Ex-Jordan High stars remain united on UNC infield
As teammates at Jordan High School, Wood Myers and Alex Raburn talked about playing together at North Carolina. Now that it’s finally happened, they want to make sure it continues a few weeks longer.
Myers and Raburn will patrol the infield for the Tar Heels today when they open NCAA Tournament play against Long Beach State in the Gainesville Regional (1 p.m., ESPN3.com).
Having high school teammates in the starting lineup is rare enough that coach Mike Fox doesn’t remember it happening in his 16 seasons at UNC.
Ironically enough, it likely wouldn’t have happened without an injury to Myers.
The freshman second baseman had started every game until he was hit by a pitch on the right hand on April 25 in the first inning of a series against Virginia Tech. That created an opening for Raburn, a sophomore utility player, who hit .545 and didn’t commit an error in the series against the Hokies and has been in the lineup every game since.
Today Raburn will start at shortstop if junior Michael Russell can’t play in the field because of back spasms. Otherwise Raburn will likely start at first base. Either way he would be playing next to Myers when the Tar Heels begin their most important game of the season.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the world,” said Jordan baseball coach Devy Bell, who graduated from UNC in 1987 and still holds the program records for home runs in a career (57) and a season (24 in 1986). “It almost catches you off guard because the chances of that happening at a D-I school, it’s a rarity. So when you have two kids who end up over there, you just hope that one gets a little playing time. To have something like that happen the way it’s happened is one of the neatest things I can hope for.”
UNC lost three-fourths of its infield last season, and Myers took advantage of the opportunity because of his hitting ability. Myers is second on the team with a .302 average and has struck out just 15 times in 205 at-bats.
“He can flat-out hit, like (current N.Y. Yankees second baseman) Brian Roberts when he came through,” Bell said. “Those guys who can come up to the plate and put it in play almost every time, you just don’t see that a lot. It doesn’t matter what kind of pitching he was facing — he could make contact, and he could make hard contact. He’s not really intimidated by somebody throwing 94-95 with a hard slider. He really takes that as a challenge.”
Bell also compares Raburn to another former Tar Heel and Major League All-Star, B.J. Surhoff, because of his defensive versatility. Raburn started seven games last year, all as an outfielder, while this year he filled in for the injured Myers at second and then started at first base, third base and shortstop during UNC’s three ACC Tournament pool play games last week.
Despite that flexibility, it took until the past month for Raburn to become a regular starter. But he continued to stay focused and work on his swing after he hit .188 last season.
“That’s the most difficult thing for people who aren’t playing, just be prepared, because you don’t ever know,” Fox said. “Alex was always working. … He wasn’t playing a whole lot and it’s easy to sit over here (on the bench) and think about not playing, but he was ready.”
Myers and Raburn join pitchers Zach Bernard (2010) and Adam Kalkhof (2003-05) as Jordan alums who have come to UNC during the Fox era.
“It just doesn’t happen very often that you have one kid over there, much less two,” Bell said. “Every now and then a program will be blessed to have those kinds of players come through, but once every blue moon, and when they do it’s really a neat thing.”
Follow UNC beat writer Harold Gutmann on Twitter at @haroldgut.
HERE'S A LOOK AT ALL POTENTIAL UNC OPPONENTS IN THE GAINESVILLE REGIONAL THIS WEEKEND
Courtesy Bobby Hundley, UNC Athletics
Monday brought the announcement of the NCAA Championship field of 64 and, with it, the news that Carolina would be traveling to the NCAA Gainesville Regional. Here's a quick look at the three teams the Tar Heels will face this weekend.
No. 1 Florida
Location: Gainesville, Fla.
Record: 40-21, 21-9 SEC
Florida is the No. 2 national seed after winning the SEC regular season title by two games and advancing to the conference tournament final, where the Gators lost to red-hot LSU. UF is plenty familiar with the ACC, having played three games each against Maryland (2-1), Miami (1-2) and Florida State (3-0).
Carolina and Florida last met in the NCAA tournament in 2005, when the Gators took a winner's bracket game in Gainesville en route to the College World Series. UNC won the only other postseason meeting in Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1960 to book a spot in Omaha for the first time in school history.
No. 2 Long Beach State
Location: Long Beach, Calif.
Record: 32-24, 17-7 Big West
Long Beach State looked to be on the wrong side of the bubble until mid-April, when a series win over regional host Cal Poly sparked a 14-3 finish that included a season-ending sweep of UC Irvine. The Dirtbags - an official nickname used solely for the baseball program at LBSU - are making their first NCAA appearance since 2008, snapping the longest drought for the school since the 1980s.
Carolina and LBSU have never met in the postseason. In fact, the two programs have played just one game all-time, a 1992 UNC win in Chapel Hill.
No. 4 College of Charleston
Location: Charleston, S.C.
Record: 41-17, 15-6 Colonial
That fact that fourth-seeded Charleston enters the weekend with a regional-high 41 wins illustrates just how difficult it will be for the winning team to advance. But the Cougars, who took two of three from Carolina in the impromptu season-opening series (the games were moved from Chapel Hill after a winter storm), likely needed the automatic bid from the CAA to advance to the NCAA tournament. Get it they did, however, sweeping three games in Wilmington to make the postseason for the sixth time in the last 11 seasons.
Carolina and Charleston have played just five times, and never in the postseason. Prior to this season's series in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, the Tar Heels had won a pair of midweek games in Chapel Hill in 2005 and 2010.