Intensity builds as No. 1 UNC vs. No. 6 NC State baseball showdown looms

csmith@newsobserver.comApril 25, 2013 

NC State, Appalachian State, baseball

N.C. State's Trea Turner (8) follows through on a hit during N.C. State's 6-3 loss to Appalachian State Friday, February 15, 2013, at Doak Field in Raleigh, N.C.


— As if North Carolina and N.C. State needed any other motivation, along comes this weekend’s historic matchup.

Less than a year after they faced each other in an ACC tournament game that broke collegiate baseball's state attendance record of 10,229, both enter the series ranked in the top 10 for the first time in their storied rivalry.

The Tar Heels have been No. 1 all season. The Wolfpack has won 15 straight and climbed to No. 6. UNC leads the Coastal Division. N.C. State is on top of the Atlantic. All three games at Doak Field are sold out, and ESPNU is televising Sunday’s finale.

Wolfpack shortstop Trea Turner remembers their last meeting all too well. The Tar Heels won 4-0 in 12 innings, eliminating the Pack.

“The first thing you learn when you come here is you hate Carolina,” Turner said. “It’s a rivalry and everyone gets into it ... seeing them on the other side of the field you don’t get a good feeling from them. I don’t know how to describe it, but when you’re part of it, you learn really quick what side you’re on.”

The Tar Heels’ statistics speak for themselves. The Heels are 40-3 overall and 17-2 in the conference thanks to a balanced attack from a weekend starting rotation that bolsters three pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs and an offense that is not only powerful but also patient.

Carolina leads the nation in several offensive categories, including runs per game (8.9) and on-base percentage (.427), thanks to Colin Moran – who has an OBP of .514 and leads the nation in RBI (62).

“Moran is one of the greatest hitters in college baseball, there’s no doubt about it,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “But it’s certainly not the Colin Moran show … he’s so good because they have a lot of guys in their lineup. We’ll have to pitch very smart to him and hopefully he comes up with nobody on base a lot.”

N.C. State has proven it can get it done on both sides as well.

The Pack’s starting pitching has struggled, but Avent has decided to stick with the same rotation he used against Georgia Tech last weekend – which includes unheralded junior college transfer Ryan Wilkins starting Friday night’s opener.

“I’ve started my whole life so this is pretty normal for me,” Wilkins said. “Coming here I actually changed to a reliever, so that was more of a drastic change than this is for me. I’m very comfortable with this.”

Wilkins, along with 2012 ACC Pitcher of the Year Carlos Rodon and freshman Brad Stone, who will start Saturday and Sunday, respectively, have combined for 167 strikeouts and just 51 walks. Rodon leads the nation with 95 strikeouts, and the trio’s 3.27-1 strikeout/walk ratio is a good omen against a Carolina team that has 239 walks, which is second in the country.

“We’re very confident right now,” Wilkins said. “We don’t care if we’re behind late in the game because we feel comfortable coming back … we like to make games interesting.”

The Wolfpack swept Georgia Tech thanks to a ninth-inning rally Sunday. But one of its most impressive games came on Friday night. State sprayed 10 hits and scored seven earned runs through five innings on 2012 All-ACC First Team pitcher Buck Farmer, who was 7-1 with a 1.41 ERA heading into the contest.

The Pack will face another prolific starter Friday night in Kent Emanuel, who has an 8-1 record with a 1.81 ERA and is coming off a two-hit, one-run performance complete game against Duke. The Pack say they’re ready.

“It’s going to be pretty intense,” Turner said. “Every out’s going to matter and it’s going to be just about as hyped up of a series as you can get ... We have confidence in all of our guys. They’re here for a reason.”

Smith: 919-829-4841

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