The Road to Omaha has begun and it all starts with NCAA regional play this weekend.
In our latest regional insider, we take a look at the Chapel Hill regional, where North Carolina hopes to hold off familiar foe Coastal Carolina and Kansas and Dartmouth.
Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager once again spearhead North Carolina's productive offense. Adam Warren and Alex White, meanwhile, lead the pitching staff.
Coastal Carolina has excellent left-handed pitcher Cody Wheeler and David Anderson, who's hitting .389 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs. Tony Thompson and Buck Afenir headline Kansas and Dartmouth hopes for a big weekend from Nick Santomauro.
We preview the Chapel Hill regional.
Last NCAA appearance
1. North Carolina (No. 4 seed)
2008 (College World Series)
2. Coastal Carolina
Won Big South
2008 (Cary super regional)
2006 (Corvallis regional)
1987 (Northeast Regional)
The favorite: North Carolina
North Carolina has some tough competition in the Chapel Hill regional with Coastal Carolina and Kansas involved, but it shouldn't have too much trouble advancing to the super regional round. The Tar Heels enter the weekend hitting .301. They also have a 3.71 earned run average. Dustin Ackley leads the offense. Kyle Seager, Ben Bunting, Mark Fleury and Levi Michael also are having productive campaigns. Seager is hitting .385 with 24 doubles, four homers and 48 RBIs, Bunting is hitting .329 with two homers and 32 RBIs, Fleury is hitting .310 with 17 doubles, 12 homers and 58 RBIs and Michael is hitting .293 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs. On the mound, Adam Warren is 7-2 with a 3.46 ERA in 78 innings and sophomore Matt Harvey is 6-2 with a 5.60 ERA in 64 1/3 innings. Also keep an eye on reliever Brian Moran, who has appeared in 32 games and has a 2.09 ERA in 60 1/3 innings. The Tar Heels are ready for business.
The dark-horse contender: Coastal Carolina
The Chanticleers are probably still angry about losing last year's Cary super regional to North Carolina. Yes, that means they'll be a little motivated this weekend. The Chants have put together another nice campaign this season. However, the team hasn't received as much competition because of some bad losses in the regular season. Coastal enters the weekend hitting .333, and it has a 3.85 earned run average. David Anderson, Tyler Bortnick, Adam Rice and Daniel Bowman spearhead the offense. Anderson is hitting .389 with 11 doubles, 20 homers and 79 RBIs, Bortnick is hitting .374 with 13 doubles, 11 homers and 44 RBIs, Rice is hitting .371 with seven homers and 56 RBIs and Bowman is hitting .332 with 13 doubles, 11 homers and 51 RBIs. On the mound, sophomore left-hander Cody Wheeler is a stud. He has started 14 games and has a 3.34 ERA in 89 innings. He also has struck out 96 and walked 28 and opponents are hitting him at a .218 clip. The Chants have the ability to surprise in Chapel Hill.
Best hitter: North Carolina 1B Dustin Ackley
He's one of the leading candidates for National Player of the Year honors and certainly is the best hitter in the Chapel Hill regional. Ackley already is the first three-time All-American in North Carolina baseball history. Chances are he will add to his resume before the season is completed. Ackley enters the postseason hitting .399 with 14 doubles, four triples, 20 homers and 61 RBIs. He also is slugging .759 and has a .505 on-base percentage. Ackley also has 12 stolen bases and leads the Tar Heels with 173 total bases. Even nationally speaking, it might not get better than Ackley.
Best pitcher: North Carolina RHP Alex White
White hasn't had a great season by his usual standards, but the right-hander still is a stud. White has started 13 games for the Tar Heels, has a 7-4 record and has a 4.13 ERA in 85 innings. He also has struck out 92 and walked 34 and opponents are hitting him at a .231 clip. White has thrown a complete game and allowed seven homers. It'll be important for White to have a good performance this weekend.
North Carolina has a crop of good weekend starters, but its bullpen may actually be the key to winning the regional. The Tar Heels have a plethora of good relievers starting with Brian Moran and Colin Bates. We've already discussed Moran. Bates has appeared in 30 games and has a 3.02 ERA in 53 2/3 innings. He also has recorded six saves. Patrick Johnson has made 20 appearances and has a 2.80 ERA in 54 2/3 innings and Nate Striz has appeared in 21 games and has a 3.68 ERA in 22 innings … Coastal Carolina is always confident with Cody Wheeler, Nick McCully and Anthony Meo on the mound. Wheeler has a 3.34 ERA in 89 innings, McCully has made 27 appearances and has a 1.92 ERA in 65 2/3 innings and Meo has started 12 games and has a 2.92 ERA in 74 innings. Also keep an eye on reliever Matt Rein, who has appeared in 26 games and has a 2.89 ERA in 37 1/3 innings … Kansas has a respectable weekend rotation with T.J. Walz, Shaeffer Hall and Lee Ridenhour leading the way. At the plate, the Jayhawks are led by two of the nation's best in Tony Thompson and Buck Afenir. Thompson is hitting .374 with 25 doubles, 19 homers and 78 RBIs and Afenir is hitting .340 with 11 doubles, nine homers and 60 RBIs … Dartmouth is glad to be in an NCAA regional and needs big weekends from Nick Santomauro and Joe Sclafani to pull off some upsets. Santomauro leads the team at the plate and is hitting .365 with 13 doubles, eight homers and 40 RBIs. Sclafani, meanwhile, is hitting .351 with a pair of homers and 34 RBIs. He also has walked 31 times and has just 18 strikeouts.