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Analyzing Tennessee And North Carolina’s Pitching Situation Ahead Of College World Series Matchup

Photo By Ian Cox/ Tennessee Athletics

OMAHA, Neb. — Tennessee baseball won its College World Series opening game for just the second time ever on Friday night, using a ninth inning rally to defeat Florida State 12-11. The Vols are looking to stay in the winner’s bracket when they face North Carolina on Sunday night at Charles Schwab Field.

Like Tennessee, the Tar Heels advanced to the winner’s bracket thanks to a ninth inning walk off single. But that’s where the similarities in the two games stop, the Tar Heels won 3-2 and used just three pitchers in the game. In comparison, the Vols used six different pitchers to get past Florida State.

So what does each team’s pitching staff look like entering the matchup?

Tennessee hasn’t announced its starting pitcher but it would be a major shock if it wasn’t Drew Beam. After three straight shaky starts, the Vols need a longer outing from Beam due to how heavily they taxed their bullpen against the Seminoles.

Beam enters his second career College World Series start with an 8-2 record and 4.44 ERA on the season. But the right-handed pitcher has struggled so far in the postseason. In his last three starts, Beam has allowed 14 earned runs in 13 innings pitched (9.69 ERA).

The odd part about Beam’s struggles over his last three starts is that he’s mostly cruised into the middle innings. But that’s where things have imploded on him. Beam allowed five runs in the fifth inning against Mississippi State, four runs in the third and fourth inning against Indiana and three in the fourth inning against Evansville.

Who is available for Tennessee behind Beam? Aaron Combs (60 pitches in 3.1 innings) is probably the only Vol that is completely unavailable after pitching against Florida State.

More From RTI: Everything To Know About North Carolina Baseball

The Vols’ two other top relievers, AJ Causey (43 pitches in 1.2 inning) and Nate Snead (39 pitches in 2.1 innings), are likely both available though they may not be able to pitch extensively after longer outings against the Seminoles.

LHP Kirby Connell feels like a near lock to pitch after throwing 17 pitches in one inning against Florida State. Lefty specialist Andrew Behnke threw just seven pitchers against two batters and will be available. Chris Stamos could also pitch after throwing just eight pitches as Tennessee’s opener on Friday.

Ideally, Tennessee’s pitching against North Carolina is Beam, Connell and one of Causey or Snead. But if Beam struggles, they’ll have to use more arms.

How about North Carolina’s pitching? Like Tennessee, the Tar Heels have not announced their starting pitcher but it will almost certainly be left-handed pitcher Shea Sprague.

The Elon transfer enters the College World Series with a 3-1 record, 4.00 ERA and 1.22 WHIP on the season. It’s been less severe than Beam, but Sprague has also struggled over the last month. In his last five starts, Sprague’s allowed 14 earned runs in 24 innings pitched (5.25 ERA).

Behind Sprague, North Carolina’s whole bullpen is available. Matt Poston threw 23 pitches in 1.2 innings pitched and top reliever Dalton Pence threw just 29 pitches in a perfect 3.1 innings of relief. Both should be available for the Tar Heels, as will the rest of their bullpen, against Tennessee.

First pitch between Tennessee and North Carolina at Charles Schwab Field is at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday night. ESPN2 is broadcasting the game.

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