This hasn’t been a typical season for North Carolina’s baseball team – at least not typical of the kinds of seasons the Tar Heels have grown accustomed to under coach Mike Fox.
UNC later this week will head to Gainesville, Fla., for the NCAA tournament, and the Tar Heels will do so in a new role – that of the underdog. UNC, with an RPI of No. 41, was likely among the final at-large teams to make the 64-team tournament.
Even so, Fox said earlier today, “I don’t think our confidence ever wavered.”
“You know, we’ve been knocked down some,” Fox said. “But I’ve never sensed that we did not have confidence. That we (couldn’t) win and play well and reach our goals. That would have been a challenge, in that regard. I think if coaches have to go into the locker room and say, ‘We’re a good team,’ you’re in trouble.
“I never sensed that with this team.”
The Tar Heels reached the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., last season, and they made it there in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011, too. It’d be a surprise if the Tar Heels made it there this season, or even if they make it out of the Gainesville regional, where UNC is the No. 3 seed.
The Tar Heels play the regional’s No. 2 seed, Long Beach State, on Friday, and then will play either Florida, the No. 1 seed, or the College of Charleston, the No. 4 seed, on Saturday. Florida is also the No. 2 seed nationally. The College of Charleston, meanwhile, beat UNC in a three-game series to start the season.
As for Long Beach State, it has some similarities with UNC. Both teams have relied on their pitching to make it this far. Long Beach State has also been one of the best fielding teams in the country, and it enters the NCAA tournament having allowed more than two runs just once in its past eight games.
“Obviously, a good team,” Fox said of Long Beach State. “Very, very sound, fundamentally. Just look at their number of errors and their fielding percentage. They pitch exceptionally well. So very similar to us, in some ways, in that they just try to manufacture runs and depend on their pitching and defense to win.”