CHAPEL HILL — North Carolinas hopes of earning a national seed in the NCAA baseball tournament once seemed in peril, but that time was a distant memory on Monday, when what has become commonplace in coach Mike Foxs program again became reality.
UNCs players and coaches gathered at Boshamer Stadium to watch the tournament selection show, and it didnt take long for them to learn they had earned the No. 6 national seed. The Heels, the top seed in the Chapel Hill regional, will host fourth-seeded Cornell, the Ivy League champions, on Friday night at 6.
The other two teams in the regional, second-seeded East Carolina and No. 3 St. Johns, will play one another on Friday at 1 p.m. The winners of the first two games will meet Saturday night at 6, while the losers will play one another on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Heels, who have won 15 consecutive NCAA tournament regional games at Boshamer Stadium, are a national seed for the sixth time in the past seven years. They have won 15 of their past 16 games overall, and theyre seeking their 10th trip to Omaha and the College World Series.
UNCs path there will remain in Chapel Hill. If the Heels advance out of regional play, they would host the team that emerges from the Tucson (Ariz.) regional. Arizona, the top-seeded team there, is hosting No. 2 New Mexico State, No. 3 Louisville and No. 4 Missouri.
The Tar Heels, winners of 15 of their past 16 games, bring plenty of momentum into the tournament. Their most recent victory, a 4-0 win against N.C. State that came in 12 innings, and amid more than 10,000 spectators at the ACC baseball tournament in Greensboro, came in the kind of environment usually reserved for Omaha.
I heard all of them talking about it when I met them here at the stadium when they got home, said Fox, who on Saturday served a suspension for being ejected in UNCs defeat against Miami last week. And coach [Scott] Forbes and coach [Scott] Jackson said it was about as close to Omaha as you can get, in terms of that many people.
Fox was at home on Saturday night, watching his teams victory against N.C. State. He said he didnt take his suspension very well, but the Heels performance pleased him, nonetheless.
It also provided UNC with some confidence, given its victory came in a game that N.C. State freshman left-hander Carlos Rodon started. Rodon pitched nine scoreless innings and struck out 12, but the Heels found a way to win, anyway.
I think the one thing you have to say, Fox said, is, you know what, were not going to face a guy any better than Carlos Rodon. Ever.
The Tar Heels pitching staff, equally as dominant as Rodon on Saturday night, has been a strength throughout the season. Fox said he wasnt yet sure who would start for UNC against Cornell.
If Fox sticks with his regular pitching rotation, then Kent Emanuel, a sophomore left-hander who earned first-team All-ACC honors, would start against Cornell.
When the stakes are raised, its a little different, a little bit more intense, Emanuel said on Monday. And I think thats something I really thrive on.
Emanuel thrived last postseason, too, when he helped lead the Heels to the College World Series. Now UNC will begin a journey it hopes ends in Omaha for the sixth time in the past seven years.
The strategy, junior outfielder Chaz Frank said, will be a familiar one and one the Heels employed in that most recent victory against N.C. State.
We just outlasted them, Frank said. And hopefully well do that for the rest of the season just outlast people.