CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — South Carolina was going to have to face North Carolina left-hander Kent Emanuel at some point in this weekend’s best-of-three super regional.
Game 1: Today, noon, ESPN
LHP Nolan Belcher (7-5, 2.25 ERA) vs. LHP Kent Emanuel (11-3, 2.70)
Game 2: Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN
LHP Jordan Montgomery (5-1, 1.67) vs. LHP Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 2.09)
Game 3: Monday, Time and TV coverage TBD
LHP Jack Wynkoop (7-3, 2.92) vs. RHP Benton Moss (8-1, 3.78)
But now, the Gamecocks will see the elite professional prospect in Game 1 of the super regional rather than Game 2.
That’s because Friday’s 1 p.m. game was moved to Saturday at noon due to rain, which bumped all the super regional games back one day. Game 2 will now be Sunday at 1 p.m. Game 1 and Game 2 will be on ESPN.
If Game 3 is needed, it will be Monday. The Game 3 time and television details have yet to be determined.
North Carolina will be the home team in Game 1. South Carolina will get those honors in Game 2. The Game 3 home team would be determined by a coin flip.
USC will not change its pitching rotation of senior Nolan Belcher, sophomore Jordan Montgomery and freshman Jack Wynkoop — all left-handers. They will oppose a North Carolina lineup that hits .310, but is likely to have six lefty hitters, because lefty Parks Jordan is in and righty Matt Roberts is out with a broken thumb.
“They’ve done very well against lefties, but some lefties have given them some tough times, too,” said USC coach Chad Holbrook “That doesn’t guarantee us anything. They’ve got some kids that are hitting well over .300 versus lefties. Their lineup is a scary, scary lineup.”
It is led by lefty-hitting third baseman Colin Moran, the sixth pick Thursday night in the major league baseball draft by the Miami Marlins.
“He’s going to be a major league all-star,” Holbrook said. “Our pitchers are going to have to pitch like they haven’t pitched this year. I told our guys, offensively, we’re not winning 2-1. I doubt that happens. We’re going to have to try to find a way to win 5-4 because their offense is too good. A lot of their hitters who have put up crazy numbers happen to be left-handed. Hopefully that helps us some.”
North Carolina coach Mike Fox will tweak his starting rotation, as he planned to. On Thursday, Fox said Emanuel, a junior, would pitch Saturday, regardless of how weather impacted Friday’s game. Fox’s original Game 1 starter was junior lefty Hobbs Johnson, with sophomore righty Benton Moss going in Game 3. Fox will now start Johnson in Game 2 and Moss in Game 3.
Baseball America rates Emanuel the No. 61 prospect available in this year’s draft. He has a 2.70 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 27 walks in 120 innings and is 11-3 in 17 appearances (15 starts). In Monday’s winner-take-all regional final against Florida Atlantic, which North Carolina won 12-11 in 13 innings, Emanuel had to come back and throw 51 pitches after throwing 124 on Saturday. Now, the Tar Heels get to send him to the mound with a chance to take a 1-0 series lead on USC.
Holbrook likes to use his normal lead-off hitter, righty Graham Saiko, against lefty pitchers. But Saiko struggles against righty arms, so in those situations, Holbrook has had to turn to lefty batter Max Schrock, who is not a natural lead-off hitter. Holbrook said Saiko will lead off in the first two games and maybe the third game, if it happens.
Holbrook, a first-year head coach, is aiming for his seventh College World Series trip in eight years. He went as a North Carolina assistant from 2006-08 and as a USC assistant from 2010-12, with runner-up finishes in 2006, 2007 and 2012, and national titles in 2010 and 2011.
Belcher debuted at USC in 2009, the same year as Holbrook. Belcher has had a strong final season — 2.25 ERA, 94 strikeouts and 15 walks. He emerged as USC’s Friday starter after Montgomery missed four starts from early March to early April because of an elbow injury.
Before this season, Belcher had pitched in the NCAA tournament just twice. He started in the 2009 regional at East Carolina and threw 2/3 of an inning in relief last year in the College World Series finals against Arizona. Belcher acquitted himself well in this year’s regional opener against Saint Louis — 61/3 innings, four hits, one run, zero walks and six strikeouts.
Friday brought more waiting for Belcher’s super regional debut, and for the first USC-North Carolina game since the 2007 Chapel Hill Super Regional, which the Tar Heels won. The teams have combined to play in 10 of the past 11 College World Series, with both going in 2011. This is perhaps the most anticipated super regional in this tournament, but Holbrook isn’t worried about Belcher waiting longer for it to begin, since he’s a 24-year-old fifth-year senior.
“It’s very comforting,” Holbrook said. “He’s an older guy. He’s mature. It’s no big deal with him whatsoever. It doesn’t affect him at all. That’s the least of my concerns.”