Regional Preview

Inside Carolina breaks down the Chapel Hill Regional with in-depth analysis of Florida International, James Madison and Maine.

2011 NCAA Chapel Hill Regional Schedule
Friday, June 3
Game 1: # 2 FIU (40-18) vs. #3 James Madison (40-17), 1 p.m.
Game 2: #1 North Carolina (45-14) vs. #4 Maine (32-22), 6 p.m.
Saturday, June 4
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6 p.m.
Sunday, June 5
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 6 p.m.
Monday, June 6
Game 7: 6 p.m. - If necessary


"We look at matchups. We do feel like Kent is one of our best guys. Patrick [Johnson] obviously has the best record, but if you look at Kent throughout the year, his tendency besides two games is to pitch deep. And he was a freshman in those two games on the road at [N.C] State and on the road at Florida State. He pounds the strike zone. You've got to beat Kent. He doesn't get caught up much in big-game situations. They have a lot of left-handed hitters. But we still felt like it really didn't matter who we threw, but we felt really good about that matchup with Kent out there." – UNC associate head coach/pitching coach Scott Forbes on the decision to start Kent Emanuel on Friday night against Maine

Florida International
No. 2 Seed
Record: 40-18-1
Final Regular Season Ranking: No. 20 (Baseball America)
RPI: No. 24 (6-9 vs. Top-50)
Bid: At-Large (Sun Belt)

Strengths: The Golden Panthers reached the 40-win barrier for the first time since 2002 by combining a lethal offensive attack with a solid pitching rotation. FIU currently ranks seventh nationally in batting average (.319) while also posting 427 runs scored and 59 home runs. The pitching staff led the Sun Belt Conference with a 3.58 ERA and a league-low 210 earned runs. Southpaw Phil Haig (9-3, 3.27 ERA) leads the Golden Panthers' starting pitching rotation and righty Jose Velazquez (2-0, 1.38 ERA, 33 app) is the headliner out of the bullpen. FIU is 25-2 when leading after four innings and 32-2 when leading after seven.

Weaknesses: Florida International has a losing record against the RPI Top-50 (6-9) and that's primarily due to its reliance on hitting. In four games against NCAA Tournament hosts this season, the Golden Panthers allowed six or more runs in three of those contests – all losses. FIU is 7-16 when scoring five runs or less. The Sun Belt runner-ups rank 191st nationally in walks (4.04) and 217th in fielding percentage (.959).

Players to Watch: While Garrett Wittels's name may be synonymous with FIU baseball due to his 56-game hit streak that ended in February, the junior shortstop (.348, 86 hits) is only one of three Golden Panthers with more than 80 hits on his resume. Pablo Bermudez (.373, 84 hits) and Jeremy Patton (.371, 85 hits) provide consistency and Mike Martinez (.295, 14 HR) and Rudy Flores (.295, 8 HR) deliver plenty of power in the batting order.

James Madison
No. 3 Seed
Record: 40-17
Final Regular Season Ranking: No. 28 (Collegiate Baseball)
RPI: No. 60 (0-1 vs. Top-50)
Bid: Automatic (Colonial Athletic Association)

Strengths: James Madison enters the Chapel Hill Regional with the nation's longest winning streak at nine games and has won 13 of its last 15 games. The Dukes make their living swinging the bat, leading the nation with 522 runs scored for an average of 9.2 runs per game. James Madison also ranks first nationally in slugging percentage (.527), RBIs (469) and total bases (1,056), second in sacrifice flies (46) and steals (150), fourth in triples (27) and home runs (78) and fifth in batting average (.321) and seventh in hits (643). Southpaw Sean Tierney (10-1, 2.79 ERA) has provided a needed arm on the mound after moving into the starting weekend rotation in April.

Weaknesses: The Dukes boast a 5.77 ERA, good for 242nd nationally. They deserve credit for steady improvement over the course of the season (3.22 ERA over their last 15 games), but JMU only faced six Top-100 RPI opponents during that stretch and allowed an average of 5.5 runs in those contests. The fact that James Madison has only played one Top-50 RPI club all season – a 7-3 weekday loss at Virginia – raises significant questions about its ability to continue its hot hitting. The Dukes are 4-11 when scoring four runs or less this season.

Players to Watch: Catcher Jake Lowery earned CAA Player of the Year honors after posting ridiculous offensive numbers throughout his junior season. The Midlothian, Va. native is batting .357 with 22 home runs and currently owns school records for season total bases (187), extra-base hits (51), RBIs (83) and triples (T-8). Not only is Lowery up for the Golden Spikes Award, but he's also in contention for the Johnny Bench Award for his play behind the plate. He ranks second nationally with 32 runners caught stealing. Lowery's co-conspirator at the plate is David Herbek. The senior shortstop is batting .374 with a .701 slugging percentage and 15 home runs on his resume.

No. 4 Seed
Record: 32-22
Final Regular Season Ranking: NR
RPI: No. 161 (1-5 vs. Top-50)
Bid: Automatic (America East)

Strengths: Maine swept through the America East tournament with three straight wins and has now won 17 of its 18 games. While lacking any true star power at the plate, the Black Bears are consistent up and down the lineup and have quality depth with 12 players notching 21 or more starts. Justin Leisenheimer leads the team with a .327 batting average and eight home runs, but somehow ranks sixth on the team in RBI with 25. Joey Martin (.325, 44 RBI) and Michael Fransoso (.317, 32 RBI) complement Leisenheimer to balance out the Bears' offensive attack. Keith Bilodeau possesses plenty of pro potential on the mound, while Shaun Coughlin (3-1, 2.44 ERA, 2 saves) and D.J. Voisine (1-1, 3.16 ERA, 3 saves) are solid out of the bullpen.

Weaknesses: The Black Bears' current streak of wins includes just one game against a team ranked inside the RPI Top-200 (No. 81 Stony Brook). Maine ranks 103rd nationally in batting average (.289) and 124th in ERA (4.41). After Bilodeau, the starting pitching rotation has legitimate question marks. Stephen Perakslis (6-4, 3.63 ERA) and Jeffrey Gibbs (7-5, 3.69 ERA) have been inconsistent at times, and A.J. Bazdanes (1-4, 4.66 ERA) has struggled as the Black Bears' fourth starter. The pitching staff also ranks 270th nationally in walks (4.83). Maine was overmatched in March in two games against Florida State, falling 10-2 and 9-3 in Tallahassee.

Player to Watch: Bilodeau is 10-2 on the season with a 2.87 ERA. The junior righty has struck out 77 batters in 84.2 innings and has won eight straight after starting the season 2-2. The Bourne, Mass. native threw his fifth complete game in the America East tournament opener against Binghamton last week, allowing two earned runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out six. Perfect Game reports an 89 MPH fast ball with a changeup and a curve in the mid-70s.

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