3 things: Carolina's sweep of BC
Carolina swept Boston College this weekend, returning from exams with three victories against an Eagles team that claimed road wins at both NC State and Florida State earlier this season. A quick take
1. Who are these hitters? The once-quiet Tar Heel bats, which had managed only a combined three runs in 19 innings against East Carolina and Winthrop, pounded out 25 runs and 36 hits against the Eagles while hitting .350 for the weekend. Sure, BC is last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in team ERA, but after some offensive struggles, Carolina can't be picky about who the hits come against. Putting Colin Moran back in the third spot in the batting order paid obvious dividends (he went 4-for-11 over the weekend and drove in a pair of runs, including a great 10-pitch at-bat Sunday that resulted in a sacrifice fly), but the Tar Heels had better at-bats up and down the order. One of those spots is in the 9 hole, where Parks Jordan has made himself into a hitter capable of getting big hits and getting on base as the order turns over for the bigger sluggers at the top. "He's really consistent," Mike Fox said of Jordan. "He gives us a 9-hole guy who knows his role and knows what he's capable of doing. He doesn't look like he's overmatched."
2. The defensive moves made by Mike Fox and his coaching staff right before the exam break have paid major dividends. Moving junior Tommy Coyle, one of the acknowledged team leaders, wasn't an easy thing to do in the last week of April. But Coyle had struggled at short (19 errors), and freshman Michael Russell played short in high school. With Coyle at second and Russell at short, a shift in place for five games, the Tar Heel infield has looked much more solid. At second, Coyle has shown impressive range (going far into the hole to his left to make a great play Sunday), and Russell has not only made the basic plays at short, he has also occasionally made the impressive play. Both players played three errorless games against Boston College, and Carolina's team fielding percentage is on the rise again (.966) after bottoming out at 11th in the 12-team ACC in April. The only down side to the move is it shuffled freshman Mike Zolk to the bench, taking his versatile bat out of the lineup, but Zolk has taken some fly balls in the outfield and is still likely to find a way to play a significant role in the season's final weeks.
3. The ramifications: With two ACC series to play, Carolina has a two-game lead on Virginia in the Coastal Division, and the Tar Heels also hold the tiebreaker over the Cavaliers (by virtue of the sweep in Charlottesville). In the league, Carolina closes at Duke and hosts Virginia Tech, while Virginia hosts Georgia Tech and then travels to Maryland. Winning the division carries extra importance this year because the Coastal champion avoids being paired with Atlantic champion Florida State and can't see the red-hot Seminoles until the ACC tournament championship game. Beyond the conference race, Carolina remains in the discussion for a national seed. As of Sunday morning, BoydsWorld.com says the Tar Heels need to finish 7-2 to remain in the RPI top eight. South Carolina, which took two of three from Arkansas this weekend, is making a strong push for a national seed, which means whichever of Carolina or NC State does not get a national seed is a strong possibility to have to play in Columbia in the super-regionals--a fate the Tar Heels would very much like to avoid. Keep an eye on this week's Wednesday matchup in Greenville, as East Carolina is rated 22nd in the current RPI, and a road victory in what is sure to be a hostile environment would be a solid RPI booster.