The second bracket group of the 2013 College World Series offers some compelling matchup possibilities as it contains two of three remaining national seeds.
The second group games will start with top overall seed North Carolina against in-state foe N.C. State. The rivals have already played three times this season, splitting a weather-shortened regular season series before the Tar Heels took a marathon 18-inning rematch in the ACC tournament.
If both UNC and LSU win their first games, it'll set up a marquee showdown between tournament favorites. That is the game everyone is hoping to see and it wouldn't be a surprise if the team that lost that game bounced back out of loser's bracket to set up a rematch.
Before penciling that matchup into the deciding game, though, don't count out UCLA -- whose strong pitching and clutch hitting make them a dangerous club.
The round will begin with North Carolina and N.C. State squaring off at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, followed by UCLA versus LSU at 8 p.m. later that night.
(1) North Carolina
Season: 57-10 (21-7 ACC), ACC champions
Tournament: 3-1 in Chapel Hill Regional, 3-1 over South Carolina in Chapel Hill Super
CWS history: 10th appearance (second straight)
Whew, talk about cutting it close. UNC has lived on the knife's edge all tournament, beginning with a 13-inning slugfest with Florida Atlantic in the deciding game of the Chapel Hill Regional. After losing Game 2 against South Carolina in the supers, the Tar Heels eked out a 5-4 victory over the Gamecocks in the elimination game. All that matters, though, is that UNC made it to Omaha, though, and their abundance of talent still makes them one of the favorites to take the championship.
Offensively, the Tar Heels are ripping the ball, leading the eight-team field with a .319 tournament batting average. A surprisingly small amount of that offense has come from All-American Colin Moran, however, who's hitting just .233 through the first two rounds. Cody Stubbs and Brian Holberton have picked up the slack, though, going 12-for-30 and 11-for-29 respectively while combining for 11 RBIs.
The Tar Heels pitching rotation is loaded with talent -- including ace Kent Emanuel -- but looked worn out during the super regionals after facing long pitch counts in the first round. Emanuel lasted just 2⅓ innings in his shortest outing of the season in Game 1 and junior Hobbs Johnson recorded just five outs in Game 2 before being yanked in the second inning. Both should be rested and ready to go this weekend, but watch for signs of fatigue as that could be the downfall of the top seed.
Season: 49-14 (19-10 ACC)
Tournament: 3-0 in Raleigh Regional, 2-0 over Rice in Raleigh Super
CWS history: Second appearance (last in 1968)
After being snubbed by the selection committee for a national seed, N.C. State earned a super regional berth the hard way, sweeping its regional and getting some luck by way of Oregon's early exit. After a sweep of Rice that concluded in a 17-inning marathon, however, they now find themselves in Omaha for the first time in 45 years.
The offensive star of this team is Trea Turner, a sophomore shortstop who swings a big bat to go along with his track speed. He's batting .391 in the tournament with one homer and has added three steals. Turner shattered the N.C. State steals record last season with 57 and is 27-of-33 in stolen base attempts this year. Speed is something this team has plenty of, too, as they've swiped 107 bags on the season.
Jake Fincher is hitting .417 and Tarran Senay has belted two homers in tournament play, but the team as a whole is pretty average offensively. The Wolfpack are batting just .267 in the tournament, scoring under five runs per contest and striking out 45 times in five games.
Defense is another story, though, as they rank second in the entire 64-team field with a 1.53 tournament ERA and are in the top six of opposing batting average and strikeouts. The Wolfpack is led by one of the best pitchers in the nation in sophomore Carlos Rodon as the lefty's 3.19 season ERA isn't great, but he's 9-2 and leads the nation with 170 strikeouts. Senior Ethan Ogburn is a reliable second option, too, as he's looked great in two tournament appearances by allowing only eight hits and no runs in just over eight innings of work. Grant Sasser is lights out from the bullpen, too, holding a 1.10 ERA and 8 saves on the year.
Season: 57-9 (23-7 SEC)
Tournament: 3-0 in Baton Rouge Regional, 2-0 over Oklahoma in Baton Rouge Super
CWS history: 10th appearance (last in '09), six national championships (last in '09)
LSU looked pretty close to unbeatable in their super regional sweep of a very good Oklahoma team. Now they'll have to prove that they can keep that dominance going into the final round of the tournament.
As a team, the Tigers are hitting .302 in the tournament with 37 runs and four homers. Those numbers would probably be a bit higher if they hadn't had to face perhaps the nation's best pitcher in Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray --who held them to two runs in a pitching duel LSU took 2-0.
Seniors Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes are the team's heart and soul and are on a mission to bring a title back to Baton Rouge before they leave. Katz has been cold so far in the tournament, but Rhymes is batting .444 with 3 RBI in the team's five games. Freshman phenom Alex Bregman is also in the .400 range and, along with UNC's Moran, may be the most dangerous hitter in Omaha.
The reason LSU was able to beat Jonathan Gray was because of the phenomenal start it got out of ace Aaron Nola. Nola is a spotless 12-0 on the year and has a sub-2.00 ERA to go along with his 117 strikeouts. Starter Ryan Eades has been great all season, to, but has struggled with duration in the tournament as he's totaled less than seven innings in his two starts combined. The rotation gets a boost with the return of Cody Glenn, though -- who was suspended heading into the tournament -- but he'll have to shake off the rust of nearly a month-long layoff. The backside of the pen is anchored by senior closer Chris Cotton, who has 16 saves on the year.
Season: 44-17 (21-9 Pac-12)
Tournament: 3-0 in Los Angeles Regional, 2-0 over Cal State Fullerton in Fullerton Super
CWS history: Fifth appearance (second straight)
Make no mistake about it, UCLA is built on pitching and defense. They rank in the top two in the Pac-12 in ERA, opposing batting average and strikeouts. They're third among tournament teams with a 1.57 ERA and have recorded shutouts in two of their five games -- including one against No. 3 seed Cal State Fullerton to clinch their trip to Omaha. Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Grant Watson are a formidable trio of starters that give the Bruins a chance to win any and all of their first three games.
The strength of the UCLA staff comes out of the bullpen in the form of first-team All-American David Berg. The sophomore reliever has a ridiculous ERA of 0.88 and is 7-0 with 21 saves on the season. What makes Berg even more special, though, is his side-armed delivery that causes less stress on his shoulder and allows him to pitch several days in a row. In a fast-paced tournament like this, that's a huge commodity to have.
If the Bruins hope to take down the high-powered offense of LSU, they'll need to get the bats going -- something they've struggled with all year. UCLA ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in batting average and slugging percentage, an incredible stat for a team this deep in the postseason. They've only been slightly better as a team in the tournament, too, carried primarily by Eric Filia (11-for-21) and Pat Gallagher (8-for-17).
The Bruins are scrappy though, usually finding a way to push runs across when they really need them. They'll need to take advantage of every opportunity if they hope to take down the Tigers.