Tar Heels Host Offense-Heavy Regional

Landon Lassiter is 10th in the nation in on base percentage
North Carolina freshman shortstop Landon Lassiter is 10th in the nation in on base percentage

No. 1 North Carolina (52-8, 22-7 ACC, RPI 1)

The Tar Heels were 5-0 in the last week, defeating Florida State before winning four games in the ACC Championship.  This was enough of a resume boost to secure UNC its first No. 1 overall seed in school history and its sixth top-eight national seed in seven years.

North Carolina is second in the nation in runs per game and sixth in runs allowed per game, the only school in the top ten in both of those categories. The Tar Heels have two of the top three players in the nation in RBI in third baseman Colin Moran (84) and first baseman Cody Stubbs (72).  Shortstop Landon Lassiter is tenth in the nation in on base percentage (.498)

The Tar Heels also pitch well.  All three UNC weekend starters and eight relievers have earned run averages below 4.00.  This depth was one reason why the team was able to win the ACC Championship despite playing 14 innings against Clemson and 18 innings against NC State.

Ace Kent Emanuel (2.11 ERA, 79 strikeouts) leads the staff and was named to the All-ACC first team.  Benton Moss strikes out more batters (3.56 ERA, 84 strikeouts), and Hobbs Johnson was spectacular against NC State to improve an already-strong line on the season (2.14 ERA, .202 opposing batting average).  Add closer Trent Thornton (1.29 ERA, 60 strikeouts, six saves) and the rest of the Tar Heel bullpen, and UNC will be a tough out for any team in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 4 Canisius (41-15, 15-9 MAAC, RPI 94)

Scoring 7.1 runs per game, the Golden Griffins have a top-20 offense to back up arguably the best team nickname in the NCAA Tournament field. That offense averaged more than ten runs per contest during its run to a MAAC Tournament championship, but facing the tournament’s top overall seed will be a mighty task for Canisius.

Four Griffins are batting at least .320 this season, led by junior first baseman Jimmy Luppens.  Luppens is batting .368, with ten doubles, a team-high five home runs, and a MAAC-best .468 on-base percentage.  Catcher Brooklyn Foster bats .353 with 11 doubles, while Connor Panas is batting .321 with 27 walks to 17 strikeouts and Brett Siddall is batting .320.

Canisius also has a strong ace in junior Garrett Cortwright.  The right-hander led the MAAC in earned run average (2.28) and was third in strikeouts (72).  He pitched five complete games this season as part of 108 2/3 innings of work in 2013.

Junior Jon Fitzsimmons is the reliable closer for the Golden Griffins.  Boasting a 1.19 ERA, Fitzsimmons has recorded 10 saves for Canisius this season. In 30 1/3 innings over 20 appearances, he has struck out 36 opposing batters while limiting their batting average to .149.

Remove Cortwright and Fitzsimmons, however, and the team’s ERA balloons to 4.88.  That is including freshman Alex Godzak’s 3.22 ERA in the Canisius rotation.  In order for the Golden Griffins to enjoy an extended stay in Chapel Hill, they will need contributions from other members of the staff.

No. 3 Towson (29-28, 14-13 CAA, RPI 90)

The Tigers are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991, and it comes following an drama-filled season.  Two months ago, it appeared Towson baseball would be eliminated as a result of budget cuts, but state government interceded with funding to keep the program alive.  Now, following a run through the CAA tournament as the four-seed, Towson is in the field of 64.

Towson has also proven they can hang with the big dogs of college baseball. The Tigers are 7-5 against teams in the RPI Top 50, with three of those wins coming during the CAA Tournament against teams that earned at-large bids for the NCAA field (UNC Wilmington once, William & Mary twice).

Like Canisius, the Tigers rely on its offense for success, also averaging 7.1 runs per game. Towson led the conference in home runs, hitting 52 bombs during 2013 (tied for 12th in the nation). Kurt Wertz is one of the best sluggers in the nation, batting .341 with 13 doubles, seven triples, and 13 home runs.  Three other Tigers have at least eight home runs in Andrew Parker, Dominic Frantantuano, and Peter Bowles.

The Tigers pitching is suspect, which could be problematic for them in the NCAA Tournament.  The team has a 5.13 earned run average and finished ninth in the ten-team CAA in strikeouts. With some of the big bats in this regional, Towson will likely have to outhit opponents to win games.

No. 2 Florida Atlantic (38-20, 19-11 Sun Belt, RPI 26)

Florida Atlantic enters the NCAA Tournament with the second longest winning streak.  The Owls have won 11 straight games, including fellow NCAA Tournament team Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Championship game.

On offense, senior outfielder Nathan Pittman and freshman infielder Brendon Sanger get on base often. Sanger is second in the Sun Belt in batting average, hitting .373 for the Owls.  Meanwhile, Pittman bats .332 and has drawn 41 walks to post a .456 on-base percentage.  Tyler Rocklein adds a power threat to the Owls lineup.  The junior outfielder bats .284, with a .509 slugging percentage and nine home runs.

Pitching is the strength of Florida Atlantic, as the Owls led the Sun Belt in earned run average.  Junior Jeremy Strawn and sophomore Austin Gomber have sub-3.00 ERAs and combine for a 12-6 record.  Strawn has pitched two complete games this season, and Gomber’s 100 strikeouts makes him one of 31 pitchers in the nation with triple-digit strikeouts.

The Owls also have one of the nation’s most prolific closers in Hugh Adams. The senior has 17 saves on the season, placing him tied for fifth in the nation.  There are other strong arms in the FAU bullpen as well, such as Kevin Alexander (2.53 ERA, 41 strikeouts) and Bo Logan (2.56 ERA, .212 opposing batting average.  They aren’t as deep as North Carolina, but the extra personnel should be helpful in what will be an offensive-minded regional.

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