Three state schools selected to NCAA D2 baseball tournament

Belmont Abbey, UNC Pembroke and Wingate will play in the Southeast Regional in hopes of reaching the D2 World Series in Cary

The Division II College World Series will be played at the USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary from May 26-June 2

North Carolina’s status as the most dominant state in college baseball this season was confirmed again this week.

Not only are four of its teams — NC State at No. 4, North Carolina at No. 7, East Carolina at No. 9 and Duke at No. 10 — ranked among the nation’s top 10 in the poll, but three others were selected Sunday to play in the Division 2 NCAA tournament.

UNC Pembroke, Belmont Abbey and Wingate are among the 56 teams earning a shot at advancing to the Division II College World Series two weeks from now at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary.

The state teams will begin play as part of the Southeast Regional in Greenville, S.C.

Play is scheduled to get underway Thursday at 11 a.m. with third-seeded Belmont Abbey and No. 6 Wingate facing off against one another in the opening game of the double elimination event. Fifth-seeded UNCP will take on No. 4 Columbus State at 7 p.m. on Thursday, with the winner facing off against top-seeded North Greenville the following day.

The other teams involved are second-seeded Georgia College and seventh-seeded Lincoln Memorial.

Belmont Abbey (37-12) figures to have an advantage in the matchup of state teams, having won both regular season meetings against Wingate — 5-4 on the road on Feb. 20 and 10-5 at home on March 7.

The Crusaders are led by Conference Carolinas Player of the Year Luke Cureton, who hit .376 with 12 homers and 56 RBI.

The Bulldogs (34-17) are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015 thanks to a strong pitching staff anchored by junior Austin Turgeon and senior Hunter Morgan. Turgeon led the South Atlantic Conference with a 2.70 ERA while holding opponents to a .210 batting average while Morgan was a workhorse, who has pitched 79⅓ innings with complete game victories in each of his last two starts.

“Getting an at-large bid in such a tough region is a quite an honor. We played challenging schedule this year and won some big games, getting respect from the committee,” Wingate coach Jeff Gregory said. “The guys are excited to get a chance to continue to play. I’m excited for the program and for the guys. They worked hard all year and we look forward to the opportunity.”

UNCP (38-12) is batting .340 as a team and ranks third nationally with an average of 9.4 runs per game. Three of its players — third baseman Trey Jacobs, left fielder Luke Jackson and right fielder Ethan Baucom — have hit 10 or more homers.

The Braves had won 10 straight before falling to Georgia College in the semifinals of last week’s Peach Belt Conference tournament.

All three teams will have their work cut out for them to advance in a region hosted by North Greenville, the nation’s second-ranked team at 44-8.

As far as the state’s top Division I programs, it was a good week for NC State, Duke and East Carolina, with each winning its respective conference series.

The Wolfpack continued its resurgence from a midseason slump by sweeping Wake Forest to extend its winning streak to eight. The Pirates rallied from four runs down in the final two innings Sunday to take two of three from Cincinnati and enhance their chances of hosting an NCAA regional.

The Blue Devils, meanwhile, beat rival UNC on Friday and Saturday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to inch closer to the Tar Heels atop the ACC Coastal Division standings before UNC managed to maintain its lead by salvaging Sunday’s series finale with an 8-6 victory.

The Division I regular season ends next weekend.