College Baseball In North Carolina: Record 8 NCAA Bids Reflect Golden Era

By David Glenn

The state of North Carolina has shown for decades why, thanks mainly to UNC and Duke, it deserves to be considered the “center of the college basketball universe.”

While the state can’t make a similarly grand claim with college baseball — the one and only North Carolina-based team ever to win the College World Series did so in 1955 — there’s no doubt that its diamond depth and quality have been trending up in a shiny, sparkling manner.

The 64-team field announced Monday for the 2023 NCAA Baseball Championship, which will begin Friday, includes a whopping eight in-state teams: Wake Forest, East Carolina, Campbell, Duke, UNC, NC State, UNC Wilmington and Charlotte. For comparison, the most entries the state has ever had in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is six (in 2002 and 2018).

This baseball group represents the highest number of North Carolina-based entries in history for an event that started (with an eight-team bracket) in 1947, and the eight NCAA bids also are the most of any state this year, eclipsing even the totals from legendary baseball factories such as California, Florida and Texas.

This North Carolina success story has been building for more than a decade. UNC, whose 35 NCAA Baseball Championship bids are the most of any in-state program (see chart at bottom for the complete 18-team list), got this stitched ball rolling soon after the turn of the century.

Under legendary coach Mike Fox, the Tar Heels advanced to the College World Series six times in an eight-year period (2006-13) and seven times overall. In 2013, the state of North Carolina represented one-quarter of the eight-team CWS, with NC State joining the Tar Heels in Omaha.

The 2017-18 season may have been the greatest in state history. North Carolina-based teams collectively earned seven NCAA bids for the first time. UNC (#6), ECU (#12) and NC State (#16) earned three of the field’s 16 seeds, including the right to host a regional on their home field. Campbell, North Carolina A&T and UNCW claimed automatic bids as conference champions. UNC and Duke advanced to the Super Regionals, and the Tar Heels returned to Omaha.

In 2019 came another impressive first: three in-state squads (UNC, Duke, ECU) won regionals and advanced to NCAA Super Regionals, college baseball’s version of the Sweet 16.

Whether any or several of this year’s North Carolina teams can find similar levels of NCAA postseason success in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but there is certainly no shortage of high-quality candidates for that exciting challenge:

Wake Forest (47-10, 22-7 ACC, #1 overall seed) — The Demon Deacons are the only North Carolina-based program ever to win the NCAA championship in baseball. Almost 70 years ago, with the Atlantic Coast Conference in just its second year of existence, Wake followed up its first ACC baseball title by defeating Rollins, West Virginia, Colgate, Colorado State, Oklahoma A&M and Western Michigan to capture what was then a 25-team NCAA tournament.

Oddly, given the league’s consistent presence high in the national rankings for decades, that Wake squad still ranks as one of only two ACC teams (with 2015 Virginia) ever to win the CWS, although Miami claimed four NCAA baseball titles (1982, 1985, 1999, 2001) prior to joining the ACC.

With the Demon Deacons leading the way, the ACC earned four of the 16 national seeds in this year’s 64-team bracket: #1 Wake, #4 Clemson, #7 UVa and #9 Miami. The Deacons are only the second North Carolina-based team ever to receive the #1 overall seed; in 2013, UNC lived up to that billing with a trip to Omaha but fell to eventual champion UCLA in the CWS semifinals.

This is rarefied air for the Deacs. Their first-place ACC regular-season finish was just their fourth ever and their first in 60 years. In their 14 seasons under head coach Tom Walter, this is only their fourth trip to the NCAA Baseball Championship.

During the regular season, Wake led the nation in wins (45), winning percentage (.833) and almost all key pitching statistics, won all 10 of its ACC series, and tied or set all-time program records for victories, conference wins (22) and home attendance (44,650).

“To be the #1 national seed is a tremendous accomplishment for our program,” Walter said. “To do that, you have to demonstrate both consistency and toughness. We have battled through four season-ending injuries on the mound, four temporary injuries to key position players, and rebounded quickly from tough losses.

“Our Deacon Nation has shown up for this team in droves during the second half of this season. Friday night will be an electric atmosphere. We look forward to seeing everyone at The Couch!”

East Carolina (45-17, 18-6 AAC) — The Pirates offer another of the most intriguing stories in college baseball.

On the one hand, they have become one of the most prominent programs from outside the Power Five leagues that tend to dominate the sport (e.g., producing 12 of the last 13 national champions), joining the likes of Cal-Fullerton, Fresno State and Coastal Carolina. Just in the last four NCAA tournaments (there was no event in 2020), the Pirates were top-16 seeds every year, they repeatedly attracted raucous crowds to Greenville as regional hosts, and they advanced to three Super Regionals, including one as the host.

On the other hand, the Pirates also have become the “best golfer without a major championship” of college baseball, meaning their 33 NCAA bids without a single trip to the College World Series now ranks #1 nationally. ECU keeps knocking on that CWS door but can’t seem to open it.

Cliff Godwin, a former ECU catcher and three-time team captain, is leading arguably the greatest stretch in program history. In his eight full seasons (excluding 2020) as the Pirates’ head coach, they have earned seven NCAA bids, four consecutive American Athletic Conference regular-season championships and three AAC Tournament titles.

Campbell (44-13, 22-5 Big South) — Over the last six years, after more than four decades of relative mediocrity and anonymity, the Camels have emerged as one of the most stunning success stories in all of college baseball. This season, they have been ranked consistently in the Top 25 of every major poll since March, and for the first time in program history they have spent time in the national top 10.

Prior to this amazing stretch under ninth-year head coach Justin Haire, Campbell had only two NCAA bids in its Division One history. Now (excluding 2020) they have five consecutive NCAA invitations, five straight Big South regular-season titles and four of the last five Big South Tournament championships. The one time in that stretch the Camels failed to claim their league’s automatic NCAA bid, they received the program’s first at-large invitation, an awesome accomplishment for any program playing in any league that typically gets only a single bid.

Duke (35-21, 16-13 ACC) — The Blue Devils have a very unusual baseball history. From 1952-61, when the NCAA Baseball Championship was much smaller and thus more difficult to make, the Devils earned five bids over 10 seasons and advanced to the College World Series three times. Then, for more than a half-century(!), they failed to make the NCAA tournament even one time.

Duke’s 21st-century awakening has come under 11th-year head coach Chris Pollard, who previously built successful programs at Pfeiffer (Division Three) and Appalachian State. The Blue Devils now have made five of the last 10 NCAA tournaments, and in 2018 (at Georgia) and 2019 (at West Virginia) they went on the road to claim regional titles and earn Super Regional spots.

North Carolina (35-22, 14-14 ACC) — With their 35 trips to the NCAA Baseball Championship, 11 College World Series appearances and 12 ACC titles, the Tar Heels have by far the best overall body of work of any in-state program, and only 13 schools nationally have played in the CWS more frequently. This is UNC’s sixth consecutive NCAA bid, a stretch bridging the 2020 coaching transition from Fox to Scott Forbes, Fox’s long-time pitching coach in Chapel Hill.

During his three seasons as Carolina’s head coach, Forbes already has claimed an ACC title (2022) and a trio of NCAA bids, although the Tar Heels have been mediocre overall (47-47) in conference play, they have hosted a regional as a top-16 seed only once (2022; won regional, then were swept by Arkansas in the Chapel Hill Super Regional), and they haven’t come particularly close to a return to the CWS. Carolina enters this NCAA tournament as an underdog, the third seed in the four-team regional hosted by #14 national seed Indiana State, and begins play Friday against second-seeded Iowa (7 pm, ACC Network).

NC State (35-19, 13-16 ACC) — The Wolfpack has a very, very unusual postseason track record. An original member of the 70-year-old ACC, the Pack hasn’t won a conference championship since 1992, and it hasn’t had a first-place regular-season finish since 1986. However, State also has become one of the most consistent — and sometimes scintillating — NCAA tournament participants in the entire nation.

Under 27th-year head coach Elliott Avent, the Wolfpack has earned NCAA bids to 17 of the last 20 events and has played in two (2013, 2021) of the last nine College World Series. (The program’s only other CWS trip came in 1968.) Despite a disappointing ACC campaign, State’s dominant nonconference record (21-2) this season left it on the right side of the NCAA bubble. The Pack is the third seed in the four-team regional hosted by #15 national seed South Carolina, and its opening game Friday (1 pm, ACC Network) is against second-seeded Campbell.

UNC Wilmington (34-21, 20-8 CAA) — The Seahawks are a relative newcomer to the NCAA’s postseason party, and fourth-year head coach Randy Hood has played a central role in this remarkable rags-to-riches story.

A Division One program since 1977, UNCW didn’t play in its first NCAA Baseball Championship until 26 years later — in 2003. Now the Seahawks, the Colonial Athletic Association’s 2023 regular-season and tournament champion, are celebrating their 11th invitation in the last 20 events. The 2001 arrival of Hood, a former Campbell player and assistant coach, perfectly coincides with this stunning reversal; he served under legendary manager Mark Scalf for 18 seasons, then was elevated to the top job upon Scalf’s retirement in 2019.

Charlotte (34-26, 17-12 CUSA) — The 49ers are led by fourth-year head coach Robert Woodard, who in his playing days was one of the most productive pitchers in UNC and ACC history.

After a brief minor league playing career and various stints as a college assistant coach, including two under Fox in Chapel Hill, Woodard became the head coach at Charlotte prior to the 2019-20 campaign. Coming off a decade-long postseason drought, the 49ers now are making their second NCAA trip in Woodard’s three full seasons (excluding 2020) there; they earned an at-large invitation in 2021, and they claimed Conference USA’s automatic bid this year by beating top-seeded Dallas Baptist in the league tournament’s championship game.

NCAA Championship Bids By School

(NC Division One Programs Only)

  • North Carolina — 35
  • East Carolina — 33
  • NC State — 33
  • Wake Forest — 15
  • Western Carolina — 12
  • UNC Wilmington — 11
  • Duke — 10
  • Campbell — 7
  • Charlotte — 7
  • Elon — 6
  • Appalachian State — 4
  • UNC Greensboro — 4
  • North Carolina A&T — 2
  • Davidson — 1
  • UNC Asheville — 1
  • Gardner-Webb (D1 since 2002) — 0
  • High Point (D1 since 1999) — 0
  • Queens (D1 since 2022) — 0

David Glenn ( is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer and university lecturer (now at UNC Wilmington) who has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987. does not charge subscription fees, and you can directly support our efforts in local

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