The Tar Heels are a national seed for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
“We’re ecstatic about being the No. 1 overall seed,” senior centerfielder Chaz Frank told reporters following the NCAA Selection Show on Monday. “I think it’s well deserved. This team played its heart out all year long. We’re a very balanced club and came out and played very well all season long. We didn’t lose two games back-to-back all season.”
North Carolina finished the season with a 52-8 mark and won its first ACC Tournament Championship since 2007 with a 4-1 victory over Virginia Tech on Sunday. Despite the impressive run to date, North Carolina’s season will ultimately be defined by how it performs over the next month.
“What we’ve done and accomplished has already happened,” freshman outfielder Skye Bolt said. “It’s all great, but we’ve got to focus here on the next 2-3 weeks that are ahead of us. It’s a clean slate for all teams. We’ve got 10 wins left to the road and each one of them, in its own individual way, is a championship game that we’ve got to play our best ball in.”
UNC will open NCAA Tournament play against regional No. 4 seed Canisius (41-15) on Friday at 6pm. No. 2 seed Florida Atlantic (39-20) will face No. 3 seed Towson (29-28) earlier in the day at 1pm. UNC is a combined 29-2 all-time against its three weekend counterparts.
North Carolina is 25-8 against RPI Top-50 opponents this season, while Friday’s opponent hasn’t played any Top-50 competition and is 0-2 against Top-100 teams. Florida Atlantic is 26th in the RPI with a 9-11 mark against Top-50 opponents. Towson is considered a weak 3-seed due to its low RPI (90th; 7-5 vs. Top-50) and strength of schedule (93rd).
The Tar Heels are 17-2 at home in regional play since 2006. Those two losses, however, occurred last season as St. John’s shocked the sixth-seeded Tar Heels at Boshamer Stadium. Danny Bethea uncorked a walk-off three-run homer over the left field wall to stun UNC in the winner’s bracket game before the Red Storm clinched the regional 24 hours with a 9-5 victory over the Tar Heels.
That regional loss has served as motivation for this season’s postseason run.
It’s going to keep us more grounded,” junior pitcher Kent Emanuel said. “I think it’s going to help us out. It’s going to keep us from looking to far ahead and getting ahead of ourselves because if you do that, obviously, it can come back and bite you. I think last year exemplified that.”
UNC head coach Mike Fox referred to last season’s regional as a “bad feeling that never really goes away.”
And while he admits the No. 1 overall seed brings more pressure, his coaching staff plans to stay true to an approach that’s worked incredibly well over the last eight years – by keeping preparation just as normal as possible.
“It is different when you get to this part of the season,” Fox said. “It is different. You’ve got to ratchet things up a little bit, but we’re so battle-tested this season, not just with the [ACC] Tournament, but on the road in our league, I don’t think we’re going to face anything that we haven’t faced before. But anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament; anything can happen in this game.”
North Carolina is considered a frontrunner for the 2013 national championship, along with No. 2 seed Vanderbilt and No. 4 seed LSU. The Tigers defeated the Commodores, 5-4, to win the SEC Championship on Sunday and celebrated with a dogpile.
When asked about UNC’s decision not to dogpile after winning the ACC Tournament title, Frank replied: “We’re saving that one.”
The Chapel Hill Regional is paired with the Columbia, S.C. Regional. The winner of that Super Regional matchup will punch its ticket to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
2013 NCAA Chapel Hill Regional Schedule
Friday, May 31
Game 1: #2 Florida Atlantic (39-20) vs. #3 Towson (29-28), 1 p.m.
Game 2: #1 North Carolina (52-8) vs. #4 Canisius (41-15), 6 p.m.
Saturday, June 1
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6 p.m.
Sunday, June 2
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 6 p.m.
Monday, June 3
Game 7: 6 p.m. - If necessary