It's the battle of the Carolinas in Chapel Hill, where the No. 1 overall seeded North Carolina Tar Heels face a typically red-hot South Carolina Gamecocks club.
(1) North Carolina (55-9) vs. 1 South Carolina (42-18)
All times Eastern
Friday: 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday: noon (ESPN)
Sunday (if necessary): 1 p.m. (ESPN)
It will be a homecoming for first-year South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook when his team heads to Chapel Hill, where Holbrook spent three years as a player and 15 more as an assistant. He leads the Gamecocks into their 11th super regional appearance in the past 14 years, and will face pressure to advance from a fan base used to seeing its team in Omaha. South Carolina has reached the finals of the College World Series three straight years, hoisting the trophy in 2010 and 2011.
North Carolina will have some expectations of their own to live up to: an overall No. 1 seed has failed to reach Omaha only four times since the current format was implemented in 1999. They'll be trying to wipe away the disappointment of back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2006 and '07, when they lost in the finals both times to Oregon State. They beat South Carolina in the super regionals during that '07 run, the last matchup between the two clubs.
Path to the supers
South Carolina cruised through the regional rounds with a +22 scoring differential during its three victories over Canisius and Liberty. They overcame a rain delay and a shaky ninth inning to clinch the regional crown over Liberty on Monday.
The Tar Heels started the opening round on track, taking down Canisius 6-5 on Day 1 and Towson 8-5 on Day 2. Then they ran into a serious threat in Florida Atlantic. FAU mounted a three-run rally in the seventh to win 3-2 on Sunday. In the regional-deciding match the following day, North Carolina blew a 4-run ninth-inning lead and had to come from behind twice in a wild 13-inning drama.
The two highest team batting averages in the 2013 tournament belong to North and South Carolina, respectively. North Carolina is led by Golden Spikes Award finalist Colin Moran, who may have his name called as the top pick in Thursday's MLB draft. First baseman Cody Stubbs and outfielder Chaz Frank both hit .500 with four RBIs apiece during the regional round.
South Carolina may not have the same star power at the plate (no All-SEC selections or top-500 draft prospects), but they can still swing the bat. Senior LB Dantzler has gone yard 15 times in 2013 and leads the team with 51 RBIs. First baseman Kyle Martin was named the Columbia Regional Most Outstanding Player after his 6-for-12, six RBI performance.
South Carolina has a rather unique staff, with its top five hurlers all being left-handed. Sophomore Jordan Montgomery threw seven scoreless innings during the Gamecock's 19-3 stomping of Liberty on Day 2 of the tournament, and Nolan Belcher allowed only one run and struck out six over his solid 6 1/3 outing against St. Louis.
The Tar Heel staff will have to fight fatigue after throwing 39 innings in four days in the regional round. During their 13-inning epic with Florida Atlantic on Monday, head coach Mike Fox made the controversial decision to insert ace Kent Emmanuel in relief just two days after he threw 124 pitches over seven innings against Towson. It didn't work well: Emmanuel gave up five runs on two homers, including a grand slam to give FAU a two-run lead in the top of the ninth, and threw an additional 51 pitches. Key reliever Chris McCue also made two 40+ pitch appearances over the weekend.
If the Gamecocks can force a Game 3, the winded North Carolina pitching staff will be facing at least its 63rd inning in the past ten days. Even without the fatigue factor, South Carolina just seems to get hot this time of year. They may not have the talent level of previous three years, but they find a way to get back to Omaha.