CHAPEL HILL – The road to Omaha continues Friday for Tar Heel baseball, as UNC welcomes the Gamecocks of South Carolina for a best-of-three Super Regional, with a trip to the College World Series on the line.
While UNC struggled to advance beyond its regional last weekend, the Gamecocks rolled through their own region—beating Saint Louis once and Liberty twice, by a combined score of 32-10. South Carolina’s had quite a bit of recent success in the NCAA tournament, reaching the College World Series in each of the last three years and winning it all in 2010 and 2011.
This year, the Gamecocks are 42-18 in Chad Holbrook’s first year as head coach. Holbrook’s a familiar name for Tar Heel fans: he played at UNC in the early 1990s and served as assistant coach from 1994 to 2008 before moving down to Columbia.
Key players for South Carolina include senior DH LB Danzler, who leads the team with a .322 batting average and 15 home runs, and sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake—yep, that’s his name—who’s hitting .313 with 10 homers. On the mound, the Gamecocks’ top five pitchers are all lefties—led by starters Jordan Montgomery, 5-1 with a 1.67 ERA, and Nolan Belcher, 7-5 with a 2.25 ERA. Closer Tyler Webb has been dominant: 3-2 with a 1.36 ERA, 17 saves, and 60 strikeouts in less than 40 innings of work.
Still, the Tar Heels are the superior team—at least on paper—with a .310 team batting average to the Gamecocks’ .284, and a 2.59 team ERA against South Carolina’s 3.01. But as UNC head coach Mike Fox has been fond of saying all year, the stats matter little once the teams take the field.
Game one of the series begins on Friday at 1:00 p.m. in Boshamer Stadium, with game two set for Saturday at noon and the deciding game three—if necessary—on Sunday at 1:00. WCHL will broadcast the entire series; the winner will move on to the College World Series, where their first opponent will be either Rice or NC State.
UNC and South Carolina have not met since the 2007 NCAA Super Regional; the Tar Heels won that series to advance to Omaha.