Logan Warmoth’s crystal blue eyes drift downward when he talks about the play. The North Carolina shortstop had a breakout sophomore season that propelled him into the ranks of the ACC’s best at his position, but he still regrets that one play.
Warmoth had a error in the eighth inning of the Tar Heels’ 4-3 loss to Virginia Tech on April 10, a game Warmoth says his team “shouldn’t have lost.”
“That’s that one game that kept us out,” he said of the Tar Heels missing the NCAA tournament last season for the second straight year. “You can say that about a lot of games last season.”
Wins against Oklahoma State, South Carolina and East Carolina — teams that made it to at least the NCAA Super Regionals — were offset by a 13-17 ACC record, leaving UNC with the highest RPI of any team ever to not make the postseason.
“If you looked around those regionals, we beat probably a majority of those teams,” Warmoth said. “It’s just frustrating when you beat those teams and you see their success because we know we should have been there.”
This season could be different for the Tar Heels, though. UNC, which opens its season Friday with a three-game series at home against Kentucky, is projected to win the ACC Coastal Division by the ACC baseball coaches poll. The Tar Heels are also No. 17 in Baseball America’s preseason top 25.
“I don’t think we have many holes,” junior centerfielder Brian Miller said. “Knock on wood, but I think we’re strong at every position.”
Miller and Warmoth are two of the better fielders in the conference and UNC’s top two hitters from last season. Miller, who had a .345 regular-season batting average with 33 RBIs, was also named to several preseason All-American lists. Warmoth had a .337 batting average with 53 RBIs and four home runs. Junior pitcher J.B. Bukauskas, who had a 3.10 ERA last season, is projected as high as a top-10 pick in the MLB draft. The pitching rotation behind him is solid. The Tar Heels also return several starters from last season’s team and have one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.
The team, however, isn’t without weaknesses. The third starting pitcher’s spot is still up for grabs.
And the Tar Heels have to replace their most powerful hitter, Tyler Ramirez. Part of UNC’s struggles a season ago stemmed from mediocre hitting and not being able to close out a game with runs, something coach Mike Fox says might be as much mental as physical.
“Sometimes it’s OK to strike out,” Fox said. “We’ve talked about… maybe sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit of (on base percentage) for some power. We need some guys to hit the ball with some power this year.”
Two seasons ago, the Tar Heels were plagued by chemistry issues. But this season there’s an emphasis on playing in the present and not getting caught up in things like past failures or future pro prospects.
“I think this is the year,” Warmoth said. “I mean, we’ve said that every year. Last year should have been the year, freshman year should have been the year. But this year, I think we really have something special.”