A year ago, North Carolina was the center of the college baseball world.
The state’s two flagship state schools, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, were at or near the top of the national rankings. UNC finished the regular season with a mere eight losses, and the Tar Heels had only been defeated four times before the month of May. The Wolfpack of N.C. State lost only three games between April 1 and May 25, when they fell to UNC 2-1 in 18 innings at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in front of a crowd of more than 11,000 fans.
Both teams won thrilling Super Regionals in their home ballparks and advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The two squads met again in Omaha, with N.C. State getting revenge thanks to an 8-1 pounding of the Tar Heels. Although neither team won the national championship, many experts had picked the pair to be at the top again in 2014.
But those expectations have not been met.
N.C. State is 19-12 and a mere 5-10 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. UNC is not much better — 19-13 and 7-8 in the ACC. Both teams have embarrassing weekend sweeps on their resumes. The Wolfpack dropped three in a row in a series at traditional ACC doormat University of Maryland March 21-23, part of a stretch in which N.C. State lost 10 straight ACC games. In fact, three of N.C. State’s five ACC wins came in a sweep of the University of Notre Dame on the first weekend of ACC play.
The Tar Heels were swept by Duke University March 28-30 in Durham, marking the second straight week in which UNC had lost a series. Out of conference, an area where the Tar Heels were nearly invincible last year, UNC lost a season-opening series against College of Charleston. Home losses to West Virginia University and Winthrop University followed.
In the most recent National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association poll, N.C. State sits 25th, while UNC is 29th. In the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, neither team is ranked, with UNC only receiving a single vote.
For N.C. State, the problem is obvious: Carlos Rodon. The junior pitcher, widely projected as the no. 1 overall park in this June’s Major League Baseball draft, has endured a rocky season. His record is a miserable 2-5, with an ERA of 2.44 and he has walked 18 over 55 and 1/3 innings. Now, his status as no. 1 pick is up in the air. Overall, the Wolfpack has a team ERA of 2.97, and several pitchers are over 4.00.
As for North Carolina, the Tar Heels lost third baseman Colin Moran to the professional ranks after last season. The offense which he brought (a .345 average with 13 home runs) has been missed in Chapel Hill this year, as the Tar Heels are only hitting .270 as a team. Additionally, weekend starters Kent Emmanuel and Hobbs Johnson are gone, and the duo, which carried ERAs of 2.11 and 2.14, respectively, is missed greatly. Two of UNC’s weekend starters, junior Benton Moss and freshman Zac Gallen, carry ERAs over 3.50.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but for now, it looks as if the state of North Carolina will go without representation at the College World Series.