2018 NCAA Tournament: Chapel Hill Regional Preview
1. North Carolina (38-18, 22-8 Atlantic Coast Conference)
31st appearance (second straight); at-large bid; first in the ACC Coastal Division
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Austin Bergner (130), 3B Kyle Datres (180), C/OF Cody Roberts (274), RHP Rodney Hutchison (462), RHP Josh Hiatt (481)
Season In A Sentence: After a rocky start that saw the Tar Heels begin the season with a 7-7 record, North Carolina won 26 of its next 33 games to seize control of the ACC Coastal Division and secure a top-eight national seed for the second consecutive year.
Player To Watch: Gianluca Dalatri, RHP: After entering the season as North Carolina’s Friday starter, Dalatri made just two starts before being shut down with a stress reaction in his right elbow. The sophomore missed 12 weeks before finally making his return in the Tar Heels’ regular season finale against Virginia Tech. Dalatri has made two starts since his return and allowed zero runs on four hits in nine innings while striking out 11 batters and walking only two.
Best Weekend: at North Carolina State, April 27-29. The Tar Heels swept in-state rival N.C. State in Raleigh for the first time in program history, winning three games by a combined four runs. The sweep of N.C. State proved to be doubly important for the Tar Heels, as the series ultimately turned out to be the tiebreaker between UNC and Clemson (45-14, 22-8 ACC) to decide which team received the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. Clemson was swept at home by N.C. State from March 16-18.
Outlook: A year ago, the Tar Heels earned the No. 2 national seed but were shockingly eliminated in the Chapel Hill Regional by fourth-seeded Davidson, which was making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. After earning yet another top-eight seed this season, North Carolina is looking to prove that last year’s result was merely an aberration. The Tar Heels are 23-6 at Boshamer Stadium this year—including an active 13-game home winning streak—and are searching for their first super regional appearance since advancing to the College World Series as the No. 1 national seed in 2013.
2. Purdue (37-19, 17-6 Big Ten Conference)
Third appearance (first since 2012); at-large bid; second in the Big Ten Conference
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: The Boilermakers have won 21 of their last 24 games—with all three losses coming to fellow NCAA Tournament teams Minnesota and Ohio State—and Purdue’s 37 wins are tied for the second most in program history.
Player To Watch: Jacson McGowan, 1B: Purdue’s premier power threat, McGowan leads the Boilermakers in home runs (12), RBIs (56), walks (49), total bases (103), on-base percentage (.448) and slugging percentage (.545). The junior righthanded hitter has started all 112 games for Purdue over the past two seasons, hitting .296/.398/.521 with 20 home runs.
Best Weekend: vs. Michigan, May 17-19. Purdue swept the Wolverines during the regular season’s final weekend, pushing the Boilermakers into a solo second place finish in the Big Ten standings. Purdue allowed four total runs in three games against Michigan and finished the regular season with 13 consecutive wins at Alexander Field.
Outlook: One of the hottest teams in the country entering the NCAA Tournament, the Boilermakers are a well-balanced club that finished fourth in the Big Ten in both team batting average (.280) and team ERA (3.84). Purdue is just 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament in program history, with its only win coming in a 7-2 victory over Valparaiso in 2012 in a regional it hosted.
3. Houston (36-23, 16-8 American Athletic Conference)
22nd appearance (second straight); at-large bid; first in the AAC
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: Ranked No. 19 in the final Baseball America Top 25 before NCAA Tournament play began, Houston won at least 35 games for the sixth consecutive season and captured the 10th regular season conference title in program history.
Player To Watch: Aaron Fletcher, LHP: The American Athletic Conference pitcher of the year, Fletcher enters the NCAA Tournament 6-3 with a team-best 2.43 ERA and 76 strikeouts compared to only 17 walks in 85.1 innings. Fletcher, paired with 2017 AAC pitcher of the year Trey Cumbie (7-3, 3.44), gives the Cougars a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation.
Best Weekend: at East Carolina, April 27-29. In a series that ultimately went a long way in deciding the AAC regular season champion, Houston went to Greenville, N.C., and won three games against the Pirates by a combined four runs. The sweep was vital for the Cougars, who would have had to split the AAC regular season title with East Carolina if the Pirates had won just one home game that weekend. East Carolina went on to win the AAC Tournament and is the No. 12 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Outlook: Since their three-game sweep of East Carolina in late April, the Cougars are just 8-7 in their final 15 games. They remain one of the more talented and experienced No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, however, having qualified for regionals in four of the last five years under the direction of 2018 AAC coach of the year Todd Whitting.
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4. North Carolina A&T (32-23, 16-8 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference)
Second appearance (first since 2005); automatic bid; first in the MEAC Southern Division; MEAC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: It was a banner year for the Aggies, who started the season 5-10 but finished by winning 27 of their final 40 games and scored 39 runs in three games en route to the MEAC Tournament championship.
Player To Watch: Dawnoven Smith, OF: A 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior, Smith leads North Carolina A&T in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.335), slugging percentage (.601), runs (46), doubles (18), home runs (8), RBIs (44), total bases (95) and hit by pitches (12), despite missing nine games and only starting 40 of the Aggies’ 55 contests.
Best Weekend: MEAC Tournament, May 17-20. The Aggies’ offense was explosive in their three-game march to the MEAC Tournament championship last weekend in Daytona Beach, Fla. North Carolina A&T outscored its opponents 39-19, including a 12-9 win over Bethune-Cookman in the championship game that secured the Aggies second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history and the first since 2005.
Outlook: Although the Aggies enter the weekend as the heavy underdog in the Chapel Hill Regional, they should be able to take solace in the fact that they have already played top-seeded North Carolina tough at Boshamer Stadium earlier this season. Back on March 13, the Tar Heels squeaked out a 1-0 win over North Carolina A&T, with the game’s only run coming on an RBI groundout in the fifth inning.