Host: No. 12 East Carolina
Match-ups: No. 1 East Carolina vs. No. 4 UNC Wilmington (Friday, 7 pm EST), No. 2 South Carolina vs. No. 3 Ohio State (Friday, 2 pm EST)
East Carolina vs. UNC Wilmington
East Carolina, finishing with a 43-16 overall record, comes into the tournament fresh off of their AAC conference win. Led by Spencer Brickhouse, (who won the AAC tournament MVP after collecting two hits and an RBI in the final game) the Pirates knocked off the UConn Huskies to claim their second ever AAC title championship. ECU finished at #12 in the final ranking of the year, wrapping up the regular season second in the AAC. ECU has hosted a region final three times in the school’s history, winning on all three occasions.
UNC Wilmington enters the tournament with a 37-21 overall record, winning 14 conference games in the Colonial Athletic Association. They finished the regular season hot, winning 7 of their final 9 games. They eventually rode that streak all the way to the CAA championship, where they defeated Northeastern by a score of 7-4. The Seahawks offensive attack was led by shortstop Greg Jones, who posted a 3-5 line in the final game, with a lead off HR and 3 RBI’s to edge the Seahawks into their fifth CAA championship. UNC Wilmington will look to rely on their excellent bullpen. They have great depth with 10 guys holding a sub-3.50 ERA.
It should also be noted that ECU won both of their head-to-head matchups against UNC Wilmington in the regular season.
East Carolina will turn to their ace, junior Chris Holba. Holba posted a 9-1 record this year along with a 2.35 ERA, both of those marks leading the Seahawks. The Pirates only lost two of Holba’s starts this year, but Holba has cooled down after a dominant start to the year. Holba did not give up more than 2 runs all year. In his first three starts, Holba tossed three shutouts and posted 8 Ks in each of those starts. However, in his final four starts, he gave up a combined 14 runs, resulting in two team losses.
The Pirates will likely go up against UNC Wilmington righty Alex Royalty, who won the CAA Pitcher of the year back in 2017. Royalty went at least 5 innings in every start, with his final outing of the year a complete game, 5 K 2 run win over Northeastern.
Players to Watch:
Bryant Packard, East Carolina LF: 14 HRs, 50 RBIs, .403 AVG, 15 2Bs, AAC Player of the Year
Ryan Jeffers, UNC Wilmington C: .320 AVG, 16 HR, 54 RBI
South Carolina vs. Ohio State
South Carolina comes into the tournament after a disappointing run in the SEC tournament. They finished the regular season on a roll with five straight SEC series wins, but the Gamecocks fell to No. 8 Arkansas in the second round and eventually were eliminated from the loser’s bracket by LSU. The Gamecocks relied on the long ball all year. The team combined for 70 HRs, good for 14th in the country. Three players reached double digit homers in the regular season. The offensive power was led all season by DH Madison Stokes; he posted a team high 40 RBIs while hitting .342 for USC. A powerful lineup bodes well for their matchup with OSU, as their starting pitching struggled to keep runs off the board throughout the season.
Ohio State wrapped up their season in the Big Ten tourney by falling to Purdue in the first round. However, the two wins they picked up in the loser’s bracket went a long way towards their bid into the tourney. Defeating Iowa and No. 3 Michigan added important wins to an already tough regular season schedule. Ohio State faced the 35th toughest schedule in the nation and were still able to win 14 conference games and 36 games overall. This is the second time in three years that the Buckeyes have made the tournament, the first time they have accomplished that feat since the 2007 and 2009 seasons.
Adam Hill will be on the mound in game one for the Gamecocks. Hill struggled to maintain a low ERA, ending the season with a 4.08 ERA in 14 starts. But, he managed to be a reliable starter for first year manager Mark Kingston. He held opponents’ average to a lowly .188, which ranked second in the SEC. Hill, a junior, also recorded a career high 92 strikeouts on the year while winning 7 games for USC.
Ohio State’s starter will be ace Connor Curlis. Curlis, a lefty junior, started in 15 games. He posted a 3.81 ERA along with 73 strikeouts. Curlis started off the season with an impressive 5-1 start on the year. He struggled down the stretch, losing 3 of his last 5 appearances during the regular season. Curlis will have to show glimpses of what he did early in the year if he hopes to silence these powerful Gamecock bats.
Players to Watch
Madison Stokes, South Carolina DH: .342 AVG, 10 HR, 40 RBI
Seth Kinker, Ohio State CP: 1.49 ERA, 15 saves in 28 appearances, 59 Ks, .225 opponent batting average