NCAA Baseball Regional Capsules: Chapel Hill Regional
The Chapel Hill regional is a well-constructed, fair regional. Not much was expected of North Carolina prior to the season, but they continued to win and ended up as a regional host and one of the top eight national seeds.
They will be tested, though, by the teams visiting Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill. The No. 2 seed, Florida International, is one of the hottest teams in the nation.
James Madison, the No. 3 seed, is one of the few teams in the country that actually flourished offensively with the new, toned down bats being used in college baseball. If they can survive until the last couple games of the regional, they have a chance to stay alive thanks to their unrelenting offense.
The regional is rounded out by the champions of the America East Conference, Maine.
Let's take a closer look at the Chapel Hill Regional.
No. 1: North Carolina
North Carolina (45-14) - ACC at-large
As I had alluded to, not much was expected of the Tar Heels early on. Certainly no one expected they'd be a top eight national seed and hosting their own regional.
The Tar Heels won thanks to a balanced offensive attack, solid pitching and a .978 fielding percentage. North Carolina plays fundamental ball and won't beat themselves.
On offense, they are led by super freshman Colin Moran and veteran Levi Michael. On the mound, UNC gets solid efforts from Patrick Johnson, Kent Emanuel and Chris Munnelly.
Best case scenario - The Tar Heels continue to get solid team efforts and fly through the regional and on to the Super Regional. Their starting pitching gives them solid starts and keeps them from having to lean on their shaky back end of the bullpen.
Worst case scenario - North Carolina doesn't get a solid start in their opening game, has to use more bullpen pitchers than they would like to defeat Maine and they don't have enough pitching left to get them through the regional.
Offensive players to watch - Colin Moran (.343 BA, 9 HR, 68 RBI), Tommy Coyle (.317 BA, 33 RBI, 17 steals), Levi Michael (.313 BA, 5 HR, 48 RBI)
Pitchers to watch - Patrick Johnson (11-1, 2.56 ERA), Kent Emanuel (6-1, 2.88 ERA), Tate Parrish (29 appearances, 2.40 ERA, .160 batting average against)
No. 2: Florida International
Florida International (40-18-1) - Sun Belt Conference at-large
If Florida International continues to improve at this rate, they will give the University of Miami a run for its money in that city.
Coming off a great season last year marked by several program records being set and a historic season by Garrett Wittels, the Panthers took the next step this season and find themselves as a No. 2 seed in a regional.
They can hit with anyone as they put together a team average of .319, led by Pablo Bermudez, Jeremy Patton and the aforementioned Wittels. On the mound, they have four starters that have solid numbers and several relievers that worked a lot of good innings.
Best case scenario - The Panthers hit their way into the winner's bracket with an opening game win against James Madison and continue the momentum into a win against North Carolina and a shot to advance to the Super Regionals.
Worst case scenario - FIU loses their opening game against James Madison thanks to a hit parade by JMU. They then can't rebound and end up going 0-2 for the regional and exiting before it even really begins.
Offensive players to watch - Pablo Bermudez (.373 BA, .489 OBP, 17 steals), Jeremy Patton (.371 BA, 7 HR, 53 RBI), Garrett Wittels (.348 BA, 39 RBI, 11 steals), Mike Martinez (.295 BA, 14 HR, 59 RBI)
Pitchers to watch - RJ Fondon (6-5, 2.76 ERA), Kyle Fitzpatrick (7-2, 2.83 ERA), Phil Haig (9-3, 3.27 ERA) Jose Velazquez (33 appearances, 1.38 ERA)
No. 3: James Madison
James Madison (40-17) - Colonial Athletic Association automatic bid
It's no secret what James Madison is going to try to do to beat you. Their goal is to bludgeon you with an overwhelming offensive attack.
Offense was down dramatically this season in college baseball, but James Madison didn't get that memo. JMU has a team average of .321 and has clubbed 78 home runs. They are led by big sluggers David Herbek and Jake Lowery.
Pitching will be the most obvious liability for James Madison. They have a pretty decent No. 1 starter in Sean Tierney, but little else behind him.
Best case scenario - The Dukes hit well enough in their first couple games that their pitching doesn't end up being a factor and they find themselves in the regional final. Once they reach the regional final, anything can happen.
Worst case scenario - James Madison faces solid starting pitching from their opponents and their offense is bottled up. Their pitching is not good enough to bail them out and they end up going 0-2 and making a quick exit.
Offensive players to watch - David Herbek (.374 BA, 15 HR, 74 RBI), Jake Lowery (.357 BA, 22 HR, 83 RBI), Johnny Bladel (.354 BA, .475 OBP, 24 steals), Alex Foltz (.352 BA, 7 HR, 43 RBI), Matt Tenaglia (.350 BA, 9 HR, 51 RBI)
Pitchers to watch- Sean Tierney (10-1, 2.79 ERA), DJ Brown (8-1, 4.12 ERA, 4 saves), Josh Futter (21 appearances, 3.95 ERA)
No. 4: Maine
Maine (32-22) - America East Conference automatic bid
Maine, on the outside looking in prior to the America East Conference tournament, ran through the tournament and got their bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Maine got where they are now thanks to a balanced offensive attack and a solid core of pitchers. The Black Bears may not have the talent to find their way through this regional, but they have more than enough to scare people.
Those scares might begin in the first game against top seed North Carolina where Maine will throw ace Keith Bilodeau. Not only does Bilodeau have great numbers, but he is very durable. He has five complete games on the season, so the Tar Heels won't be able to simply wait him out. If he is on his game, Maine may find themselves in the winner's bracket.
Best case scenario - Ace Keith Bilodeau pitches a gem against North Carolina in the opening game. The Black Bears will then be in the winner's bracket and have a chance to make their way into the regional final.
Worst case scenario - UNC gets to Bilodeau in the opening game and Maine is forced to lean on other pitchers to stave off elimination and make their way back through the regional.
Offensive players to watch - Justin Leisenheimer (.327 BA, 8 HR, 25 RBI), Joey Martin (.325 BA, 4 HR, 44 RBI), Michael Fransoso (.317 BA, 5 HR, 32 RBI)
Pitchers to watch - Keith Bilodeau (10-2, 2.87 ERA), Shaun Coughlin (19 appearances, 2.44 ERA, .212 batting average against), DJ Voisine (3.16 ERA, 3 saves)
I don't view this regional as a walk-over for UNC in any way. Both FIU and JMU can pound even the best pitching staffs into submission. North Carolina has several good starters, but none that I think can shut down either of those offenses.
The opening games will be the ones to watch. The winner of the Florida International/James Madison game will have a huge leg up as they will have a real shot to beat the Tar Heels and get to the regional final.
The UNC/Maine game will be interesting thanks to Maine's ace, Keith Bilodeau. He is an effective, durable pitcher who could beat the Tar Heels if he is on.
If UNC is going to win this regional, their bats are going to have to show up. FIU and JMU will both be putting up a ton of runs, so they will have to follow suit to come out on top.