UNC's Fox not comfortable with preseason No. 1 ranking
North Carolina is No. 1 in Baseball America’s preseason Top 25 for the first time.
Now the Tar Heels want to be No. 1 for the first time when it counts — at the end of the season.
UNC opened spring practice Friday looking for its fifth College World Series trip in seven years and its first national championship.
Despite losing in the NCAA regionals last year, UNC received the top spot in the Baseball America and Perfect Game preseason polls because it returns its entire starting rotation and seven starting position players from the 2012 team that finished 46-16 and won the ACC regular-season title.
Though UNC coach Mike Fox said he was honored with by the recognition, he preferred it go to someone else.
“If I had my druthers, we wouldn’t be (No. 1) because it comes with some very high expectations and you worry about how your team is going to manage all those,” Fox said. “There is only one place to go and that’s down.”
But senior outfielder Chaz Frank said the top ranking was warranted for this group.
“We don’t have many holes,” Frank said. “We have a mix of speed and power and experience and talent, especially with one of the deepest bullpens in the nation.
“We have five or six guys that could be Friday (No. 1) starters at other schools. We live on pitching and defense, and that’s what Carolina’s been about the past five to six years, and that’s really our strong suit this year and I think that’s why we’re worthy of being a top team.”
The pitching staff features junior left-hander Kent Emanuel (8-4, 1.96 ERA last year), sophomore Benton Moss (7-2, 1.94) and junior Hobbs Johnson (7-1, 1-56).
On offense, the team will be led by junior third baseman Colin Moran, who last year led the team in batting average (.365), on-base percentage (.434) and slugging percentage (.494).
Emanuel said the team also is motivated by the sudden end to its season, when UNC was swept by St. John’s to became the only nationally seed to lose in the regional round.
“I think it showed this team it’s not a given that you’re going to make it to Omaha,” Emanuel said. “I think it brought us back to reality that you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself, and hopefully that comes to help us this year. We’ll see.”
UNC opens the season with a three-game homestand against Seton Hall on Feb. 15-17.