South Carolina vs. (1) North Carolina
Friday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2; Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN2; Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN2 (if necessary)
There are a lot of threads to untangle in this series, if you care to sit down and try to straighten them all out. What matters more -- largely cruising through your regional, like South Carolina did, or getting a momentum boost from a 13-inning, seesaw affair with Florida Atlantic, even if UNC made each of its pitchers a candidate for Tommy John surgery in the process? Can the Gamecocks get their regular postseason mojo going and get to Omaha yet again? Oh, and can you go home again?
As for the teams themselves, there's a reason that North Carolina is the No. 1 seed in this tournament. The Tar Heels are 55-9 after the Chapel Hill Regional, having never lost two consecutive games. They didn't lose a game at all for the first month of the season. UNC is first in on-base percentage in the ACC, third in slugging percentage and first in ERA. Only two members of their starting lineup are hitting less than .300; Landon Lassiter reached base exactly half the time he stepped to the plate.
Against that, the 42-18 Gamecocks look like a team with an uphill battle on their hands. South Carolina has some solid pitching, and Chad Holbrook handled the staff relatively well during the regional. That's worth something. But whether it's worth enough for South Carolina to go to Boshamer Stadium and win two out of three is another matter entirely. Notwithstanding the 32-run explosion in the Gamecocks' three regional games, the offense has been more touch and go than you'd like. Most of the time, it's good for enough runs, but it's also been known to pull a disappearing act for a couple of games at inopportune times.
The narratives will go something like this: UNC is the No. 1 seed this year, projected to go to Omaha and given a good shot at being in the final series. South Carolina has been to the final series for three straight years, winning the first two of those visits. And that's not a terrible narrative, as far as they go. South Carolina is trying to increase a streak of trips to Omaha and then to the Championship Series, and North Carolina is trying to break the decades-long ACC drought when it comes to national titles. And don't forget the BATTLE OF CAROLINA, where Faux Carolina will once again try to claim the mantle of "Carolina" that rightfully belongs to the team that actually wins football games and baseball titles.
Plus, it's a chance for Chad Holbrook to go back to his alma mater. Expect lots of pictures of him in country blue, or whatever they call that hideous color. It's also probably the color of victory this weekend.
Prediction: UNC wins, two games to one