When the 2011 College World Series gets off the ground Saturday with Vanderbilt and North Carolina squaring off, there won't be any shortage of star power.
To get the CWS started, former President George W. Bush will be on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Besides the political star power, there's plenty of baseball talent as well.
Twelve Commodores were chosen in the recent Major League Baseball draft, the most in the country this season and an SEC record. The CWS opener features two of the four first-round picks in the tournament field.
Vandy pitcher Sonny Gray will start in the mound after getting grabbed by Oakland with the 18th pick in the first round. One of the Tar Heel hitters he'll have to contend with is shortstop Levi Michael, taken by Minnesota with the 30th pick.
Gray (12-3, 1.97 ERA with 119 strikeouts) is one of three first-round pitchers who will start CWS openers. The others are Virginia's Danny Hultzen (No. 2 by Seattle) and Taylor Jungmann (No. 12 by Milwaukee) from Texas.
Michael is the only first-round position player in the series.
Five other Commodores were drafted in the first three rounds: Second-game starting pitcher Grayson Garvin in the supplemental (sandwich) round, third baseman Jason Esposito in the second round, third-game starting pitcher Jack Armstrong in the third round, first baseman Aaron Westlake in the third round and left-handed reliever Corey Williams in the third round.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox takes another crack at joining a small group of coaches who have played for a school and later guided the same program to a national championship.
The three coaches who have done so are Mike Gillispie, who played at Southern Cal and guided the Trojans to the 1998 national crown; Cal State Fullerton's George Horton, who led the Titans to the championship in 2004; and Stanford's Mark Marquess, who led the Cardinal to consecutive titles in 1987-88.
Fox played on the Heels' 1978 College World Series team, and has come close to winning national crowns as a coach, twice guiding UNC to the finals where it lost both times to Oregon State.
Get 'em early or don't get 'em
Of UNC's 50 victories, 47 have come when the Heels were tied or leading after six innings.
The North Carolina bullpen has surrendered only 60 run in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings this season, while the hitters have produced 138 runs in those last three frames.
When the game gets to the seventh inning and UNC is leading, the Tar Heels are 44-1 this season.
While Vanderbilt will play its first College World Series game ever Saturday, the Tar Heels know their way around Omaha.
This is UNC's 15th CWS appearance and fifth in six seasons – making the Heels only the 12th team to accomplish that feat.
North Carolina is 14-17 all-time in Omaha with 12 of those wins coming since 2006.
UNC catcher Jacob Stallings has thrown out 31 of 42 runners attempting to steal this season, which ranks third in the country.
His stinginess could be put to a test by the Commodores, who have swiped 78 bases in 107 attempts this season, paced by outfielders Mike Yastrzemski (22-of-25) and Tony Kemp (16-of-20) and Esposito (15-of-25).
North Carolina and Vanderbilt have never met in baseball. The Tar Heels haven't faced potential second-round foe Texas either. UNC is 16-12 all-time vs. Florida, also a possible opponent in the second round. … Four Vanderbilt players earned freshman All-American recognition this season – Tony Kemp, Conrad Gregor, T.J. Pecoraro and Kevin Ziomek. … Westlake's three-home run game in an 11-2 Super Regional win against Oregon State was the first by a Commodore since Jeff Martin did so in 1991. Westlake's 17 bombs equal Texas' season total and is two more than Virginia's. North Carolina's top power threat is third baseman Colin Moran with nine. Moran has also bashed a team-high 20 doubles and leads the Heels with 69 RBIs. … North Carolina's 340 walks this season are a single-season school record and rank third nationally. … The Tar Heels have drawn seven walks or more in 20 games.
Vandy-UNC Notebook: Stars Align
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