The path to the College World Series for both Vanderbilt and North Carolina was a relative expressway.
Now they are on course for a head-on collision.
Of the eight teams that played their way to Omaha, only three did so without a defeat in either the regional or super regional rounds.
One is Vanderbilt. Another is North Carolina, Vanderbilt’s opponent in Saturday’s tournament opener. South Carolina, which is in the other half of the bracket, was the only other team to do so.
“You can look at the other super regionals and take it for what it’s worth, but we were focused on ours,” VU catcher Curt Casali said. “Not to take anything away from Oregon State because they’re a solid ball club and they had a really good season overall, but I think we just clicked on all cylinders this past weekend. That in addition to it being our first super regional at home, we had a packed house and all the fans were energized and involved.
“That’s tough to beat — we were just clicking.”
The Commodores (52-10) cruised through the best-of-three super regional with two victories over Oregon State by a combined score of 20-4. The closest of the two games was a six-run victory in the clincher.
The Tar Heels (50-14), on the other hand, won their super regional over Stanford by five runs total — three and two, respectively.
“I think anytime you win a game, you get confidence,” pitcher Grayson Garvin said. “Oregon State was a fantastic team, and being able to beat them definitely gives us confidence. Our main goal right now is to turn the page from that [series] and focus our attention on a North Carolina team that is extremely good as well.
“Our focus is to approach them like any other team. Hopefully we can go out and be successful.”
Both teams were equally dominant in the regional round.
North Carolina did not give up a run until its third game and outscored its opponents 27-3 overall. Vanderbilt had one shutout and outscored the opposition 26-3 in its three regional victories, two of them against Belmont.
“It’s a tribute to how well we have been playing and how well our consistency has shown up in the way we play — our pitching and defense holds it down for us,” third baseman Jason Esposito said. “That’s the only way we were going to win those games. … And it’s tribute to our offense coming up big when we needed it.”
Despite the similarities to North Carolina’s trip, Vanderbilt’s run to the CWS has been unlike any other.
Of the eight teams, only the Commodores have not been to Omaha previously.
“It is a big deal, but I can honestly say with 100 percent certainty that we are going to treat this next game as we have the rest of them,” Casali said. “We have played in some big games … but it’s going to be treated exactly the same.
“In terms of baseball, we’re going to have fun with it. We’re going to be loose and it’s going to be the same thing.”
Actually, the outcome is going to be different for one of them.