OMAHA, Neb. — It’s been 53 years since the Atlantic Coast Conference won a national championship in baseball. The drought could soon be over.
ACC members Miami, North Carolina and Florida State are among the top four seeds at the College World Series.
The Hurricanes and Tar Heels are Nos. 1 and 2, meaning there could be an all-ACC final when the best-of-three championship round starts June 23.
The tournament opens today with Bracket 1 first-round games between Florida State (54-12) and Stanford (39-22-2) in the afternoon and Miami (52-9) and Georgia (41-23-1) at night
Sunday’s Bracket 2 openers pit Rice (47-13) against Fresno State (42-29) in the afternoon and North Carolina (51-12) against LSU (48-17-1) at night.
There hasn’t been strength in numbers for the ACC. The league has had multiple teams in the CWS seven times — including a record four in 2006. The Tar Heels have made it to the finals the last two years. Oregon State, which didn’t make the 64-team national tournament, beat them both times.
That leaves the 1955 Wake Forest club as the only ACC team to win a national title in baseball. Miami, which has four championships, didn’t join the ACC until 2005.
“It just goes to show you how difficult it is to win a national championship in any sport at any level,” Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “We take pride in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and we’re going to try to do all we can. If our league gets the title out here, then hopefully everybody will stop mentioning that 50-year period.”
Other than surprising Fresno State, the eight-team field is made up of programs that have been well-represented in Omaha over the years.
Four rank in the top 10 for all-time CWS appearances. Miami is here for the 23rd time, second to Texas’ 32 visits to Omaha. Florida State is making its 19th appearance, Stanford its 16th and LSU its 14th.
LSU (5), Miami (4), Stanford (2) and Rice (1) all have won national titles.
“It’s definitely not a light field when you talk about tradition and winning championships,” Georgia coach David Perno said.
Florida State, which leads the nation in wins, comes into the CWS hitting .384 and averaging better than 13 runs in its eight NCAA tournament games. Catcher Buster Posey, the player of the year by Collegiate Baseball, has hit seven of his nation-leading 26 homers in the last eight games. He’s batting a nation-best .460 for the season and leading five other offensive categories.
“As a Little League player you wish you had those kinds of numbers,” Stanford coach Mark Marquess said.
The Seminoles will send left-hander Matt Fairel (12-2) to the mound against lefty Jeremy Bleich (3-2).
Bleich, the Cardinal’s No. 1 pitcher going into the season, was out from late March to mid May with tendinitis in his pitching arm. The Cardinal came into the season picked sixth in the Pac-10, and with Bleich out, expectations fell further for a team that last year failed to reach the national tournament for the first time since 1993.
“As a coach, you always get surprises,” said Marquess, the Cardinal’s 32nd-year head coach. “This team has surprised me more than any other, to be where we are right now.”
Miami will try to become the second team to win the CWS as the No. 1 national seed. The first was the Hurricanes’ 1999 squad.
The ‘Canes feature a school-record three first-round draft picks in first baseman Yonder Alonso (No. 7, by Cincinnati), second baseman Jemile Weeks (12th, Oakland) and pitcher Carlos Gutierrez (27th, Minnesota).
Lefty Chris Hernandez (11-0), the ACC freshman of the year, will start against Georgia’s Trevor Holder (8-4).
The Bulldogs bounced back from last year’s 22-33 campaign to win the Southeastern Conference. They’re led by Gordon Beckham, who has started 191 straight games at shortstop and is tied with Florida State’s Posey with 26 homers.
Nine members of Georgia’s 2006 CWS team are back, including five who played in Omaha.
“They’ve helped get us back to where we want to be,” Perno said.
Rice is in the CWS for the third straight year and fourth time since winning the title in 2003. The Owls have won five straight since losing two in a row in the Conference USA tournament. JP Padron, batting a team-high .362 for the season, leads the Owls at .435 in the national tournament.
Ryan Berry (8-4) will start against Fresno left-hander Justin Wilson (7-5), who gave up nine hits and eight runs, six earned, in 4 1-3 innings of a Game 2 super-regional loss at Arizona State.
The Bulldogs, in the CWS for the first time since 1991, are the first No. 4 regional seed to reach Omaha.
“You aren’t going to see a bunch of guys throwing 90 mph, and you’re not going to see a bunch of web gems out in the field defensively,” coach Mike Batesole said. “Offensively, we just came back from
Tempe, and if you’ve ever seen Arizona State take batting practice, they lose 50 balls a day. We’re still working on our original bucket.”
Fresno is 34-17 since getting off to an 8-12 start. In the past month, the Bulldogs have gone on the road and won the Western Athletic Conference tournament, the Long Beach Regional and Tempe Super Regional.
“We’ve been the underdog every one of those weekends,” Batesole said, “and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
North Carolina’s pitching staff leads the nation with a 2.83 ERA, 640 strikeouts and a .227 opponent batting average. The Tar Heels also have plenty of CWS experience, with Tim Federowicz, Chad Flack, Garrett Gore and Seth Williams having started all 13 of their games in Omaha the past two years.
Alex White (10-3) will start for Carolina. LSU coach Paul Mainieri said no decision had been made on a starter.
The Tigers, at the CWS for the first time since 2004, have won 25 of their past 26 games. This after a 6-11 start in the SEC and a 23-16 overall record in late April.
During the 25-1 stretch, Blake Dean is batting .434 with 12 homers and 11 doubles and Matt Clark .404 with 13 homers and 12 doubles.