Raleigh Regional Preview

Raleigh Regional Capsule
Doak Field at Dail Park, Raleigh, N.C.
No. 1 North Carolina State (38-20)
22nd appearance, at-large, fourth place in Atlantic Coast Conference
No. 2 South Carolina (38-21)
24th appearance, at-large, seventh place in Southeastern Conference
No. 3 Charlotte (43-14)
Fourth appearance, automatic, Atlantic-10 Conference tournament champion
No. 4 James Madison (38-17)
Seventh appearance, automatic, Colonial Athletic Association tournament champion
 

North Carolina State is the lone pitching-oriented team in a regional filled with big offenses. The Wolfpack’s 3.41 ERA ranks fourth in the nation and helps explain its 18-11 conference record, which was the single biggest factor in earning it a home regional. Junior righthander Clayton Shunick (7-5, 2.12 with a 100-21 K-BB ratio in 89 innings) emerged as the ace of the staff thanks to a quality four-pitch repertoire highlighted by a devastating split-finger, which should help him keep the ball in the park against the big home run hitters in this regional. Lefthander Eric Surkamp (5-2, 4.39) gives the ‘Pack another proven winner with good stuff, and he pitched very well down the stretch, including in a victory at Florida State. A big blow was the loss of lefthanded closer Jimmy Gillheeney (2-0, 1.12 with 10 saves and 42 strikeouts in 32 innings) to an undisclosed “student privacy issue” with the university—he will not be available to pitch this weekend. That means righthander Eryk McConnell (4-2, 5.18) must put his senior year troubles behind him and revert to last year’s form, when he posted a 1.72 ERA and 11 saves.

 

South Carolina spent much of the first half of the season around the top 10 in the rankings fading in conference play. The Gamecocks were swept in three conference road series and finished seventh in the SEC, but they still earned a No. 2 seed in Raleigh—the old stomping grounds of South Carolina coach and former NCSU coach Ray Tanner. Most of Tanner’s South Carolina teams rank near the top of the nation in home runs and fielding percentage, and this team is no exception: its 103 homers rank third, and its .978 fielding percentage ranks second. Few teams have a quartet of power hitters as dangerous as senior DH Phil Disher (.309 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs) and juniors Justin Smoak (.377 with 21 homers and 66 RBIs), Reese Havens (.363 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs) and James Darnell (.310 with 18 homers and 78 RBIs). The pitching staff lacks power arms and consistent starters, but senior righthander Nick Godwin (7-3, 3.02) has emerged down the stretch as South Carolina’s most reliable arm.

 

Charlotte posted its second straight 40-win season and reached regionals in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The 49ers have gone 6-2 against the other three teams in this regional over the last two seasons, registering at least one win over each of them. Four of those games came last year in the Columbia, S.C., regional, when Charlotte beat N.C. State twice and lost twice to South Carolina. This year’s 49ers feature a number of key holdovers from last year’s team, including outfielder Brad McElroy (.364/.460/.565 with seven homers and 46 RBIs), third baseman Aaron Bray (.333/.423/.453) and catcher Chris Taylor (.343/.432/.665 with 19 homers and 69 RBIs)—the Atlantic-10 player of the year. Sophomore DH Rob Lyerly (.367/.422/.705 with 14 homers and 73 RBIs) has made a huge impact since transferring from Campbell, sliding into the No. 3 hole in the lineup. The pitching staff isn’t as strong as it was a year ago, when All-American Adam Mills helped Charlotte lead the nation in ERA, but 6-foot-6 freshman righty Joe Yermal (8-1, 3.81) is a quality ace in his own right, and redshirt freshman righty Kelly McLain (7-0, 1.98 with a 50-9 K-BB ratio in 50 innings) has emerged as the anchor of a strong bullpen.

 

James Madison went 20-9 in the CAA to finish second in the regular season, five games behind UNC Wilmington. But the Dukes caught fire in the conference tournament, going 4-0 to secure their first regional bid since 2002. JMU is a physical, offensive team, and sophomore first baseman Steven Caseres (.349/.440/.749 with 21 homers and 68 RBIs) might have more power than any hitter in this regional outside Smoak and Darnell. Caseres launched two homers against flame-throwing UNCW ace Bradley Holt on May 9, proving he can handle elite velocity, and he homered twice more in the CAA tourney. Three other Dukes hit seven or more home runs, led by junior outfielder Brett Sellers (.414/.473/.752 with 16 homers, 52 RBIs and 15 steals). While Dukes coach Spanky McFarland has literally written a book on the subject, pitching is not JMU’s strength; their top arm is 6-foot-6 junior righthander Kurt Houck (7-2, 4.86).

College | #2008 #Postseason #Regional

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