The North Carolina Tar Heels are ranked No. 4 in the USA Today preseason Coaches’ Poll released Friday. The Tar Heels went to the College World Series in Omaha last season, going 1-2 in the double-elimination tournament, bowing out to Vanderbilt June 22.
The Heels find themselves behind national runner-up Florida, defending national champion South Carolina, and a team Tar Heels fans are familiar with, No. 3 Stanford. The Tar Heels knocked off the Cardinal in the Super Regionals last spring at Boshamer Stadium to punch their ticket to Omaha.
For the Tar Heels, they lost SS Levi Michael to Major League Baseball, as he was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Twins. RHP Gregory Holt was also drafted, going in the eighth round to the Washington Nationals. The Tar Heels will also need a replacement for 1B Jesse Wierzbicki, who was nabbed in the 24th round by the Houston Astros. The Colorado Rockies nabbed SP Patrick Johnson in the 25th round, and C Jacob Stallings went to the Cincinnati Reds in Round 42.
Those players were key components in the run to Omaha, but the cupboard is anything but bare for head coach Mike Fox and the Tar Heels coaching staff.
3B Colin Moran is back, and he is just a sophomore. He was named to the Perfect Game Preseason All-American Second Team Friday. He earned Freshman Hitter of the Year honors in 2011, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with 71 RBI.
2B Tommy Coyle will be back, and he has the ability to play both second base and shortstop. C/2B/OF Brian Holbertson also returns, and his versatility will be key. OF Seth Baldwin is likely to be a big part of the offense, and he’ll have a spot in the lineup for sure.
On the pitching staff, look for sophomore SP Kent Emanuel to step to the front of the line, working with SP Chris Munnelly for a solid one-two punch. Both players saw invaluable experience down the stretch, and especially in the postseason, as Emanuel was lights out at times during the run to Omaha.
The Tar Heels will open the season with a three-game set against Xavier Feb. 17-19 at Boshamer Stadium. They’ll remain home, facing Wright State Feb. 24-26, before hosting preseason No. 21 St. John’s Feb. 28 in a one-game battle. Southern California also comes to town for a three-game set March 2-4, before the homestand wraps up with Davidson March 6. The Tar Heels won’t hit the road until March 7, when they have a short jaunt down Interstate 40/85 to face Elon.
The Tar Heels will open up conference play March 9-11 at Clemson.
The ACC schedule will be highlighted by a three-game set against North Carolina State starting Saturday, March 24, and ending with a Monday night game at Boshamer.
The Heels will also visit Mark Light Stadium in Miami to square off with the Hurricanes April 6-8 in an always entertaining three-game series. UNC travels to Charlottesville April 13-15 to meet Virginia, a team they had epic battles against last season down the stretch.
In-state rival East Carolina comes to town for a one game April 25. The Heels will return the favor, facing the Pirates in Greenville May 9. In-state rival UNC-Wilmington gets a crack at the Heels Tuesday, May 8, at Boshamer.
The Heels head up US15/501 for a three-game set in downtown Durham at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park against Duke, before a trip to UNC-Asheville May 15, and a three-game set to wrap up the season May 17-19 against Virginia Tech.
The ACC Tournament will be played in Greensboro this season from May 23-27, with the NCAA Regionals taking place June 1-3. The Super Regionals are set for June 8-10, and the College World Series will be back in Omaha again from June 16-27.