Sports

ECU, Campbell battle to join UNC, Duke in NCAA super regionals

With Duke and North Carolina already in the NCAA’s baseball super regionals and either East Carolina or Campbell set to join them, the state will be well represented among the tournament’s final 16 teams.

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels both breezed through their regionals, sweeping three games in succession to advance with Sunday night wins.

The Pirates and Camels each beat fourth-seeded Quinnipiac on Sunday to set up a Monday showdown for the regional title.

Campbell had a chance to wrap up its first regional title in program history Monday afternoon but ECU battered Camels pitching for 11 hits to post a 10-3 win.

The teams will play a winner-take-all game for the regional championship at 7 p.m. Monday night at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

ECU continued to show its strong offense. Since losing 5-4 to Quinnipiac on Saturday, the Pirates have won three elimination games. They’ve scored 32 runs with 41 hits over those three games, winning by a combined score of 32-8.

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ECU’s Turner Brown (8) is carried by Jake Kuchmaner (29) as he celebrates scoring in the fifth inning during East Carolina’s game against Campbell in the Greenville Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville, N.C., Monday, June 3, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Against Campbell Monday afternoon, the Pirates put he lead-off man on in each of the first eight innings.

“We’ve got to get ahead on the count and keep the lead-off guy off base,” Campbell coach Justin Haire said. “They had the lead-off guy on base and were effective at moving him into scoring position and then finding ways to score that guy.”

ECU catcher Jake Washer enters Monday night’s championship game batting .538 in four regional games with hits in seven of his 13 at bats, including four home runs. He’s driven in nine runs.

He was two for three with his 17th home run of the season in Monday’s first game.

“He’s seeing the ball pretty well,” ECU coach Cliff Godwin said. “I hope he keeps seeing it well for at least one more game. To be doing it and catching almost every single inning of almost every single game is what’s most impressive to me. Wash is a tough kid.”

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ECU’s Turner Brown (8) forces out Campbell’s Luis Gimenez (14) at second in the third inning during East Carolina’s game against Campbell in the Greenville Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville, N.C., Monday, June 3, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

As the No. 14 national seed, UNC did it on its home field in Chapel Hill, completing the impressive run with a 5-2 win over Tennessee to clinch the regional championship.

“Unbelievably happy for this group, and for our team, to have won this regional,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “I couldn’t be prouder for a group of kids in all my years of coaching.”

Thanks to Auburn posting an upset win over No. 3 national seed Georgia Tech at the Atlanta Regional Sunday night, the ACC champion Tar Heels (45-17) will host the Tigers (36-25) in the best-of-three Chapel Hill Super Regional this weekend.

The Tar Heels carry a seven-game winning streak into the next round. It started with their four wins at the ACC tournament and continued with their three Chapel Hill Regional wins over UNC Wilmington, Liberty and Tennessee.

“If we pitch and play defense we’re going to win,” Fox said. “It’s been shaky but boy has it showed up the last two days.”

UNC’s offense is potent as well. Dallas Tessar has hits in seven consecutive games. Aaron Sabato hit home runs in UNC’s first two regional wins before going 2 for 5 in the Tar Heels’ 5-2 regional-clinching win over Tennessee Sunday night.

As one of the last four teams selected to the 64-team NCAA tournament, Duke (34-25) was seeded third at the Morgantown (W. Va.) Regional. But the underdog Blue Devils proved clearly the best team. After beating Texas A&M 8-5 in the opening game, Duke shut out host West Virginia 4-0 on Saturday.

After Texas A&M eliminated the No. 15 national seed Mountaineers, the Blue Devils solid pitching on Sunday night fueled a 4-1 win over the Aggies for the regional championship.

After starting 3-9 in ACC play and holding a 14-15 overall record in early April, the Blue Devils turned their season around and won a regional for the second consecutive year.

“These guys had to stay really tough and resilient and stay together, and they did and they kept playing hard for each other,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said. “They kept playing hard for our culture, and because of that, they were in a position to pull off something really great this weekend.”

Duke remains on the road for the Nashville Super Regional, where No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt (52-10) awaits for a best-of-three series.

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ECU’s Nick Barber (2), left, high-fives Ryder Giles (3) after East Carolina’s 10-3 victory over Campbell in the Greenville Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville, N.C., Monday, June 3, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

The Greenville Regional featured three in-state teams, so the chances were good one of them would make the super regional. Campbell and ECU beat N.C. State to eliminate the No. 2-seeded Wolfpack.

Whichever team wins will be on the road at the Louisville Super Regional against the No. 7 national seed Cardinals (47-16). Louisville became the fourth ACC team in the super regionals with its 4-3 win over Illinois State on Monday to win the Louisville Regional.

Florida State knocked out Georgia, 10-1, on Sunday to win the Athens Regional. The Seminoles will play at LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.

The NCAA will set dates, times and television coverage plans for the super regional games after the regionals are concluded. The series will start on either Friday or Saturday.

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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