Chapel Hill Super Regional: West Virginia example

The Diamond Heels are back in the NCAA Super Regionals with a trip to the College World Series on the line for the 11th time since the format change in 1999. Standing in their way are West Virginia, winners of the Tucson Regional last weekend. The Mountaineers pulled off a dominant underdog sweep of their regional bracket consisting of No. 13 Arizona, Dallas Baptist and Grand Canyon. They will once again travel to Chapel Hill as underdogs, with the opportunity to go to Omaha for the first time in program history.

West Virginia (36-22, 19-11) finished fourth in their conference and had questions about securing an NCAA Tournament bid after going two-and-out in the Big 12 Tournament. That’s a thing of the past, though, as the Mountaineers are playing their best baseball of 2024 and are as confident as anyone.

The Tar Heels should be prepared Friday night for ace Derek Clark (8-2, 2.82 ERA), who won Most Outstanding Player in the Tucson Regional. Tyler Switalski (5-2, 5.34 ERA) is the expected Saturday night starter for the Mountaineers, who pitched in game two last weekend. The potential starter on Sunday could be Aidan Major or Hayden Cooper, both of whom saw plenty of action against Grand Canyon in the championship.

Both projected Mountaineer arms are left-handed, which will interestingly tie in with North Carolina, which saw mostly right-handers in the Chapel Hill Regional. Aside from the strong upside, nothing jumps off the page when it comes to West Virginia’s pitching staff as a whole. They post a 4.93 ERA as a team and are ranked 52nd nationally. Twelve different arms are in double digits and the bullpen looks stable, but not overwhelming. The Tar Heels will find easy success by getting Mountaineer starters out early and forcing them to run through relief options.

On the offensive side, get to know JJ Wethorholt if you aren’t already. The junior infielder, who was projected to be an overall top-10 pick in the MLB Draft, is the heartbeat behind this late-season surge in West Virginia. Wethorholt struggled with injuries all year and only played in 34 games this season, but hit .345 with 8 HRs during that span. Some scouts are calling him the best amateur hitter they’ve ever seen, and he’ll likely be at the top spot for the Tucson regional champions.

Collectively, it’s a group that is hitting just .273 as a team and is ranked 181st nationally. They don’t typically dominate with home runs or get active on the base paths, so the Tar Heels have a pretty straight matchup where they outscore their opponent. Don’t let that fool you, though, as West Virginia picked up three team wins last weekend, with less featured players showing up and the pitchers keeping the games close. Catcher Logan Sauve caught fire last weekend, going 6 for 13 with six RBIs, and was named to the all-region team. He might be a name to watch out for. It’s an annoying group that can be overlooked on paper, but doesn’t necessarily dominate North Carolina in many ways.

The Tar Heels will once again be the favored and popular choice moving forward, but relying on late-game heroics for the second straight weekend probably won’t get the job done with the stakes so high and two teams playing really good baseball.

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