No. 1 North Carolina (45-13)
21st appearance, at-large, Atlantic Coast
No. 2 Winthrop (44-16)
Fifth appearance, at-large, Big South
No. 3 UNC Wilmington (41-20)
Third appearance, automatic, won Colonial tournament
No. 4 Maine (35-20-1)
15th appearance, automatic, won America East tournament
North Carolina starts the postseason at home for the first time since 1983, and coach Mike Fox holds three aces in juniors Andrew Miller (11-2, 2.07, 102 strikeouts), Robert Woodard and Daniel Bard that helped produce a 3.22 ERA (seventh nationally). The pitching depth runs deeper with relievers Jonathan Hovis (ACC-best 1.72 ERA) and closer Andrew Carignan (13 saves), while freshman Luke Putkonen (6-0, 3.13) stands ready for emergency duty or perhaps even a start in the opener. The Tar Heels aren’t all arms, as sophomore shortstop Josh Horton led the ACC with a .408 average, while five other hitters combined for 48 homers. Errors in the field and on the basepaths have undone UNC at times and could prove crucial in a tournament where one run can decide a game.
Winthrop‘s lineup is as deep and experienced as any in the tournament, featuring six seniors and a junior. The Eagles also boast series wins at Miami and Alabama (early) and a midweek victory at regional host North Carolina (in May). Senior left fielder Jacob Dempsey leads an attack that ranked among the top 10 nationally with a .329 average and .502 slugging percentage with .407-17-78 numbers. The pitching staff features two righthanders who average 10 strikeouts per nine innings in freshman ace Alex Wilson, who leads the nation with 13 wins, and junior righthander Heath Rollins, who generates K’s with his curveball but still can prove hittable. Winthrop needs to work through the regional in as few games as possible to pull the upset. Every additional game favors North Carolina’s deeper pitching staff.
Forty wins and a regular-season conference title weren’t enough to get UNC Wilmington into regionals a year ago, so the Seahawks added another win and a tournament title to the mix this season to leave no doubt about their inclusion. Like Winthrop, UNCW sprinkles depth and experience throughout its lineup. It scored nearly nine runs per game to lead the CAA and ranked among the national leaders in that category along with slugging (.506) and steals (127) in a diverse attack led by senior outfielder John Raynor (.378-11-64 with 41 steals).
How fun is the fact that Maine‘s seven College World Series trips match the totals of Mississippi State and Wichita State? The Black Bears eliminated third-seeded Southern Mississippi from the Oxford regional a year ago, so don’t expect them to hibernate here. Maine third baseman Kevin McAvoy hit .362-7-56 to win America East freshman of the year honors, while Curt Smith (.380-5-49) and Joel Barrett (.372-5-50) and Ryan Quintal (.325-9-60) also helped the team score 432 runs–112 more than any other team in the league.