!!!" Who will emerge from this classic cage match with the belt in hand? Check this out and more in the final regular season rendition of the College Baseball Preview.
SERIES OF THE WEEKEND
#2 North Carolina (43-9 Overall, 20-6 ACC Coastal) at #1 Miami, FL (42-6 Overall, 22-3 ACC Coastal)
The two-time defending runner-up Tar Heels travel to south Florida to take on the Hurricanes. What more could be said about two teams that have played great all season long and are in position for the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The only thing the Tar Heels do not want is for the committee to send the Oregon State squad to Chapel Hill. This should be a well played series with all three games being televised.
Coach Mike Fox's Carolina squad is pounding the ball with a .326 average and 46 homeruns on the season. They are led by sophomore Dustin Ackley's .392 average with 7 HRs, and 40 RBIs; he also leads the team with 17 stolen bases. The homeruns have been distributed pretty evenly across the squad, but sophomore Tim Fedroff (.380, 9, 49) leads the team with his nine. Another sophomore, Kyle Seager (.382, 8, 64), leads the team in RBI.
Coach Jim Morris' Hurricane team has a .333 average of their own with 77 HRs and 398 RBIs. Junior Yonder Alonso (.382, 16, 53) leads the team in average, HRs, and RBIs. Junior Blake Tekotte (.377, 9, 37) leads the team in stolen bases with 21, while Jemile Weeks (.375, 10, 48) has swiped 16 of his own. As a team, the Hurricanes have stolen 83 bases.
Pitching has been a premium for Carolina. The Tar Heels have an incredible 2.28 team ERA with 525 strikeouts in 470 innings. They have only given up 15 long balls and 71 other extra base hits. The staff is headed by sophomore Alex White (8-2, 2.36 ERA, 69 K). White tossed six innings last week and gave up three runs on six hits with eight strikeouts. Junior Adam Warren (7-1, 4.50, 49) fills in the second starter role. Last Saturday, Warren only went 4 1/3 giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits and six strikeouts but he did give up four walks enroute to a 97 pitch day. In last Sunday's six inning rain-shortened loss, freshman Matt Harvey (6-2, 2.25, 56) went 3 2/3 giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits, five walks, and five strikeouts. Senior Rob Wooten (5-1, 0.63, 52) leads the team with three saves as their have not been too many opportunites to pick up one this season.
The Hurricane pitching staff has racked up the victories as their record indicates; however, their staff is much like Texas A&M's staff in last week's preview. All they have had to do is hold down the opponent because the offense has been putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard. The team ERA is 3.76 with 420 strikeouts in 430 1/3 innings. They have given up 29 HRs and 70 other extra base hits. The ace of the staff has been freshman Chris Hernandez (9-0, 2.70, 80). Hernandez picked up the win last Friday by going 6 2/3 and giving up three runs (two earned) on nine hits and six strikeouts to no walks. Last Saturday saw the Hokies and Hurricanes play a doubleheader due to impending weather. Sophomore Eric Erickson (7-0, 3.31, 53) pitched the first game and received a no decision for his 6 2/3 innings of work. He gave up five earned runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out five. Junior Carlos Gutierrez (3-2, 3.21, 47) picked up the loss in relief of Erickson despite leading the team with 10 asaves. Senior Enrique Garcia (5-1, 4.85, 46) picked up the win in game two. He went eight innings giving up two earned runs on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts.
Senior weekend in Miami along with the matchup will have Mark Light Field packed and enjoying an entertaining series. The Tar Heels have the edge a bit on the mound and if they can keep the Hurricanes from putting up big numbers on the scoreboard, then they have a fighting chance. The Hurricanes will have to use the home field advantage to slow down the Tar Heels. Look for the Tar Heels to take two on the road in our upset of the weekend.
REMAINING TOP FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
#21 North Carolina State (36-16, 17-9 ACC Atlantic) at #3 Florida State (44-8, 22-5 ACC Atlantic)
While the Seminoles have wrapped up the Atlantic Division Title, they still have the overall ACC title within reach. The Wolfpack would like to finish strong to make a better case for a regional bid (I think they are in already). Seminoles finish with the sweep and ACC title.
Georgia Southern (31-21, 15-9 SoCon) at Furman (29-21, 15-9 SoCon)
Will the Southern Conference get three bids in the NCAA Tournament? If so, this series might very well be the tie-breaker for which team gets chosen. Furman has lost six in-a-row while Georgia Southern has went 7-3 in their last 10 games. Georgia Southern takes two from Furman and then looks to do well next week in the conference tournament.
New Orleans (38-14, 18-8 Sun Belt) at Louisiana-Lafayette (25-27, 13-14 Sun Belt)
The New Orleans ball club had their 13 game win streak snapped on Tuesday as they dropped a 15 inning affair with #23 LSU 7-6. They have been playing great ball and will look to take the Sun Belt title this weekend in Lafayette. They have to take the series in order to do so and I think they will, 2-1.
Washington (31-17, 10-8 Pac 10) at #5 Arizona State (41-9, 12-6 Pac 10)
The Sun Devils have been going through the motions awaiting regionals; however, they have not secured the Pac 10 title yet. #16 Stanford sits one game back and the Huskies are two games back. The Sun Devils have goals for the season and the Pac 10 Regular Season Title has to be one of them. They get the title as they take two from Washington.
FIVE OTHER SERIES WORTH KEEPING AN EYE ON
SEC Team X at SEC Team Y
I decided to do something different this week. The SEC is a muddled mess and everyone except for Georgia could use a series victory for conference tournament seeding or getting to Hoover altogether. If I did a blurb about each series, then I would just cut, paste, and change the names. All five series have conference seeding impact. Alabama at Georgia (UGA 2-1), Vanderbilt at Florida (VAN 2-1), Tennessee at South Carolina (USC 2-1), Mississippi at Kentucky (UM 2-1), LSU at Auburn (LSU sweep), Arkansas at MSU (MSU finds a way to win two for Coach Polk's swan song).
#8 Nebraska (39-9, 17-6 Big XII) at #15 Missouri (34-17, 13-11 Big XII)
After taking two from #4 Texas A&M last weekend, the Huskers are still 1 1/2 games back of the Aggies for the top spot in the conference. Missouri is looking for some wins to shore up their regional resume but wins will be tough to get this weekend. Huskers take two but will come up short in the race for the top spot.
#4 Texas A&M (42-11, 19-5 Big XII) at Texas (29-19, 12-12 Big XII)
I guess I sort of ruined the surprise of this pick with the last series preview, but the Aggies will win the Big XII race with two victories this weekend against their rivals from Austin. Texas will need some victories next week during conference tournament play to make sure they get an invite.
Northwestern (20-25, 13-15 Big 10) at #20 Michigan (39-11, 23-4 Big 10)
"Hail to the Victors" is right but don't tell that to the Wolverines, who did grab the Big 10 Title last weekend. They will still need to win in order to get a host site. I think the committee should let them host as they have had a great season and to reward them for playing well in the first year of the uniform start date would just be fitting. Michigan gets the sweep, by the way.
#30 Southern Mississippi (37-16, 14-7 CUSA) at UAB (22-31, 5-16 CUSA)
Last week, I mentioned that Southern Mississippi has a good chance of hosting with a strong finish. They did just what they needed last week in sweeping lowly Memphis. This week, they hit the road against a lowly UAB ball club. USM needs to continue to stock pile wins and they will with another sweep in Birmingham.
Other Series of Note
#6 Rice at Tulane