Raleigh Regional Preview South Carolina Style

The NCAA baseball tournament begins this Friday as Regional play opens across the country. For the ninth season in a row, USC has earned a bid. They will travel north to Raleigh, where NC State will host at their home field for the first time. Charlotte and James Madison have also accepted invitations to Raleigh. Eric Guimaraes breaks down USC's opponents in this year's Regional.

The South Carolina Gamecocks have made a habit of winning Regional tournaments over the last decade, being one of only two teams to have made eight of the last nine Super-Regionals (Miami being the other). After playing themselves out of an opportunity to host their own Regional, the Gamecocks awaited their fate early Monday afternoon on the ESPN selection show. Their name was called and they were sent to Raleigh where they will play Charlotte on Friday at 2:00 pm in the first game of the day. The other game will see James Madison play host school NC State at 7:00 pm.

The Gamecocks are not unfamiliar with their first opponent, having played the Forty-Niners back on March 5th at The Sarge. Nick Godwin pitched and the Gamecocks lost 11-2. They took an early 2-0 lead, but their pitching did not hold up as Godwin surrendered five earned runs in five innings and Sean Wideburg was touched up in the ninth for four more.

To the Gamecock team, that game seems a long time ago, and Justin Smoak and Reese Havens claim they really have no recollection of that night. Having said that, you can bet Charlotte does.

Charlotte is likely using that game as a motivational tool. A big win against the Gamecocks at The Sarge, when Carolina was ranked third in the nation, should give them confidence. Their strong pitching staff should stoke that confidence as well.

The Niners' pitching staff has been solid for them this year, especially out of the pen. Freshman Kelly McClain has made 22 appearances this season with two saves, an ERA of 1.98 with 50 strike outs, and nine walks in 50 innings. Not to be outdone, sophomore Bryan Hamilton is 6-2 with a 2.60 ERA and three saves in 19 appearances; and junior Sam Pierce has four saves with a record of 4-0 and an ERA of 3.08.

This trio gives Charlotte a formidable bull pen, making them a solid front runner. They want to get ahead early and rely on their relief pitchers to bring them home.

Charlotte also has a strong starter in Freshman Joe Yermal, who will start Friday against USC. He is 8-1 in 13 starts, with two complete games and a 3.81 ERA.

This team can hit the ball as well, with four batters hitting over .360 and 3 more hitting over .330. They are aggressive on the base paths, with four players in double-digits in stolen bases.

They are not a team with a lot of power but do have two players that can hurt you with the long ball. Sophomore infielder Rob Lyerly has 14 homers and 73 RBIs on the season, while senior Chris Taylor has hit 19 dingers and driven in 69.

It will be Sam Dyson's job to keep runners off base, as Charlotte likes to play aggressive, setting the table for their big boppers.

The problem with gauging Charlotte by their statistics alone is attempting to compare them to teams from more powerful conferences. Without intending to dismiss their accomplishments this year, it is difficult to ignore the fact that they did play in the Atlantic 10.

Charlotte plays well and is well-coached, but the advantage goes to the Gamecocks, if for no other reason than that they played in a more competitive conference. Imagine what kind of numbers James Darnell and Justin Smoak might have had this season had they played in the Atlantic 10? In one of the toughest conferences in the nation, the SEC, Smoak hit .377 with 21 homers and 66 RBIs, while Darnell led the league with 78 RBIs. He also had a batting average of .310 and added 18 home runs of his own.

In the second game of the Regional, host NC State and James Madison go at it. The Wolfpack had a very successful season this year, going 18-11 in the ACC and 38-20 overall. Breaking down their record a little further, the Pack were 12-3 against Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Maryland and Virginia Tech. Against FSU, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, and Virginia, NC State was only 6-8. This might lead someone to believe that they were able to pad their record against the bottom feeders in the conference. State also played poorly in Jacksonville, losing two of three with their only win coming against Clemson, 10-0.

A quick glance at this team's overall statistics and it is hard to conclude where their strengths are. They do not hit the ball particularly well. Not a single player on this squad has 50 RBIs nor do they have anyone with more than nine home runs. The highest batting average on the team is .337.

A closer look at this team shows that they depend on everyone in the lineup to contribute offensively. Five of their starters have 30 or more runs batted in, and six of them have between 6 and 9 home runs.

As far as their arms, the Pack's strength is in their closer, Jimmy Gilheeney. He is 2-0 on the season with 10 saves and an ERA of 1.12. Unfortunately for them, Gilheeney did not make the trip to Jacksonville for the ACC tournament and may not play in this weekend's Regional. NC State cited privacy issues and has not released further information on his status.

Clayton Shunick is the ace of this staff, but even with an impressive 2.12 ERA, his record is only 7-5. In 89.1 innings pitched, Shunick had 100 strikeouts and only 21 base on balls.

In a must win situation, Shunick and Gilheeney could prove to be a tough matchup for anyone; but as of now, it appears unlikely.

If USC gets to Saturday against the Pack, Nick Godwin will need to be sharp. NC State is the number one seed and is favored in this Regional, but South Carolina is the better team and should win the game against the Wolfpack.

That leaves only the Dukes of James Madison. This team finished second in the Colonial Athletic Association regular season and won the conference tournament without a defeat. They are currently 38-17. The Dukes are a team that likes to hit the ball, averaging 7.6 runs a game this season.

Their three most dangerous hitters are junior outfielder Brett Sellers, sophomore outfielder Alex Foltz, and sophomore first baseman/DH Steven Caseres. Sellers is batting .414 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs; Foltz is batting .371 with 7 homers and 35 RBIs; and Caseres has a .349 average with a whopping 21 round trippers and 68 runs batted in.

James Madison, however, does have an issue on the mound. Of the three pitchers with 10 or more starts this season, the lowest ERA on the staff is 4.86. That is held by junior right hander Kurt Houck. Houck has a 7-2 record and struck out 72 batters in 76 innings. The other two pitchers have ERAs over five and six respectively.

The only pitcher on their staff with an ERA under 4 is freshman reliever Turner Phelps. He made four starts on the season, but came out of the pen in 15 of his 19 appearances. He was 7-0 on the season and appears to be the only true threat the Dukes have on their pitching staff.

This could be a team that upsets someone because they do hit the ball well, but will most likely lose two games quickly in this Regional. If they do not beat NC State Friday night, they will be the first team eliminated.

This is an overview of the four teams in this weekend's NCAA Regional. The draw appears to be favorable for South Carolina. The Gamecocks must maintain their focus and they must hit the ball well. Charlotte is a dangerous foe in game one, but if they can successfully get past the 49ers, they would be placing themselves in a very favorable position.

Though they are hosting, NC State is a soft number one in this Regional. If all goes well, Carolina will be making an unprecedented 9th trip to Super-Regional play, getting them one step closer to Omaha.

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