"It is definitely kind of revenge for us," Dustin Ackley said about the opportunity to play the Chanticleers again. "Hopefully we will play better this time. They kind of had their way with us in our own place. It feels like we have a second chance now and now everybody is looking to take advantage of that and play some good baseball."
These two squads also faced off in the postseason last June in the Cary Super Regional, ending in a Tar Heel sweep to head back to Omaha for the third straight year. Saturday's victor advances in the winner's bracket, while the losing team must win a 1 p.m. Sunday game for the opportunity at another chance in this series – a huge advantage that will allow the winning squad to rest its bullpen and save a starting pitcher, while also avoiding a doubleheader.
"It is a huge challenge for us to come into an atmosphere like this and to play in this type of setting and have this opportunity to represent our university," Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore discussed after his program's opening victory against Kansas. "If it is against North Carolina, it is a challenge. They are the program we hope to be - Coach Fox and his staff and this university. That will be a fun college game and Alex [White] will be ready to play and I know their kids will be ready to play and so will ours."
"The winner of the next game is in the driver's seat," Coastal Carolina first baseman David Anderson added. "It will be important for us to get off to a fast start tomorrow and Cody Wheeler has given us 15 or so good starts and we will just play good defense and try to get runs early in the game and be ready to play nine full innings."
Wheeler, who takes the mound against UNC on Saturday, is the Big South Pitcher of the Year. The Spotsylvania, Va. native features a 3.34 ERA in 89 innings this season, including a 96:28 strike-to-walk ratio.
"Anybody - right handed or left handed - if you have good pitches and are able to locate them you will have success," Ackley said when asked about facing the 10-0 left-hander on Saturday. "I think lefty or righty does not really matter to us - it just matters if we come out there and swing the bats well."
UNC head coach Fox offered a differing opinion from his junior All-American later in the postgame press conference, saying, "I think everything is new now. I think I disagree with Dusty for the first time ever because I think Coastal having Wheeler going is important - he is good."
Fox also elaborated about the importance of sending junior right-hander Alex White to the mound: "Alex is going to have to match him pitch for pitch, I think, and I hope he does and we will see if we can score a run. We might have to play sudden death."
White is 7-4 on the season with a 4.13 ERA in 85 innings with a 92:34 strike-to-walk ratio. The Greenville, N.C. product pitched against Coastal Carolina in the Super Regional last season and earned a win while limiting the Chants to eight hits and three earned runs in seven innings and striking out six.
In addition to the power at the plate provided by Anderson - who hit his team-leading 21st home run against Kansas – is the blinding speed on the bases provided by a pair of sophomores in centerfielder Rico Noel and leftfielder Scott Woodward. Noel stole another base against the Jayhawks, bringing his season total to 47 thefts in 50 attempts while Woodward is 30-33 on the season.
"You cannot pitch a breaking ball with him on base or he will run you into the ground - stealing second and third," Gilmore said in reference to Noel. "I will be honest to you - we have not run across a catcher that can consistently throw those two guys out."
Coach Fox indicated after the game that White and catcher Mark Fleury would have their hands full with the pair of brazen speedsters from Conway, but that the onus would fall on White to keep them uncomfortable in taking a big lead and by working quickly to the plate.
Tar Heel fans hope that the pattern of recent history holds true from last season, namely a disappointing regular season loss to Coastal followed by a postseason victory. The squad from Conway, however, is looking to knock off the program it emulates. Either way, this game will be a compelling matchup between two of the best teams remaining in the Carolinas.