Heels hope struggles made them stronger
The No. 1 overall seed made it to the College World Series. It just took a few more twists and turns than usual.
No. 1 North Carolina will play in a double-elimination pool with No. 4 LSU, N.C. State and UCLA in Omaha, starting Sunday with the Tar Heels and Wolfpack at 3 p.m. and the Tigers and Bruins at 8 p.m. (both on ESPN2).
But while N.C. State, LSU and UCLA went a combined 15-0 in the regional and super regional rounds, the Tar Heels needed two come-from-behind wins in elimination games to make it to the College World Series for the sixth time in eight seasons.
In the decisive game of the Chapel Hill regional, UNC fell behind 8-6 in the ninth inning and 11-8 in the 12th inning before beating Florida Atlantic in 13. Then the Tar Heels were down by two in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s super regional winner-take-all game with South Carolina before pulling out a 5-4 victory.
Will UNC’s run of close games finally hurt the Tar Heels in Omaha, or did fighting through adversity toughen them up for the final round of competition?
“We don’t consider it luck — good fortune maybe,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “You can look at it both those ways. I don’t know if you have enough gold coins in your pocket you can use or not.
"Hopefully, what we’ve been through has helped us in that regard. I’ve always thought our team was pretty tough.”
Of course, the Tar Heels weren’t the only team to win close and late. N.C. State used two ninth-inning comebacks to sweep Rice 2-0 in the super regionals. The Wolfpack scored twice in the final frame of game 1, then scored three ninth-inning runs in game 2, eventually winning in 17 innings.
“Our ballclub has been a resilient one,” N.C. State coach Elliot Avent said. “Lot of injuries early. They persevered. You have to be resilient in this game. It's the only way you can get by. It toughens you up if you can weather some storms, and they did.”
Still, the past four champions — Arizona in 2012, South Carolina in 2011 and 2010 and LSU 2009 — all went undefeated en route to Omaha. And none of Fox’s five previous teams that made it to the College World Series were tripped up before reaching the College World Series.
That didn't concern Fox when he spoke Friday from Omaha. The important thing was that he was there.
“I think everybody knows it's extremely difficult to get here,” Fox said. “The parity in college baseball is at the highest level that it's ever been, and all the games in the super regionals and the regionals that were played throughout the country were evidence of that. Just very close, hard-fought games.”
UNC juniors honored
Junior Colin Moran earned Baseball America All-America honors as the first-team designated hittter, while also garnering second-team honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).
Moran currently leads the country in RBIs with 88 on the year and is two shy of being the first ACC player to reach the 90-RBI plateau since Buster Posey accomplished the feat in 2002 for Florida State.
Junior Kent Emanuel joined Moran on the NCBWA All-America squads as he earned third team honors.
Emanuel is tied for the eighth-most wins in a season at UNC with 11 and has posted the most career wins (28) by a junior in school history.