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Preview: Looking ahead to Diamond Heels schedule in College World Series bracket

The UNC baseball team stands for the national anthem before the NCAA super regional baseball game against West Virginia at Boshamer Stadium on Saturday, June 8, 2024. UNC won 2-1.

Redshirt sophomore left-handed pitcher Dalton Pence barely beat the runner to first base. 

He threw his hands up, immediately turned around and joined the dogpile forming near the mound. The Tar Heels had done it for the first time in six years. A trip to Omaha had been secured.  

But for head coach Scott Forbes and the Diamond Heels, getting to the Men’s College World Series is just the first step in their ultimate goal.

“We want to do our job to help them win a national championship,” Forbes said. “But we also want them to experience what they should experience by getting there.”

With a Chapel Hill Super Regional victory last weekend, UNC will make the 1,206 mile trip to Omaha, Neb. to begin the journey for its first CWS championship. The Tar Heels will take on No. 12 Virginia in the first round of the double elimination tournament on Friday at 2 p.m. EST.

Here are a look at the teams that UNC could face on its side of the bracket:

No. 12 Virginia

The Cavaliers punched their ticket to Omaha by beating Kansas State in the Charlottesville Super Regional. UVA has yet to lose a game in the NCAA tournament, going 5-0 since the start of regional play.

In round four of the South's Oldest Rivalry, Virginia comes in with the upper hand. The teams played a series in Charlottesville in early April with the Hoos taking two out of three. 

Reflecting on that series, first-year pitcher Boston Flannery could only recall one thing: the losses.

“It's not something I want to do again,” Flannery said. “So we want to get out there and pretty much just do what we know that we're capable of.”

The Cavaliers were led by first-year first baseman Henry Ford when they faced UNC, who combined for six hits and six RBIs in the series. 

With the pitching staff getting “a lot better” according to first-year catcher Luke Stevenson since that series, the Tar Heels will hope to contain the top-scoring offense in the ACC.

No. 8 Florida State

Florida State enters Omaha as the conference tournament runner-up and one of the three ACC teams on this side of the bracket. The Seminoles have also not lost a game in NCAA tournament play, taking 12 innings to defeat UConn in game two of the Tallahassee Super Regional before clinching their spot in the CWS.

Florida State is also a top-three scoring offense in the ACC, ranking second behind the Cavaliers. FSU has scored double-digit runs in three of its last five games, tallying a total of 58 runs in the entirety of the NCAA tournament.

Like Stevenson, Flannery thinks UNC’s pitching staff is up to the task.

“There've been a bunch of guys that have stepped up, especially out of the bullpen, and guys that maybe weren't starters that had become starters and have really taken their baby steps into bigger steps,” Flannery said.

In a potential matchup against the Seminoles, the Tar Heels will need to look out for junior right fielder James Tibbs III, who won ACC Player of the Year honors after hitting .374 with 28 home runs and 94 RBIs. In the final game against the Huskies, Tibbs went 5-6 from the plate and drove in six runs.

With his production all year, he will likely be one of the best players to make the trip to Omaha this season.

No. 1 Tennessee

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The Tar Heels could potentially meet up with the best team in the country in the CWS. Tennessee ran through arguably the best conference in college baseball in the SEC, earning both the regular season and tournament conference championships.

The Volunteers proved fallible in the Knoxville Super Regional, dropping game two to Evansville before winning game three in dominant fashion. With the loss, Tennessee became the first No. 1 national seed to ever lose to a regional four seed. 

As the stakes get higher in Omaha and the opponents only get tougher, the Tar Heels feel prepared for the moment.

“We had a hitter’s meeting the other day and it just talked about really getting into a good routine in the box and slowing ourselves down,” Stevenson said.

Tennessee is the number one team in the country for a reason, ranking first in both scoring and pitching in the conference. Its pitching staff is headed by Friday starter Drew Beam who sports a 4.44 ERA through 93.1 innings pitched. Junior designated hitter Christian Moore is a powerful bat who leads the lineup with 32 home runs and 71 RBIs.

UNC will most likely need to beat Tennessee if it hopes to advance to the national championship game.


@dthsports |