ACC Tournament: Tar Heels look to get back to winning ways

May. 22, 2013 @ 04:53 PM

North Carolina junior Kent Emanuel has such a strong season that he was named the ACC pitcher of the year. Yet his last two starts have resulted in the first losing streak of his career.

In many ways, Emanuel’s recent downturn is mirrored by his team’s. UNC started 44-4 and was the top-ranked team until May, when it finished 4-4 and fell to No. 6 in the Baseball America poll.

The Tar Heels look to regain their dominant ways this week in the ACC Tournament at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The top seed for the first time since 1990, UNC begins pool play today against No. 8 Miami (3 p.m., Fox Sports South).

“I want to go over and play a little bit better,” Fox said. “A little bit more fundamentally sound baseball, and make better decisions, and move the ball. It’s important to get a little bit of our mojo back — a little bit of our swagger that we had when you’re winning games and you expect to win and there’s no doubt.”

Fox was speaking after the final game of the regular season on Monday. It was a 4-3 win over Atlantic Division champion Florida State, but there were plenty of mistakes in all aspects of the game that could hurt the team in the NCAAs.

In the span of two innings, the Tar Heels misplayed a ball off the wall that led to a triple, a base runner was thrown out at home with no outs, and a reliever who entered the game threw five balls before being replaced.

“We did some really, really dumb things,” Fox said.

This week’s tournament will give UNC a chance to improve against top competition. All eight participants are in the Top 25 in the most recent RPI report, and six of the teams are in Baseball America’s Top 25 — No. 5 Virginia, No. 6 UNC, No. 7 Florida State, No. 9 N.C. State, No. 18 Clemson and No. 21 Virginia Tech.

Emanuel (9-3, 2.28) will start against the Hurricanes, who have beaten the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament each of the last two seasons. Miami will go with lefty Andrew Suarez (3-4, 3.13), who allowed one run in 6.2 innings when the teams faced off in March.

UNC will throw Benton Moss (8-1, 3.21) against fifth seed Clemson on Friday (7 p.m., FSS), and will wrap up pool play with Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 2.18) against fourth seed N.C. State and 2012 ACC pitcher of the year Carlos Rodon (8-2, 3.86) on Saturday (7 p.m., FSS).

The Tar Heels went 2-1 against both Miami and Clemson and split two games with N.C. State during the regular season. The rubber match against the Wolfpack last month was rained out.

The winner of UNC’s pool will face the winner of the other pool (No. 2 Florida State, No. 3 Virginia, No. 6 Virginia Tech and No. 7 Georgia Tech) in the championship game Sunday at 1 p.m. (ESPN2).

Despite the Tar Heels’ relative struggles, UNC is still the only team in the country without a losing streak. That mentality should help it overcome the recent slide.

“My team’s got a little backbone and they don’t like to lose, probably more than any team I’ve been around,” Fox said. “I think it says a lot about them just to respond and not feel sorry for themselves.”