Analysis: Gamecocks vs. Tar Heels
The Gamecocks have dominated the Tar Heels in recent years, eliminating UNC from the postseason three consecutive seasons from 2002-2004. However, South Carolina will have to bring their 'A' game if they want to continue their postseason success against the Tar Heels. When looking at each team side by side, there are a lot of similarities, however North Carolina has a few more advantages. Therefore, make no mistake, the Gamecocks need to have their best weekend of the season to advance.
SCOUTING NORTH CAROLINA: AT THE PLATE
North Carolina may be the most balanced hitting team in the country. They don't lead the country in HRs (64), stolen bases (44) or team batting average (.322), but they are consistent one through nine. Seven of the starters are hitting over .300, including team leader and Collegiate Baseball freshman of the year Dustin Ackley. The first baseman is hitting .427 and has an incredible .465 on base percentage. Ackley also leads the team with 10 stolen bases and anchors the third spot in the lineup.
Another freshman, outfielder Tim Fedroff is second on the team with a .363 batting average. Sophomore catcher Tim Federowicz is right behind him at .350. Leadoff hitter Reid Fronk leads the team with 11 HRs, the only player in double digits.
The Tar Heels are gap-to-gap hitters, and in their Regional, they got key hits in clutch situations. It'll be important for the Gamecock pitchers to get the first out every inning and not give the Tar Heels any free passes.
Harris Honeycutt will start on Friday, and Arik Hempy is most likely to get the start on Saturday. Mike Cisco should get the start on Sunday, but don't be surprised if Cisco slides up to Saturday if the Gamecocks win game one. This will allow Hempy to get a normal week's rest if he's needed on Sunday.
Whoever is on the mound, Gamecock pitchers need to keep the ball down and force the Tar Heels to hit groundballs. If they get the ball up, USC's outfielders will be running all day.
The Gamecocks hope to continue their postseason success against the Tar Heels this weekend.
SCOUTING NORTH CAROLINA: PITCHING
The Tar Heels are led by senior right hander Robert Woodard. He's 10-2 with a 3.02 ERA, but opponents are hitting .258 off him. Woodard is without question the ace of the staff, and the Tar Heels need to win when he's on the mound.
After Woodard, UNC takes a dip. Freshman right hander Alex White lasted just five innings against East Carolina in the regional, but the Tar Heels still prevailed. White, who was 6-4 on the year with a 3.87 ERA, has had some control problems at times, but for a freshman, he has done an outstanding job for UNC.
Sophomore right hander Luke Putkonen should get the nod if the series extends to Sunday. Putkonen was 7-1 on the year with a 4.46 ERA, and opponents are hitting .271 off him. He lasted only 4.2 innings against Western Carolina in the Regional Championship game.
The bullpen was excellent in the Regional, as they have been all year. Led by closer right hander Andrew Carignan and his 14 saves, the Tar Heels feel good when turning it over to the bullpen after six innings. Rob Wooten and Matt Danford are solid set up guys, but UNC has 10 guys in the bullpen with 10 or more appearances.
South Carolina has a very solid bullpen as well, and this weekend may come down to which bullpen can perform the best.
This weekend's series is a must win for USC, or I believe the 2007 season would have to be viewed as a disappointment. The Gamecocks are not the better team, but if they bring their 'A' game, a series win is certainly possible.
The field is big, but nothing that the powerful Gamecock bats can't handle. It'll be crucial for James Darnell to swing a good bat to take pressure off of Travis Jones and force the Tar Heel pitchers to have nowhere to put Justin Smoak.
Watch for both coaches to go to their bullpens early because of the success by each this year.
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