Carolina Battle Awaits In Chapel Hill Super Regional

UNC will be without starting catcher Matt Roberts for the rest of the season with a broken thumb on his throwing hand.
UNC will be without starting catcher Matt Roberts for the rest of the season with a broken thumb on his throwing hand.

North Carolina and South Carolina will meet on Super Regional weekend, with the victor of the best-of-three series advancing to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. While the two teams aren’t considered rivals in the traditional sense (and don’t meet on a regular basis), their recent successes on the diamond have often provided convenient measuring sticks for both programs.

The Gamecocks snapped a 17-year drought of trips to Omaha with their 2002 appearance in the College World Series, and followed it up with visits in 2003 and 2004. North Carolina paid four consecutive visits from 2006 to 2009, but South Carolina won consecutive national championships in 2010 in 2011.

The Chapel Hill Super Regional will serve as a homecoming for first-year South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook. Holbrook, who replaced two-time national champion Ray Tanner following his promotion to athletics director, was a second-team All-ACC outfielder for the Tar Heels in 1993. He is third all-time in school history in triples with 14 (behind Adam Greenberg’s 17 and Chaz Frank’s 15) and second in stolen bases (98).

Holbrook was also involved with the Tar Heels for 15 years after his graduation. He first joined the coaching staff as an undergraduate assistant in 1994 before promotion to assistant coach the following season. His work as recruiting coordinator of the staff helped produce trips to Omaha in 2006, 2007, and 2008 before he accepted a position as assistant coach at South Carolina.

The last time North Carolina and South Carolina met on the diamond was during Holbrook’s tenure in Chapel Hill, in 2007. That year, the Tar Heels claimed a Super Regional over the Gamecocks in their last game in Boshamer Stadium before its 2008 renovation. Overall, North Carolina has a 60-34-1 record against their southern neighbors, starting with two wins in April 1903.

The Tar Heels hold the edge in batting average over South Carolina, with four players batting at least .348. Senior Cody Stubbs has improved his average to a team-best .362 with his incendiary postseason play. The first baseman is 19-of-40 with nine runs scored and ten runs batted in since the ACC Tournament, where he was Tournament MVP.

Of course, Stubbs passed Golden Spikes finalist Colin Moran for that honor, who is batting .357 this season with 13 home runs. Behind Moran are freshmen Landon Lassiter and Skye Bolt, who are both just a hair under .350.

Both the Tar Heels and Gamecocks boast powerful lineups that are in the nation’s top 25 in home runs. South Carolina designated hitter LB Dantzler leads both teams with 15 blasts, followed by Moran’s 13. North Carolina’s Brian Holberton has 10 long balls, along with South Carolina shortstop Joey Pankake.

For either team to muster offense in this series, they will have to do it against great pitching, as both teams are also in the top 25 in Division I in earned run average. North Carolina ace Kent Emanuel will not be expected until Saturday after making a relief appearance in Monday’s Regional finale. Either way, five of the six potential starters for the weekend have ERAs below 3.00.

Emanuel, the ACC Pitcher of the Year, has a 2.11 ERA and a 10-3 record. Benton Moss leads the Tar Heels in strikeouts (84), and Hobbs Johnson boasts a 2.14 ERA. South Carolina ace Nolan Belcher has 94 strikeouts on the year, including six in Columbia Regional outing. Jordan Montgomery has the Gamecocks’ best ERA among starters (1.67), while freshman Jack Wynkoop’s exceptional command has earned him a spot in the rotation despite a lack of overpowering pitches.

The Tar Heels will have to adjust to life without Matt Roberts, who broke the thumb on his throwing hand in the last game of the Chapel Hill Regional. During this postseason, Holberton has typically moved behind the plate when Roberts needed a substitution, with Parks Jordan replacing Holberton in left field.

Meanwhile, South Carolina will have to prove it can handle facing elite competition away from Columbia. The Gamecocks did take two games from Super Regional host LSU in Baton Rouge, but lost a series at Starkville to Mississippi State and was swept by Florida. Overall, South Carolina is 11-14 against RPI Top 50 teams, with a 4-6 record in road games against those teams.

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