CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina always looks right at home in the NCAA regionals.
The Tar Heels have won 15 straight games as a regional host dating back to 2006. They’re hosting games during the tournament’s opening weekend for the sixth time in seven seasons, this time starting as the No. 6 national seed against Cornell today.
“It’s definitely nice being able to sleep in your own bed and be able to do your own routine at home,” senior catcher Jacob Stallings said. “It’s definitely nice just to keep a sense of normalcy, to get in the same routine every day. We enjoy playing at home, we know our field well and obviously we’ve earned the right to play here.”
The Tar Heels (44-14) are 16-2 as an NCAA regional host. North Carolina hasn’t lost an NCAA game as a regional host since 1983, though the Tar Heels didn’t host a regional again until 2006.
The Tar Heels, the top seed in the four-team regional, have reached the College World Series the past five times they hosted regional games.
“We’ve just played well,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “It’s really just that simple. I don’t know if there’s any trick to it, I really don’t. It’s hey, we need to play well and pitch well. We’ve done that in the past here, but I don’t know if that’s going to carry over to (the weekend). It’s a new regional and a new year. You’ve got to do it again, hopefully.”
In today’s other game, second-seeded East Carolina (35-22-1) will meet third-seeded St. John’s (37-21). Fourth-seeded Cornell (31-15-1) is making its first appearance in the NCAA regionals since 1977.
East Carolina senior catcher Zach Wright and the Pirates have gotten an up-close look at the Tar Heels’ success in recent years.
Wright was a freshman on the team that lost two straight here in the 2009 super regionals by a combined score of 19-4. The teams have played a home-and-home series twice during Wright’s career and were scheduled to do it again this year before inclement weather wiped out the May 9 game in Greenville, located about 110 miles east of Chapel Hill.
Wright said North Carolina’s success has been mostly due to how they “seem to do all the little things right and they seem to do it at the right time.”
“I think home field advantage has a little bit to do with it,” Wright said, “but I don’t think it has as much to do with it as you think because good teams are going to come out and play good no matter where they’re at.”
Still, UNC junior center fielder Chaz Frank knows being at Boshamer makes a difference. During his freshman year, the Tar Heels traveled to Oklahoma to start the NCAA tournament and fell in that regional. It marked the only time North Carolina hasn’t made it to Omaha since Fox’s first trip there in 2006.
“It’s a different environment down there than it is here and their fans did play a factor in those games,” Frank said of being on the road for a regional. “You could definitely tell we were away. We just have such a good comfort level here at home.”
Both East Carolina and St. John’s played against UNC here earlier this season, so they’ll have at least some familiarity with the stadium, too. The Tar Heels beat the Red Storm 8-4 on Feb. 28, then beat the Pirates 1-0 in 10 innings on April 25.
While St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer is glad his team is familiar with the setting, he also knows the instate Pirates have been here far more often and will likely have the largest group of fans not wearing Carolina blue.
Oddly enough, the St. John’s-East Carolina matchup will mark the second straight year the teams have met in the tournament. The teams split two games in the Charlottesville Regional last season.
“They play Carolina on a regular basis too, home and away,” Blankmeyer said. “They’ve been in this ballpark. I guess it’s a second home, if you want to call it that in a regional situation. ... These guys are good. But knowing them and knowing how they play, it’s a little more comforting.”