Road to Omaha: Chapel Hill Regional

 

The last team in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan will begin regional action for the Big Ten with a 1 p.m. start Friday afternoon against Florida Gulf Coast. As the Wolverines look to reach the College World Series for the first time since 1984, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first team in or the last one. Where Big Ten peer takes on the first team in and the tournament’s top overall seed, Oregon State, Michigan will head to the Chapel Hill Regional hosted by the number two seed, UNC. Here’s a look at UNC, Michigan, Florida Gulf Coast and Davidson who rounds out the field.

The teams

#1 North Carolina

Record: 47-12, 23 in ACC; Coastal division champions

Head coach: Mike Fox, 19th season

NCAA Tournament history: 30th appearance, last in 2014.

Offense: .283 AVG, 105 2B, 19 3B, 55 HR, .437 SLG, 383 SO, 303 BB, .387 OBP, 76-102 SB-SBA

Pitching: 2.96 ERA, 15 SV, 535.2 IP, 218 BB, 513 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 68 2B, 8 3B, 35 HR, .221 BAA, 51 WP, 54 HBP

Defense: .979 fielder percentage, 12 passed balls, 28 stolen bases allowed, 14 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The tournament’s second overall seed, the Tar Heels return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. Finishing a half-game behind Louisville for the ACC championship, North Carolina is led by junior right-handed pitcher J.B. Bukauskas and shortstop Logan Warmoth, two probable first-round draft picks. But as talented as the Tar Heels are, only one player as NCAA Tournament experience. UNC will be at home, but it’ll be far from a walk in the park with elevated stakes and a fairly deep regional.

#2 Florida Gulf Coast

Record: 42-18, 13-8 in Atlantic Sun; conference tournament champions

Head coach: Dave Tollet, 15th season.

NCAA Tournament history: First appearance.

Offense: .282 average, 100 2B, 16 3B, 54 HR, .427 SLG, 450 SO, 296 BB, .384 OBP, 32-45 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.65 ERA, 23 SV, 533 IP, 170 BB, 515 SO, 1.33 WHIP, 77 2B, 8 3B, 30 HR, .264 BAA, 28 WP, 32 HBP

Defense: .966 fielding percentage, 15 passed balls, 51 stolen bases allowed, 15 caught stealing

Noteworthy: FGCU played host to a pair of Big Ten schools in back-to-back weeks in March. Ohio State salvaged a weekend set, taking the Sunday game, 5-4, after falling 10-9 and 13-1. In the series opener FGCU scored six in the bottom of the ninth against the Buckeyes. The Scarlet Knights were unable to leave Fort Meyers with a win, being swept in the three-game set. The 5-1 showing against Big Ten schools came during a 23-3 start to the season which saw the Eagles crack the top 10 of polls.

#3 Michigan

Record: 42-15, 16-8 in Big Ten; second place

Head coach: Erik Bakich, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: 23 appearance, last in 2015. 1953 and 1962 National Champions.

Offense: .284 AVG, 93 2B, 18 3B, 34 HR, .404 SLG, 392 SO, 258 BB, .380 OBP, 122-151 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.26 ERA, 16 SV, 516.1 IP, 184 BB, 551 SO, 1.2 WHIP, 77 2B, 11 3B, 36 HR, .228 BAA, 48 WP, 43 HBP

Defense: .983 fielding percentage, 15 passed balls, 21 stolen bases, 19 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Though they were the last team in the field of 64, for the first time in nine years, Michigan has earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. The most decorated Big Ten program, 42 wins wasn’t enough for the selection committee to view the Wolverines as a top 25 team, although they have been ranked in a poll since mid-March. The Wolverines have an all-around game to win in any way, be it a pitcher’s duel or high-scoring slugfest, and the near-snub may be just what the team needed to put an 0-2 showing in the Big Ten Tournament behind them and take to Chapel Hill with a scorched Earth mentality.

#4 Davidson

Record: 32-24, 13-14 in Atlantic 10; tournament champions

Head coach: Dick Cook, 27th season

NCAA Tournament history: First appearance.

Offense: .277 AVG, 96 2B, 5 3B, 70 HR, .438 SLG, 403 SO, 235 BB, .368 OBP, 17-25 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.54 ERA, 16 SV, 500 IP, 207 BB, 374 SO, 1.54 WHIP, 106 2B, 5 3B, 47 HR, .283 BAA, 40 WP, 42 HBP

Defense: .967 fielding percentage, six passed balls, 29 stolen bases allowed, 19 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Wildcats, possibly most famous for being the college of NBA star Steph Curry, are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance and will open play against the tournament’s second-best team. That’s not an easy task, but Davidson can take solace in knowing UNC has a team without much NCAA Tournament appearance and they have shown they can match-up well against the Tar Heels. On May 9, Davidson lost a 10-inning game to North Carolina, 7-6, hitting four home runs off Tar Heel pitchers.

Three keys to Wolverine success

Bullpen bears down

Michigan entered the Big Ten tournament 36-1 when leading after eight innings. The record became 36-2 after a 6-4 loss to Northwestern on Wednesday, and Michigan saw it’s stay in Bloomington end with a 14-inning defeat to Indiana, another game decided late. Two relievers who entered the tournament with perfect 0.00 ERAs, Jackson Lamb and Mac Lozer, combined to allowed five earned runs in the 0-2 showing. At some point every reliever is touched up and for Lamb and Lozer to combine for for 47 appearances without allowing an earned run is incredible. For Michigan to succeed, the rough week in Bloomington needs to only be a hiccup and not a sign of a decline after heavy workloads.

Lugbauer swings the lumber

The Wolverines could use a power eruption from third baseman Drew Lugbauer to carry an offense which has been reliant on station-to-station baseball of late. Lugbauer leads Michigan with 11 home runs, adding 13 doubles, for a power production paired nicely with a .290 average. But the left-handed hitter has been stuck on 11 home runs since Michigan’s 14-4 win over Oklahoma on April 14. Michigan is only slugging .404 on the season entering the tournament, where runs are usually at a premium. There will need to be an ability to drive a run in from first base and nobody can do it better than Lugbauer.

Leverage the chip

Head coach Erik Bakich has not deferred to coachspeak when discussing the edge his team plays with. A May swoon kept the Wolverines out of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and Bakich does not hide that the bitter ending has not been forgotten. Since the preseason, Bakich has spoke to a commitment to starting and finishing strong, using last year’s collapse as a reminder. Now, as the last team in the field, almost seeing a 40-win season go for naught, there is more fuel to Michigan’s fire. While the Wolverines have the skill to advance through the regional, they can’t be too focus on proving the doubters wrong. Michigan has excelled all year by playing quality baseball, inning to inning doing the small and little things right, that needs to continue.

Required reading

Back from hand injury, Ako Thomas is Michigan baseball’s catalyst -Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press

Wolverines rested, ready for NCAA tournament -Angelique Chengelis

UNC, back again in NCAA tournament, likes its chances with Bukauskas on mound -Andrew Carter, Raleigh News & Observer

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