I absolutely LOVE this time of year. As much as I’m a fan of late September and early October when the leaves begin to turn, the air gets a little colder, and the UNC’s football season really begins to hit its stride, nothing beats mid February through June in my book. At about this time, you’re smack dab within the ascending climax of basketball season when you get to watch two matchups against Duke, the ACC Tournament, and March Madness all within a month and a half of each other. Around the same time, the weather begins to get noticeably warmer as signs of Spring begin to creep across campus which can only mean that it’s time to shift some of our focus towards another Tar Heel team that has aspirations of chasing down a national championship: the Tar Heel baseball team.
How could anyone not love baseball? I can’t imagine a better way to spend a warm Spring afternoon than by sitting in the sun with an ice cold coke and a hot dog watching America’s pastime. The fact that you would be spending this afternoon in the confines of Boshamer Stadium right in the heart of UNC’s campus in beautiful Chapel Hill only adds to the fairy tale. For Tar Heels baseball fans, 2013 is a year you will definitely want to pay attention to because there is a lot of well deserved hype surrounding Mike Fox’s squad.
The Diamond Heels have a team that’s just as experienced as it is talented which has drawn a lot of early praise from preseaon poll makers. Baseball America, ranked the Tar Heels as the nations #1 ranked team preseason which is the first time in the program’s history that that has happened. The ranking can be mostly attributed to the Tar Heel’s uber talented pitching rotation led by junior All-American Kent Emanuel, sophomore Benton Moss and junior Hobbs Johnson. The three starters combined for an astounding 22 wins a season ago and all posted individual ERA’s under 2.00 last season. Not to mention, the Tar Heels have arguably the best bullpen in the country that features one of nation’s top closers in Michael Morin who set a UNC single season record last season with 19 saves. This rotation has a very similar feel to the one in 2007 when Andrew Miller, Robert Woodard and Daniel Bard made up the rotation with Andrew Carignan serving as the stopper in the bullpen. That rotation made it to the CWS finals and this one has every bit as much potential to not only match that feat, but to surpass it by winning. They are that good.
While the pitching is getting the bulk of the headlines, don’t think that the every day players in the Tar Heel lineup will in any way hold this team back. Junior third baseman Colin Moran also received preseason All-American honors and will look to improve on his team high .365 batting average. Carolina will have a tough time replacing Jacob Stallings’ bat in the lineup as well as his consistency behind the plate, but what really looks to be in good shape is the Tar Heel outfield. Senior Chaz Frank and junior Jordan Parks will most likely be joined by freshman Skye Bolt who was listed by Baseball America as the 39th overall prospect coming out of high school and turned down a chance at the majors to come play in Chapel Hill. Bolt will undoubtedly be on our freshman watch list here at KIH, not only in the ACC, but nationally as well. Bolt measures a modest 6-2, 175 lbs. and has blinding speed coupled with solid power and a beautifully smooth swing. Bolt first turned heads for the Coaching Staff during the Fall World Series and should be a fixture in the lineup from day one.
Even though the Tar Heels have claimed the top spot for now, it certainly will not be an easy road for them this season. As always, the ACC has reloaded and will boast many talented teams from top to bottom once again. UNC is one of seven total teams returning that had a NCAA berth last season and Florida State and NC State are both top ten caliber teams depending on what poll you look at so the competition will be very stiff all season long.
If Carolina can stay healthy and their main producers can live up to their expectations, North Carolina has a real opportunity to make a legitimate run towards Omaha this summer. It should be a fun season and well worth watching! Go Heels!