Carolina Baseball in Houston
Two years ago, 22nd-ranked North Carolina baseball team traveled across the country to begin the season in southern California. The Tar Heels faced Cal Poly, Missouri and USC in the USC Tournament. Just for fun, they added a fourth game, a side trip to take on the 8th-ranked Cal State Fullerton Titans.
The young Diamond Heels came back to Chapel Hill 4-0. Standout performers from that first weekend included Colin Moran, Kent Emanuel and Chaz Frank. That February trip propelled Carolina to a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a College World Series appearance.
The 2013 Tar Heels are 7-0 after two weekends in Boshamer Stadium but have another early-season test as they head to Houston for the Astros Foundation College Classic. Carolina will square off with Rice (4:30 p.m. ET Friday), California (1 p.m. ET Saturday) and Texas A&M (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday).
“They’ll be jacked,” Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox said. “You’re playing in a Major League park. That’s probably all that needs to be said. They don’t get that opportunity very often, so I know they’ve been excited about this trip ever since we announced it, that we were playing in Minute Maid. The fact that we’re playing three really, really good teams just obviously add to it. But they’re very excited, I can tell.”
No. 12 Rice is off to a 6-2 start under legendary head coach Wayne Graham. The Owls are fresh off a four-game sweep at Hawaii. Friday’s game features a premier pitching matchup featuring a pair of preseason All-America juniors in Carolina lefty Kent Emanuel and the Owls’ Austin Kubitza. Kubitza is 1-0 and has recorded 25 strikeouts in 13 innings while not allowing a run in two starts. Emanuel (2-0, 0.56 ERA) has two wins in his first two starts, including a complete game shutout of Seton Hall in the season opener.
The Tar Heels meet up with 4-4 California on Saturday. Benton Moss (2-0, 0.73) takes the mound, probably against Kyle Porter (0-0, 10.12). Carolina defeated California, 12-3 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, and the two teams were in opposite brackets in Omaha in 2011.
No. 26 Texas A&M is 5-3 with series wins against Illinois-Chicago and Pepperdine. Like California, the Aggies were participants in the 2011 College World Series as well. Junior righthander Rafael Pineda is the likely starter for the Aggies. Pineda is 1-0 in two starts with an ERA of 1.38. If he’s healthy, the Tar Heels will counter with junior lefty Hobbs Johnson. Johnson left his first start with arm soreness. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Thursday to test the arm.
“We’re going to see a lot of good arms,” freshman outfielder Skye Bolt said. “We’re going to see some guys who can swing the stick, but mostly for me coming in as a freshman, this is what you look forward to coming to play Division I baseball. You want to play the Rices, the Texas and California teams, you name it. It’s going to be a big trip for us. It’s going to be a good test to see where our offense stacks up this again year, where it plays out there with the rest of the country.”