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North Carolina will be making its 25th NCAA tournament appearance and record ninth straight. The Tar Heels are 44-22 in NCAA play under head coach Mike Fox and are coming off four straight trips to the College World Series.
ESPN's NCAA baseball selection show listed 15 regional pairings before displaying the final Norman field, fueling trepidation in the players' lounge at Boshamer Stadium. Of course, that trepidation swiftly morphed into rabid excitement once North Carolina's name was called.
"That's the biggest eruption that I've heard from a team since I've been here," Fox told reporters following the selection show on Monday.
Any nervousness had been replaced with smiles and laughter by the time the players emerged from the lounge to speak with media members.
"We're ecstatic that we're in the NCAA Tournament," senior shortstop Ryan Graepel said. "We got a little nervous there at the end as [ESPN] held out until the last region, but we couldn't be happier. We feel very blessed to have another chance to make it back to Omaha."
The post-show discussion quickly turned from the celebration of earning the at-large bid to the relevance – or lack thereof – of the ACC Tournament. UNC enters the NCAA Tournament despite missing the ACC Championship, while Boston College played in Greensboro last weekend but ultimately missed out on the national tournament.
According to warrennolan.com, The Tar Heels boasted a better overall record (36-20 vs. 30-28) and RPI (No. 22 vs. No. 43) than the Eagles, but Boston College countered with a tougher schedule (No. 13 SOS vs. No. 21 SOS), more games against top-25 RPI competition (33 vs. 25) and its ACC tournament inclusion.
"That's a hard one," Fox replied when asked about the situation. "I know the committee probably had a difficult time with that as well… I'm assuming they try to put stock in your whole body of work. I wish our league would have gotten nine in. I'm sure there are going to be people out there that are going to have their opinions on whether we should or shouldn't, but I'm just happy for our players."
But with an at-large bid secured, North Carolina may potentially benefit from essentially having a bye week. The Tar Heels were given five days off after the season-ending Virginia Tech series, while their regional opponents combined to play nine games over the holiday weekend.
"I guess that question will be answered maybe this weekend, maybe in how fresh we are," Fox said. "I know some teams really had to use a lot of their pitching staffs to get through conference tournaments. We talked to some coaches this morning that said they were really taxed getting through there… I think the rest sometimes is good after 56 games, but you've still got to go out and play."
The Tar Heels may have gotten another break in its Friday matchup with California. The Bears have dropped 12 of their last 18 games, including eight of their final 10 contests. UNC, on the other hand, has won 12 of its last 15 games, with its only three losses coming at the hands of No. 5 national seed Virginia.
And as it turns out, the Norman region is paired with the Charlottesville region for next weekend's super regionals. The top-seeded Cavaliers host No. 2 seed Mississippi, No. 3 St. John's and No. 4 seed VCU in their field this weekend.
The North Carolina coaching staff had not decided on its weekend rotation on Monday afternoon, but Fox indicated that he would be "surprised" if ace right-hander Matt Harvey (7-3, 3.10 ERA, 93 strikeouts) doesn't start on Friday night.
2009 NCAA NORMAN REGIONAL SCHEDULE
(Game times listed as local Central time)
Friday, June 4
Game 1: #1 Oklahoma (44-15) vs. #4 Oral Roberts (35-25), 1 p.m.
Game 2: #3 North Carolina (36-20) vs. #2 California (29-23), 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 5
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 6
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7 p.m.
Monday, June 7
Game 7: 7 p.m. - IF NECESSARY (If Game 5 winner also wins Game 6)
LINK: NCAA Bracket