Wolfpack, ECU, Duke continue to rise in baseball polls, UNC enters rankings

The Wolfpack's No. 2 national ranking matches its highest ever after winning two of three at Louisville last weekend

Junior Cooper Criswell struck out 13 for UNC in a win at Miami on Saturday (UNC athletics photo/Jeffrey A. Camarati)

NC State, East Carolina and Duke continue their rise up the college baseball polls while a suddenly hot North Carolina has joined them in the rankings.

The Wolfpack, coming off their seventh straight weekend series win — this time coming back from a Friday loss to take two of three on the road from ACC Atlantic Division rival Louisville — has catapulted all the way up to No. 2 in the nation according to both the Baseball America and Perfect Game polls. Division I Baseball has the Wolfpack at No. 4 this week.

The No. 2 ranking matches the highest in school history, joining the 1993 and 2003 teams in that lofty position.

ECU also made a major jump, moving up from No. 12 last week into the top 10 for the first time this season at No. 7 in the Division I Baseball poll and No. 8 by Baseball America. The Pirates are still only ranked 16th by Perfect Game after winning two of three on the road at Washington last weekend.

Duke checks in at No. 10 in both the Baseball America and Perfect Game rankings and No. 14 in the D1 Baseball poll, while UNC makes its first appearance since early in the season at No. 20 by both Baseball America and Perfect Game and No. 21 by D1 Baseball.

State (25-6, 11-4 ACC) has fashioned its success with a resilient formula that has seen it bounce back from opening game losses to win each of the last three conferences series.

This week’s rally began with a four-run ninth inning outburst against Louisville’s All-American closer Sam Bordner. The Wolfpack began the inning down 6-5 before loading the bases on singles by Stephen Pitarra, Josh McLain and Will Wilson. Brett Kinneman then unloaded them with a three-run double that barely missed being his team-leading 13th homer.

Twenty-four hours later, Kinneman actually did pick up his 13th long ball — ranking him fourth nationally — to key a 10-3 rout of the Cardinals. Kinneman had four RBI in the game for a Wolfpack team that has hit 47 homers in its first 31 games.

“I keep getting amazed by how many people go about doing their jobs, and that lets me know that there is tremendous leadership on this ball club,” State coach Elliott Avent told GoPack.com. “I’m really proud of not only the players on this team, but also the players that have come before them because every team hands down something to each team and this is a measure of consistency and where this program is.”

Like the Wolfpack, ECU had an impressive performance on the road last weekend, traveling cross-country after a come-from-behind 13-8 home win against Wofford on Wednesday to split a doubleheader at Washington on Friday.

The opening game 5-1 win was highlighted by a masterful pitching performance by junior Chris Holba and four hits from Brady Lloyd. The Pirates (24-7) then finished off the weekend with a 7-2 victory that saw sophomore Tyler Smith yield only three hits over seven innings and leadoff man Brant Packer drive in four runs on four hits.

Holba (7-0) and Smith (5-0) have been solid all season, ranking sixth and 19th in the nation in ERA.

Duke’s ranking will likely go down next week after losing two of three at Wake Forest. This week’s polls came out before the Blue Devils (27-7, 10-5) dropped the rubber game of the series 6-3 on Monday. It was Duke’s first ACC series loss of the season.

UNC, on the other hand, is finally starting to get its act together after stumbling to a 9-8 start and the loss of pitching ace Gianluca Dalatri to a stress reaction in his elbow. Coach Mike Fox’s Tar Heels have won 12 of their last 15, including three of their last four conference series.

They won two of three at Miami last weekend for their first series win in Coral Gables since 2008. The weekend highlight was a 13-strikeout performance by JUCO transfer Cooper Criswell in a 9-6 win on Saturday.

UNC (21-11, 10-5) came within a half-inning of a series sweep. But after leading 5-1 going into the bottom of the fifth on Sunday, the Hurricanes rallied for six runs that turned into a 7-5 win when the final four innings were wiped out by a torrential downpour.