UNC's Colin Moran aims to snap slump in NCAA tournament

acarter@newsobserver.com May 30, 2012 

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UNC's Colin Moran gets an RBI in the fifth inning during their game against the Miami Hurricanes at the ACC baseball tournament at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Thursday May 26, 2011.

CHUCK LIDDY - 2011 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

— UNC third baseman Colin Moran’s struggles in the ACC baseball tournament might have left him in a bad mood, but it’s difficult for his coach Mike Fox to tell.

“Colin always looks upset; he’s always bitter about something,” Fox said on Wednesday in a tone that suggested he was half joking. “I can’t put any stock into that – he never looks like he’s happy.”

After returning from the self-inflicted broken hand he suffered on March 24, Moran managed to avoid any kind of slump. In many ways, he was the same dominant hitter he proved to be before his injury.

And then came the ACC tournament. Moran entered it with a .375 batting average in the 12 games since his return. But his 2-for-16 performance in Greensboro left him on a cold streak – his coldest of the season – entering the NCAA tournament.

“It happens,” Moran said on Wednesday, after the Tar Heels’ concluded practice in anticipation of their NCAA regional opener Friday against Cornell. “I mean, I did it plenty last year, and you just learn from it, and [I learned] from the injury and stuff like that, just never to get too high or too low. So I think it’ll help me going forward.”

Scott Jackson, one of UNC’s assistant coaches, has worked closely with Moran this week, Fox said. Jackson and Moran studied video of his performance in the conference tournament.

Fox didn’t seem too concerned on Wednesday about Moran, who when healthy has been UNC’s most feared hitter.

“We’ve won games without him,” Fox said. “You know, he’s not the key to our offense. He’s a big part of our offense, but he’s not the key … I like that part about our offense. It’s been about as balanced of an offense as we’ve had here, one through nine.”

UNC ROTATION SET: Hobbs Johnson didn’t play in the postseason for UNC a season ago, and he didn’t enter the season as a starting pitcher. But Johnson, a left-handed sophomore from Rocky Mount, will start for the Tar Heels on Friday night against Cornell.

UNC, the top seed in its regional and the No. 6 national seed, will start Kent Emanuel (8-4, 2.03 ERA) on Saturday, and Benton Moss (6-2, 1.97) on Sunday. In some ways, Johnson, who is 6-1 with a 1.37 ERA, is representative of the kind of pitching depth the Tar Heels have boasted throughout the season.

He ascended into a starter’s role midway through the season, and he has never let go of the role.

“He’s pitched as well as about any of our guys,” Fox said. “So we really felt like we probably could have gone with any of the three, actually. Because they’ve all really pitched well and shown glimpses that they’re capable of going out and having a big game.”

Statistically speaking: UNC enters the NCAA tournament with a 2.54 team ERA, the third-lowest in the nation. It would be the fourth-lowest in school history if UNC maintains it through the tournament … The Heels will end May with a 14-1 record, which is the best May record in school history since the 1981 team went 4-0 … UNC has allowed 20 earned runs in its past 16 games and has a 1.22 ERA during that stretch … The Tar Heels and the three teams they’re hosting in the Chapel Hill regional – East Carolina, St. John’s and Cornell – will all practice Thursday at Boshamer Stadium. The practices are open to the public and begin with Cornell’s session at 10 a.m. ECU practices from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., and UNC from 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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