Return of Colin Moran provides lift for UNC

acarter@newsobserver.comMay 7, 2012 

— North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran possesses a sense of competitiveness that makes it seem like he treats every at-bat “like it’s the end of the world,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said recently. Fox likes that intensity about Moran,but it also makes Fox wary.

“We said from the very beginning, it’s his best trait and then it his worst trait,” Fox said. “There’s an edge there I think all really competitive athletes have. There’s that edge. And when they’re right to that edge, it makes them really, really good. But when you cross over that edge, you know, sometimes bad things happen.”

A bad thing happened to Moran on March 24, after UNC’s 3-1 loss against N.C. State. In a moment of anger, he punched a door and broke two bones in his right hand. He went on to miss the Heels’ next 21 games.

They went 13-8 without him and now Moran, a sophomore who entered the season as an all-American candidate, is finally working his way back from the injury. In the first game of his return Wednesday, he drove in both runs in UNC’s 2-0 victory against Winthrop.

His performance over the weekend, though, in the Tar Heels’ three-game sweep of Boston College, suggested that while Moran is back in the literal sense, it might take a while for him to become the player he was before he missed more than a month of the season.

Following UNC’s 4-1 victory against the Eagles Sunday, Fox said Moran “didn’t play well today.” Moran made an error in the field but went 1-for-2 and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. The performance might have been ordinary for most players, but the standards for Moran have always been higher.

“His timing was off a little bit,” Fox said. “You can sort of tell, he’s not seeing that changeup as well … I think everybody got fooled by the first couple of games – ‘Oh, he’s right back.’ But he’s not there yet. But he will be.”

During the 21 games he missed, Moran had plenty of time for reflective moments. Having to watch, he said, was the most difficult part.

Moran had never before suffered a serious injury, and had never suffered a broken bone before. The knowledge that he caused his own injury made it more painful, at least mentally.

“I don’t usually have a big temper, but I let it get the best of me there,” said Moran, who was hitting .389 and had 24 RBIs in 22 games before breaking his hand. “And it’s definitely something I learned a lesson from, and moving on, I think I’ll be a better player.”

Since that moment on March 24, Moran has focused on better channeling his emotions. The nephew of former UNC standout and longtime Major League player B.J. Surhoff, Moran said he received a lot of support from both family members and teammates while he was recovering.

Moran doesn’t want to lose that edge, nor does he think he will. He also doesn’t plan to stop being self-demanding, though he knows some things did have to change.

“I’ve always been hard on myself … It’s just [about] toning it down,” Moran said. “I don’t think that will be an issue either, anymore. Just because obviously I learned the hard way.”

With Moran back in his familiar No. 3 spot in the Tar Heels’ lineup, Fox has hope that his team will eventually – finally – become more potent offensively. UNC has continued to rely on a dominant pitching staff, one that rarely receives consistent run support.

The Heels’ 25 combined runs in the three victories against Boston College represented the most UNC had scored in a conference series this season. It was the first time UNC had more than 20 runs in a three-game series since compiling 34 in a three-game sweep of Wright State in late February.

But 15 of those 25 runs against the Eagles came in UNC’s 15-1 victory on Friday, and Fox expressed disappointment that his team didn’t capitalize more on its scoring chances on Sunday, when the Heels left seven runners on base.

That the offensive outburst came against Boston College, which, along with Duke, is one of two ACC teams with a losing overall record, also dims the luster of the accomplishment. Still, it was a sign of progress for a team that welcomed back its most productive offensive player just in time for the stretch run of the regular season.

“You don’t want to take your foot off the gas, but you do kind of realize that you have our best hitter back in the lineup,” said Tommy Coyle, the junior second baseman. “And you know, we feel like with the super-important part of our season coming up, the most important part, that we have our best player back that that will give us a boost.”

At least that’s what the Tar Heels hope. Moran, so dominant early in the season, is back in some ways. He’s still on his way back in others.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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