FROM THE BOOTH
By Kyle Peterson, ESPN.com | Kyle Peterson Archive
North Carolina knocked out Rice 7-4 on Thursday, setting up a rematch of the 2006 College World Series finals with Oregon State. The teams might be the same, but the ballgames promise to look quite a bit different.
Last season, the Tar Heels entered the best-of-three championship series with a rested pitching staff and a clear advantage. After battling through the losers' bracket, the 2007 Tar Heels have no such luxury. Instead, Oregon State will benefit from a barely-taxed lineup that has gained a ton of confidence from running through this year's College World Series undefeated.
However, if Oregon State proved one thing last year, it's that you don't need well-rested arms to win it all.
So, what can we expect from Heels-Beavers Part II?
To start, we'll see two teams who are very evenly matched. Both squads lost a lot of the guys who got them to Omaha last year, but new stars have taken their places. Freshman Alex White will take the mound for North Carolina on Saturday. The rookie ace was batted around a bit in his first start in Omaha, but his nerves should be a bit calmer this weekend. He has really wonderful stuff, but tends to pitch around the bat when he's rattled. If he stays aggressive, he could stump Beaver batters.
The key for North Carolina will be getting through Game 1 with its pitching staff intact. While the Tar Heels obviously want to win, the most important thing will be to not tax the bullpen too much. If Rob Wooten and Andrew Carignan are forced to throw a few innings on Saturday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET), it could spell trouble for UNC in Games 2 and 3.
While North Carolina wasn't in its regular-season form during the first two games in Omaha, its four home-run effort on Thursday wasn't exactly par for the course, either. Their true hitting style is somewhere between those two extremes. But if they continue to focus on their power game, they have the talent to keep launching long balls.
Two players to watch are freshman first baseman Dustin Ackley and third baseman Chad Flack. After making a small mechanical adjustment in his swing prior to Wednesday's game, Ackley has returned to his slugging self. I think he'll stay hot now that he has found his swing. Flack hasn't done much in Omaha, but he has an uncanny knack for coming up big when the Heels need him most. He was huge during the CWS in '06 and was clutch in this year's super regional round. It's just a matter of time before he gets UNC out of another jam.
For the Beavers, the key to winning is simple: Keep doing what they're doing. They're having a great time right now because everything they're doing is right. It sounds simplistic, but it's clearly been working for Oregon State.
The best part of seeing a rematch of 2006? Both teams have been here before, so they'll come out loose. And that means the winner of this series will be the team that plays the best baseball. That's great for everyone.
Kyle Peterson was a three-time All-American at Stanford and is a college baseball analyst for ESPN.
Thursday's Stats of the Day from ESPN Research
2 The rematch of North Carolina and Oregon State in the College World Series finals is just the second time this has happened in the history of the CWS. In 1972 and 1973, Arizona State and USC battled in consecutive years for the championship. The Trojans took home the trophy both times. Oregon State beat UNC last year in three games.
4North Carolina improved to 43-2 this season when allowing four runs or fewer. Rice is now 52-4 this season when scoring four runs or more.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Rice's consecutive losses to North Carolina marked just the second time in College World Series history that a team has started 2-0 and lost its next two games in consecutive years. The only other team to finish this way was Arizona State in 1975 and '76.
Rice -- Last two years at CWS in bracket-clinching games
vs North Carolina Lost 7-4
vs North Carolina Lost 6-1
vs Oregon State Lost 2-0
vs Oregon State Lost 5-0
Rice -- Last two years at CWS
Bracket-establishing games: 4-0 record; 9.5 runs per game
Bracket-clinching games: 0-3 record; 0.3 runs per game