This year, the road to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., will run straight through the state of North Carolina.
The NCAA announced Sunday that three of the 16 regionals that make up the opening weekend of its national championship tournament will be held at sites in the Old North State.
North Carolina, NC State and East Carolina were all among the top 16 seeds selected as regional hosts. Duke, UNC Wilmington, Campbell and NC A&T were also selected when the rest of the field was announced on Monday.
Of the three host schools, State is the only one whose selection was up in the air until the announcement was made. The Wolfpack’s status was put into doubt by an 0-2 showing at last week’s ACC tournament.
Not that coach Elliott Avent was concerned.
“The whole season has been good,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of people write some stuff at the end I didn’t understand. It’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ But you play Florida State four of the last five games and you see they’re a national seed and one of the hottest teams in the country. You can’t win them all.”
Although the NCAA selection committee agreed with Avent’s assessment that his team deserved to host a regional, it didn’t do State any favors by establishing it as the No. 16 overall seed. Not only did the Wolfpack draw arguably the best No. 2 seed, Auburn, but if it goes on to win the regional and advance to the Super Regionals, NC State would be matched against the pod hosted by No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Florida.
State will begin its postseason run on Friday at 7 p.m. against fourth-seeded Army. Auburn and No. 3 Northeastern round out the region.
This will be the second time in three years and the sixth time in program history that the Wolfpack has hosted a regional.
A few miles down the I-40 in Chapel Hill, UNC will begin NCAA tournament play at 2 p.m. on Friday against fourth-seeded in-state rival NC A&T. Purdue is the No. 2 seed with Houston at No. 3.
This is the second straight year and the 10th time overall that coach Mike Fox’s team will play a regional at its Boshamer Stadium. The Tar Heels were upset by fourth-seeded Davidson last year. Should UNC survive its regional this time around, it would be paired against the winner of the Stetson bracket in a Super Regional.
As the No. 6 national seed, the Tar Heels would also host the Super Regional if they advance that far.
“Hosting a regional is extremely difficult to do,” Fox said. “That was these kids’ first goal. The national seed is certainly good and is a credit to what our kids did during the regular season in the conference.”
For ECU, the regional is icing on the cake after a successful week in which it won the American Athletic Conference tournament title for the second time in four years under coach Cliff Godwin.
The Pirates are the No. 12 overall seed, matched against the winner of the Arkansas regional. But they’ll have to survive a difficult draw to get there. Not only is South Carolina a formidable foe as a two seed, along with Ohio State at No. 3, but ECU may have been given the most difficult fourth seed in the field in traditional rival UNC Wilmington.
The Pirates beat the Seahawks in both regular-season meetings, but both games were close. ECU won 6-4 in Greenville on April 3 and 5-4 in Wilmington on May 9. Friday’s regional matchup at Clark-LeClair Stadium will begin at 7 p.m.
This will be the second on-campus opportunity for the Pirates and first since a 2009 event in which it beat South Carolina in extra innings to move on to the Super Regionals. ECU also hosted regionals in Wilson in 2001 and Kinston in 2004, along with a Super Regional against Tennessee in Kinston in 2001.
“I’m just happy for East Carolina University. I’m happy for the city of Greenville. I’m happy for our players. I’m happy for all the players I played with that were No. 1 seeds and couldn’t host it (before) Clark-LeClair,” said Godwin, who was the starting catcher on that 2001 Super Regional team. “It’s a neat moment, and I want our guys to enjoy it. But we’ve got to play baseball, and we’ve got to keep away the distractions.”
Although Duke won’t be playing at home like its state ACC neighbors, the Blue Devils will be playing in a regional with a distinct North Carolina flavor despite it being held in Athens, Ga. Not only will the Blue Devils be there, along with top-seeded Georgia and No. 3 Troy, but the No. 4 seed in the field is the Big South champion Campbell Camels.
The Duke-Troy game will be played at 2 p.m. with Campbell vs. Georgia following at 7 p.m.
Should either of the teams survive and advance, they would play a Super Regional against the winner of the Texas Tech regional.