Cary Regional Preview

Cary Regional Capsule
USA Baseball National Training Complex, Cary, N.C.
No. 1 North Carolina (46-12)
23rd appearance, at-large, third place in Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 2 national seed
No. 2 UNC Wilmington (42-15-1)
Fourth appearance, at-large, Colonial Athletic Association regular-season champion
No. 3 Elon (43-16)
Third appearance, automatic, Southern Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Mount St. Mary’s (21-32)
First appearance, automatic, Northeast Conference tournament champion

North Carolina
has reached the brink of the national title each of the last two years and is one of the favorites to finally break through and take home the hardware this year. The Tar Heels have seniors who played key roles on each of their last two College World Series teams in center fielder Seth Williams (.308/.430/.513) and third baseman Chad Flack (.291/.365/.449), the latter of whom is UNC’s career hits leader and primary purveyor of gigantic hits, including go-ahead homers in the decisive game of each of the last two super-regionals. But the strength of the offense is a trio of sophomores, all of whom were also central figures on last year’s Omaha team: first baseman Dustin Ackley (.399/.497/.588), outfielder Tim Fedroff (.383/.448/.634 with 17 homers and 59 RBIs) and second baseman Kyle Seager (.365/.426/.627 with 67 RBIs). The lineup is full of players with experience playing on college baseball’s grandest stage, and the Tar Heels always have confidence to come from behind. Of course, their pitching staff leads the nation in ERA (2.73), strikeouts per nine innings (10.3) and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.46), so coming from behind is often not necessary. The deep staff is led by the power right arms of Alex White (8-3, 2.86) and Matt Harvey (7-2, 2.50), and the bullpen has a proven stopper in senior righty Rob Wooten (5-2, 1.82 with three saves). The pitching staff is even better in the spacious confines of UNC’s temporary home in Cary while Boshamer Stadium gets rebuilt.

UNC Wilmington
dominated the CAA’s regular season on the strength of its power bats and power arms. The Seahawks slugged 91 home runs, ninth-most in the nation, with senior catcher Mark Carver (.353 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs) and senior second baseman Daniel Hargrave (.336 with 18 homers and 60 RBIs) leading the way. But the spacious ballpark in Cary suppresses power and puts a premium on pitching and defense, where the Seahawks are inconsistent (their .960 fielding percentage ranks eighth in the CAA and 161st in the nation). Wilmington ace righthander Bradley Holt (10-1, 3.30) might have the biggest arm in the regional full of big arms, with a fastball that touches 97 mph. But the key for the Seahawks will be getting quality outings from their other two starters: righthanders Jeff Hatcher (6-1, 4.47) and Seth Frankoff (5-2, 5.20).
The USA Baseball Training Complex plays perfectly to the strengths of Elon, which won the SoCon largely on the merits of its team speed. The Phoenix rank second in the nation with 152 stolen bases, and four Elon players racked up 20 or more steals, led by junior center fielder Chris Dove’s 38. That isn’t to say Elon’s offense is punchless—juniors Cory Harrilchack (.428/.507/.711 with 11 homers and 45 RBIs) and Bennett Davis (.346/.467/.649 with 17 homers and 79 RBIs) headline a formidable core of the lineup capable of punishing mistakes. In righthander Steven Hensley (10-1, 3.34), the Phoenix have a power-armed ace capable of matching UNCW’s Bradley Holt in the opener, but the staff is fairly thin after that.

Mount St. Mary’s
finished fourth in the NEC’s regular-season standings with a 13-11 record but won four straight elimination games in the conference tournament—including two against league favorite Monmouth—after dropping its tournament opener against the Hawks. The Mountaineers are making their first-ever regional appearance against the two-time national runner-up, and they must be considered one of the tournament’s longest shots to win a game this weekend. The Mountaineers’ greatest weapon is senior first baseman Josh Vittek (.366/.410/.717 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs), who hold’s the school’s career home run record and the NEC’s single-season home run mark. Vittek carried Mount St. Mary’s to the NEC title by going 4-for-4 with a homer and a tournament-record six RBIs in the clincher against Monmouth. Vittek has some protection in senior outfielder Ryan Murray, who hit 10 home runs this year, including four immediately following Vittek blasts.