Six NC schools punch ticket to baseball NCAAs

ECU and UNC host regionals; NC State, Campbell and UNC Wilmington stay in the state; Duke heads to West Virginia

First baseman Spencer Brickhouse and East Carolina will host Campbell, NC State and Quinnipiac in the Greenville Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament. (Mark LoMoglio / AP Photo)

The last time East Carolina and NC State were supposed to play a baseball game, on April 24, 2018, it got rained out and wasn’t made up.

It was a cancellation that became a point of contention between the two passionate fan bases, since the decision was made five hours before game time and it wasn’t raining when the first pitch was supposed to be thrown.

The Pirates and Wolfpack didn’t schedule one another this season. But thanks to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the in-state rivals might finally get to play one another after all.

Both were placed in the same regional on Monday, to be held at ECU’s Clark-LeClair Stadium this weekend.

That doesn’t guarantee they’ll actually meet on the diamond.

Before they can think about a potential head-to-head showdown for a chance at advancing to the College World Series, the top-seeded Pirates must first beat No. 4 Quinnipiac and the second-seeded Wolfpack must get past another in-state school, No. 3 Campbell.

They’re first-round matchups neither team is taking for granted.

“There’s no easy regional. There are no easy teams,” ECU’s Cliff Godwin said. “Everybody’s 0-0. You’ve got to go out there and play your best baseball.”

That’s especially true for the Wolfpack, which will likely have to face the Camels’ soon-to-be first-round MLB Draft pick Seth Johnson in its opening game.

Compounding matters is an atmosphere State coach Elliott Avent anticipates being hostile to his team, even when it isn’t playing the host Pirates.

“It will be crazy,” a clearly unhappy Avent said shortly after the selections were announced. “It will be absolutely crazy and that’s what the players like. You want it to be crazy, you want it to be packed and you want it to be loud, so I think that’s what we’re going to get.”

The double-elimination tournament in Greenville is one of two to be played in the state. North Carolina, on the strength of its impressive ACC Tournament championship last weekend, was also selected as a regional host.

The top-seeded Tar Heels will begin play against No. 4 UNC Wilmington on Friday, with second-seeded Tennessee taking on No. 3 Liberty. Duke, the No. 3 seed in the Morgantown, W.Va., regional with host West Virginia, Texas A&M and Fordham, is the only other state team selected into the 64-team field.

Unlike ECU and State, which will be challenged to avoid looking ahead to a matchup that might not happen, UNC’s task is trying to move on from a game that has already been played — a 10-2 victory against Georgia Tech on Sunday that clinched the ACC Tournament championship at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

“I don’t think this team has let their highs get too high and their lows get too low,” coach Mike Fox, whose Tar Heels are the No. 14 national seed, said Monday. “They realize that we’re at the end of the year. You can see with the committee and the teams that are in that every game matters.”

The games played last week certainly mattered to both UNC and State.

The Tar Heels’ four wins and tournament title were likely the reason they are hosting a regional and the Wolfpack — which went 1-2 in Durham — is not. It’s a situation that left Avent “very disappointed and confused a little bit.”

ECU’s Godwin was also less than thrilled over the fact that his team was denied a top-eight national seed that would have guaranteed it playing at home through the Super Regionals should they advance that far.

Despite an RPI ranking of No. 5, the Pirates are the 10th overall seed.

One team that isn’t concerned about its seeding or placement is Duke, which was 14-15 and going nowhere on April 3 before turning its season around.

“I can’t think of a better way to spend Memorial Day,” Blue Devils’ coach Chris Pollard said after Monday’s selection show. “I hope we spend Memorial Day like this every year. To see Duke pop up on the screen on Selection Monday is never going to stop being a thrill for me.”

While the Blue Devils will be facing teams they’ve never seen before, there is plenty of familiarity among the participants in the two local regionals. Not only has UNC already played UNCW and Liberty this season, going 3-0 against them, both ECU and State split a pair of games each against Campbell.