Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Local connections to College World Series


By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

There will be Alamance County baseball angles for several participants in uniform at the College World Series.

That includes a pair of pitchers who used to be teammates and now are on opposing teams.

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Plus, there’s Williams graduate Brandon Riley, who’s a first-year graduate assistant for North Carolina. He’s the first-base coach for the Tar Heels.

Brandon Riley

Riley, then an outfielder, was one of the top players for the Tar Heels when they last reached the CWS in 2018. He went on to play professionally in the St. Louis Cardinals organization before spending three summers from 2021-23 with the Missoula Paddleheads of the independent Pioneer League.

His playing career wound down in 2022 before he returned to the Montana team in a coaching capacity last year (following time assisting with The Burlington School’s team earlier in the spring).

Then it was back to his alma mater, where he has taken a coaching role this season. North Carolina is in the CWS for the eighth time in a 19-year stretch (or 18 seasons because the CWS was cancelled in 2020).

The Tar Heels (47-14) open the CWS at 2:00 p.m. Friday against Virginia (46-15), which has qualified for the CWS for the seventh time since 2009.

Among the North Carolina players is pitcher Shea Sprague, who was the starter in Friday night’s super regional opener against West Virginia. He’s a junior left-hander who transferred from Elon, where he was Co-Rookie of the Year in the Coastal Athletic Association in 2022 and an All-CAA first team selection in 2022 and 2023.

Shea Sprague

This year, Sprague has made the second-most starts on the North Carolina staff with 14. He holds a 3-1 record.

Also with the Tar Heels is backup catcher Parker Haskin, who’s a graduate transfer after three seasons with Elon. He was on the 2023 CAA all-tournament team.

Parker Haskin

Virginia pitcher Joe Savino is also a transfer from Elon. He was the starting pitcher and winner when the Cavaliers began NCAA regional play by defeating Pennsylvania.

Savino pitched for Elon from 2021-23 before heading to Virginia as a graduate transfer. He struck out 73 batters in 53 2/3 innings of relief last year with the Phoenix.

North Carolina hitting coach Jesse Wierzbicki, a former player for the Tar Heels, spent the 2016 season on Elon’s coaching staff before joining his alma mater’s staff the following season.

There’s also a limited Alamance County connection for North Carolina coach Scott Forbes. About 30 years ago, he worked briefly at TJ Sports in Holly Hill Mall in Burlington. His future wife, Mandy Passwaters, was an Elon student.

Florida State and Tennessee join North Carolina and Virginia as part of the double-elimination bracket. The other bracket consists of North Carolina State, Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M. N.C. State (38-21), which is in the CWS for the third time since 2013, opens play at 2:00 p.m. Saturday vs. Kentucky (45-14).

The winners of each bracket meet in the best-of-3 championship series June 22-24.


NCAA Division II World Series

A former pitcher with the Burlington Indians was the head coach of a team that made a bid for the national championship last week at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary.

Steve Kline coached Indiana University of Pennsylvania. That team was one of three teams remaining in the eight-team field, but it failed to make the title game. University of Tampa was the winner in the title game Saturday.

Kline began his professional playing career with the Burlington team in 1993. He later played parts of 11 seasons in the major leagues.

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