NCAA baseball: Tar Heels feel overlooked

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2011

CHAPEL HILL (AP) ó North Carolina canít help but feel like an underdog in the NCAA baseball tournament ó as much of an underdog as a top-eight national seed can be, anyway.
No team has won more NCAA tournament games during the past five years than the Tar Heels, who are one of five Atlantic Coast Conference teams hosting regionals this weekend.
But with much of the focus in the ACCís footprint on top overall seed Virginia, the No. 3 national seeded Tar Heels feel overlooked.
ěI think they kind of took that, like, ëOK, weíll use that a little bit,íî North Carolina associate head coach Scott Forbes said Thursday. ěWe feel like weíre pretty dang good. But I think this team also knows that itís not just going to show up and win. Theyíre going to have to play in every aspect of the game.î
North Carolina (45-14) opens regional play Friday night against fourth-seeded Maine (32-22). No. 2 seed Florida International (40-18-1) faces third-seeded James Madison (40-17).
The Tar Heels have won 32 games in the tournament since 2006, when they made the first of four consecutive trips to the College World Series.
If they are to make it to Omaha for a fifth time in six years, the path will likely take them through the No. 2 program on that list ó Cal State Fullerton, which has 26 postseason wins in that span. The bracket pairs the winners of the Chapel Hill and Fullerton regionals in next weekendís best-of-three super regional series.
Of course, North Carolina has plenty of work to do before then, in a regional that includes two conference champions and one of the hottest teams in the country. James Madison won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament while Maine captured the America East crown.
And second-seeded FIU ó which boasts shortstop Garrett Wittels, who once hit safely in 56 consecutive games ó has lost just twice in its last 23 games. Coach Turtle Thomasí Panthers lead Division I with 670 hits.
ěJust like in football when youíre talking about offense, defense and special teams, if you donít do one part of it or 11/2 parts of it very well, youíre probably going to get beat,î Thomas said. ěSame way with us for a while. (Midway through the season) we would pitch and not hit, hit and not pitch, or not play defense or something like that or not run the bases well. So what happened is, we did a better job of hitting, pitching and playing defense, all in the same game.î
Of the four teams spending the weekend at Boshamer Stadium, James Madison has the best offensive numbers, hitting .321 as a team with 522 runs and 78 homers. North Carolina has the lowest average, hitting just .285.
But the Tar Heelsí pitchers allow the fewest runs, with an ERA of 3.36, and have struck out 537 hitters ó nearly 100 more than the second-best pitching staff (FIU, 447).
Clemson confident
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) ó Clemson coach Jack Leggett likes the way his team finished the season. He hopes the Tigers can keep it up in the NCAA tournament.
Clemson reached the College World Series a season ago and, with most of that team back, expected to remain near the top of college baseball rankings throughout the year. Instead, the Tigers opened 14-12 and looked more like a club headed for a major fall instead of the NCAA tournament.
Thatís when the team Leggett expected from the start of the year showed up. The Tigers (41-18) closed with a 27-6 mark and open regional play Friday night against Sacred Heart of the Northeast Conference at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
ěWe have some experienced players and we hope that we can go out there and play aggressively, play smart, and play with reckless abandon and no fear of failure,î Leggett said Thursday. ěThatís what weíve been doing the last 33 games and hopefully we can continue.î
Clemson features the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in shortstop Brad Miller.