Tiger nation is still abuzz with LSU’s resounding 21-7 win over UC Irvine this past weekend in the final weekend series ever at the Box.

The good news for LSU is they will most likely have the services of starting centerfielder Leon Landry in Omaha. Reports from sources close to the team say Landry’s X-rays were negative and assuming swelling goes down, the Tigers’ freshman sensation will be good to go in Omaha.

But there are still games to be played and the Tigers still have seven teams in their way if they want to win the program’s sixth national championship and first since 2000.

The first team will be the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the North Carolina Tar Heels. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 6:00 CDT on Sunday and it will be broadcasted on ESPN2.

The Tar Heels, along with fellow ACC powers Miami (No. 1 seed) and Florida State (No. 8 seed) have juggled around the top spots in the country throughout the season.

North Carolina has posted an impressive 51-12 record that included a 17-4 record away from home.

North Carolina was bounced from the ACC Tournament early after winning just one game, but the Heels beat both the Hurricanes and Seminoles in two out of three regular season games, giving them ACC regular season bragging rights.

The Tar Heels are undefeated in five NCAA Tournament games so far, defeating Mount St. Mary’s and defeating both UNC Wilmington and Coastal Carolina twice.

In those five games, the Heels have been arguably the most dominant of any team in the country, outscoring their three opponents 51-20.

Today we will begin our week-long preview of the Tar Heels, beginning today with their infielders.

First Base:

Dustin Ackley

6’1 182 sophomore LH

.408 7 HR 50 RBI

Ackley is the driving force behind the Heels’ offense, batting leadoff. The North Carolina native leads the Heels with 18 stolen bases and also leads the team with 79 runs. For LSU to control the explosive Heels offense, they must keep Ackley off base.

Catcher:

Tim Federowicz

5’10 213 junior RH

.313 4 HR 42 RBI

And:

Mark Fleury

6’0 202 sophomore LH

.278 3 HR 25 RBI

Both Federowicz and Fleury are regulars in the Tar Heels lineup with whomever isn’t catching typically serving as the DH. Neither player is overly intimidating and they both bat in the middle-bottom of the Tar Heels lineup, usually in the 6th and 7 holes. But while the batting numbers do not scare teams, the two play phenomenal defense behind the plate and manage the team’s pitching staff about as well as a college catcher possibly can without being able to call the pitches themselves.

Second Base:

Kyle Seager

6’1 194 sophomore LH

.355 9 HR 73 RBI

Seager is the Tar Heels’ leading slugger and has driven in a team-high 73 runs on the season. Seager bats out of the five-hole for North Carolina and is a gap-to-gap player leading the team with 27 doubles and also a team-high 5 triples. Seager is one of the Heels best hit-and-run players having only struck out 26 times on the season. When runners are on base, Seager plates them. LSU needs to try to see Seager with as few runners on base as possible.

Third Base:

Chad Flack

6’3 224 senior RH

.275 6 HR 44 RBI

There is no “easy-out” in North Carolina’s lineup, but Flack has the lowest average of all North Carolina starters. Flack leads Tar Heel starters with 47 strikeouts while only drawing 24 walks. But the right-hander does have pop in his bat with 44 RBI and 17 doubles. And once he is on base, he has 13 stolen bases, second on the Heels’ roster.

Shortstop:

Ryan Graepel

6’1 169 sophoore RH

.241 0 HR 7 RBI

Graepel may not be the starter in Sunday’s game, but he has started the past three games for the Heels, so we will assume he will be in the lineup. Graepel has only started 17 games on the season and has struggled at the plate and in the field, hitting just .241 and only having a .927 fielding percentage. When on base, Graepel is a catalyst, however, having 20 hits on the season and having scored 20 runs.

 

 

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The US Open begins tomorrow and it should be a great weekend of golf. I will break down my top five favorite players to win the golf tournament and give 3-4 sleepers tomorrow.

The Favorites:

1. Tiger Woods- For obvious reasons. Forget the knee injury, the last time Tiger recovered from this same injury, he won his first start back and I suspect he can do the same this week if he putts well. The key thing to pay attention to with Tiger is how he handles the small things. Driving and hitting iron shots is like riding a bike, but it will be tough for Tiger to get “US Open touch” on his greenside shots having not played competitive golf in more than 6 weeks.

2. Justin Leonard- Leonard is a US Open-style player in that he is steady in all aspects of his game. He is also and most importantly, white-hot this season with four Top-5s and five Top-10s, including a win this past weekend at the challenging St. Jude Championship. Leonard finished 5th at the Buick Invitational earlier in the year at this same Torrey Pines course.

3. Phil Mickelson- I, personally, do not believe Mickelson will ever win a US Open, because the tournament does not suit his wreckless style, but if ever it was his time, it is this year in his backyard. But despite all the hype about playing on his home course, Mickelson has just an average finish of 30th place in the past 4 Buick Invitationals, so we’ll see if it’s finally time for Phil to break through in the Open.

4. Sergio Garcia- Sergio has been very good this season, winning the biggest tournament of his career a few weeks ago at the Players Championship. In his few rounds at Torrey Pines, the most well-known player in the world without a major has also fared well, placing 8th in the Buick in 2006. Could this finally be the week for Sergio? It all depends on the putter, as usual.

5. Retief Goosen- Goose’s game is always perfectly suited for a US Open, as shown with his win in the 2004 US Open. But Goosen has been less than dominant in his last two US Open’s missing the cut in each and Goose has been less than spectactular this year. But Goosen always shows up with his A-Game on the biggest stages, so I expect him to be a player.

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The Lakers struck back and avoided the dreaded 3-0 hole last night and took down the Celtics 87-81 in the Staples Center.

The best player in the world, Kobe Bryant, was fabulous as you’d expect him to be and scored 36 points on 12-20 shooting.

The Lakers started quickly taking an early 11-2 lead, but a 18-9 run sent the game to the second quarter tied at 20. The Lakers blew a 6-point halftime lead in the third quarter and trailed by 2 going into the fourth quarter, but Bryant controlled the game down the stretch and made two of the most cold-blooded shots you’ll ever see down the stretch on Ray Allen.

The Celtics had a prime chance to steal Game 3, because the Lakers did not receive good efforts from Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol who scored just 13 combined points on 5-18 shooting, but Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were not much better for Boston scoring 19 combined points on 8-35 from the field.

Reserve Sasha Vujacic picked up the slack for the Lake-Show with 20 points, including several key 2nd half baskets.

The Celtics lost Rajon Rondo to an ankle injury in the 2nd half and while Rondo returned to the game in the fourth quarter, he did not look the same while on the floor, so his status will need to be monitored as the series shifts to Game 4 on Thursday.

Gisclair’s Gamer of the Night:

Sasha Vujacic:

20 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist

This is a no-brainer as the Lakers sixth-man was the only player outside of Bryant to score in double figures. If Vujacic scores his average of 8 points on Tuesday, the Celtics are winning the series 3-0 right now.

Gisclair’s Goat of the Night:

Celtics coach Doc Rivers

Doc is last night’s goat for two reasons:

1. Not double-teaming Kobe down the stretch the last 2 possessions. With your team in a chance to steal Game 3 on the road, Rivers just watched the world’s best player take the ball to the heart of his defense and bury the Celtics.

2. Not fouling with the team down 6 and 30+ seconds to play. This was mind-boggling to me. It almost looked like the Celtics did not understand the situation. Either way, it was a bad move.

 

That’s all for me. Tomorrow, more about North Carolina and the first round of the United States Open.

-Casey

 

 

 

 

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