If You’re Not Watching Tar Heel Baseball, It’s Time To Start


I completely understand. I used to be just like you. I mean college baseball, who watches that? They don’t even use real bats for heaven’s sake. And we all know the really good, high school baseball players are drafted and sent to the minors to hone their talent instead of college campuses. And good luck trying to find a regular season NCAA baseball game on national television. College baseball is dull, boring and reserved for schools that cannot compete in real college sports like football and basketball. You know schools like Rice. Yeah, I was a hater too. And then I found myself pacing the floor during UNC’s Monday night thriller versus Florida Atlantic. And now much to my dismay, I care about Tar Heel baseball.

June 2, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tarheels pitcher Trevor Kelley delivers a pitch against the Florida Atlantic Owls during the Chapel Hill Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament at Boshamer Stadium. The Florida Atlantic Owls won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Just to bring you up to speed, the Tar Heel baseball team is enjoying a historic season where they won both the regular season and ACC Tournament championships crowns. That’s something the basketball team hasn’t done since 2008. The Diamond Heels also earned the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament that guarantees they will play in Chapel Hill until (and if) they make it to Omaha. They also have the ACC player and pitcher of the year in Colin Moran and Kent Emanuel, respectively.

However, that’s not what has made this season so exciting and at times frustrating for the Tar Heel faithful. Prior to the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heel baseball team had only gone into extra innings five times during the regular season. Since the beginning of the postseason, this UNC team has been giving their fans lots of free baseball including the marathon 18 inning game against NC State back in May. One of the best things about the NC State game that went into the wee hours of the morning was that it really didn’t “mean anything”. UNC was already assured home field in the NCAA tournament and winning or losing the game would not have changed that. But, it was the ACC Tournament, and they were playing NC State in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a college baseball game in NC. Tar Heel pride was the only thing on the line, and if it took them 18 innings to keep it then so be it.

Monday night’s game against Florida Atlantic did mean something. It was win or go home. Like most people, I was feeling pretty good going into the top of the 9th inning with a 6-2 lead. So, I was half watching Netflix, half following the game on Twitter until I saw FAU threatening with the bases loaded. And then it happened, an Austin Rivers-like dagger in the form of a grand slam giving FAU a two run lead going into the bottom of the 9th. Much like being down ten points in the Smith Center with less than two minutes left, I thought the game was over. But, not as over as I thought it was when FAU went up again by three in the top of the 12th. However, in dramatic fashion, the Diamond Heels again answered and finally won the game in the 13th inning with a Colin Stubbs single down the left field line.

But, that wasn’t what was so special about Monday night’s game. The social media buzz the game created was a testament to Tar Heel nation and UNC fans across the country. It was the wee hours of a Tuesday morning in the beginning of June, but UNC was trending on twitter. Jonathan Cooper let us know that he was unable to study because he was listening to the game on the radio. James Michael McAdoo tweeted that he had on his rally cap. And I was pacing back and forth trying not to wake up the neighbors with my excitement. The Diamond Heels had managed to make even college baseball interesting.

Carolina has one more series before they can pack their bags for Omaha, and it’s with that school in Columbia, SC that suffers from a severe identify crisis. South Carolina is going to be the toughest challenge yet for the Tar Heel baseball team. The good news is the last time these two faced each other was in the 2007 Super Regionals, and UNC emerged victorious. However, this year there will be a familiar face in the Gamecock dugout in their first year head coach, Chad Holbrook, who took over for legendary Ray Tanner this season. Holbrook played three years for the Tar Heels from 1990-1993 and earned all-ACC honors as a senior. From 1994 to 2008, he helped manage from the Tar Heel dugout mostly under the direction of Tar Heel head coach, Mike Fox. In 2009, he moved to Columbia and became Head Coach of the Gamecocks just this season. Holbrook is still good friends with Roy Williams who was spotted in the Gamecock dugout earlier this season. So, I guess the only question left is though Roy will probably be sitting in the UNC stands with a Carolina blue shirt on, will he be wearing a Gamecock button? Holbrook coming back to Chapel Hill is a lot like Roy Williams coaching against Dean Smith in the Final Four. So, let’s hope Mike Fox doesn’t get ejected.

Seriously though, it’s time to start paying attention to Tar Heel baseball and their quest to become the first ACC team to win the CWS since Wake Forest did in 1955. Monday night had the feel of a Final Four basketball game, and I have the half bitten finger nails to prove it. And the best news is you don’t have to wait until August to watch UNC whip up on South Carolina. The game will be held Friday at 1pm at Boshamer Stadium and televised on ESPN2. If you go, wear your Carolina best and remind the Gamecocks that there is only one Carolina, and they wear light blue.