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June 6, 2007

Chapel Hill: Who has the edge?

After the many miles traveled by some teams last week, the Road to Omaha either continues or comes to abrupt halt for 16 teams this weekend.

With the Super Regionals around the corner, we take an in-depth look at how each team stacks up against the other.

We bring the Rivals.com Super Regional Edge.

RIVALS.COM ALL-AMERICA TEAMS: First and second team | National Player and Pitcher of the Year
WHO HAS THE EDGE? Corvallis | Fullerton | Houston | Louisville | Starkville | Tempe | Wichita

Chapel Hill Super Regional: Who has the edge?
Pitching

South Carolina has the ability to string together solid starts on the weekend, but consistency is the key with the Tar Heels. North Carolina has one of nation's top pitchers with veteran right-hander Robert Woodard. Talented freshman Alex White has also performed at a high level in the weekend rotation, while sophomore Luke Putkonen has lacked consistency but has the ability to put together a great start. While the weekend rotation is talented, the most impressive part of the pitching staff is the bullpen, which consists of Rivals.com All-American closer Andrew Carignan and fellows relievers Matt Danford and Rob Wooten. UNC has no problem going to the bullpen early.
Hitting

If you look strictly at team batting average, North Carolina has the edge in this series. But I'm a guy that looks a little deeper than that. While the Tar Heels have a very impressive lineup, South Carolina is a team that is nasty at the plate if they get hot. The Gamecocks are hitting .302 as a team and have third baseman James Darnell leading the charge. Darnell is hitting .335 with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs. Phil Disher, Travis Jones and Justin Smoak each have batting averages over .300 with double-digit home run totals. Smoak leads the team with 21 homers. From top to bottom, the Gamecocks have one of the most feared lineups in college baseball. They're definite free swingers.
Fielding

Easily the toughest category to decide on as both teams field at an impressive clip. South Carolina enters the weekend with a .975 fielding percentage, while North Carolina enters the weekend with a .974 fielding percentage. Breaking these two teams down, it's hard to find many differences. But in the infield, the Gamecocks are much better as a whole. Sophomore Justin Smoak is more known for his offensive prowess, but the second-year player is an outstanding fielder. Travis Jones has done an impressive job at second base, while shortstop Reese Havens enters the weekend with a .959 fielding percentage. Third baseman James Darnell is a negative, but they're in great shape.
Intangibles

Outside of the Lone Star Showdown between Rice and Texas A&M, this is the most intriguing Super Regional for several reasons. Not only is this series the Battle of the Carolinas, it also pits one of the nation's top pitching staffs against one of the nation's top offensive lineups. After reaching the College World Series last season, the Tar Heels should enter the series loose. They should also know what to expect when it comes to pressure situations. South Carolina can't say the same thing. Overall, I give the coaching edge to South Carolina's Ray Tanner, but individual experience and the home field will play its part this weekend. Give me the Tar Heels, 2-1.