Diamond Heels at N.C. State Preview
Carolina is #1. N.C. State is #6 and streaking. The two teams are atop their respective divisions in the ACC and clash this weekend in Raleigh. The games are set for Friday at 6:30 (ESPN3), Saturday at 6:30 (ESPN3), and Sunday at 7 (ESPNU). It's possibly the biggest regular-season series in state history. The Wolfpack bring a 15-game win streak into the series, while the Tar Heels, despite dropping a 9-8 decision to UNCW on Tuesday, have won 40 of 43 games in 2013. It's been a back-and-forth affair between these two teams of late: in 2011 in Raleigh, the Wolfpack swept the Tar Heels. Last year, Carolina took two of three in Chapel Hill and won an extra-inning affair in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. Here's a look at how the teams stack up.
Junior LHP Kent Emanuel (8-1, 1.82 ERA) toes the rubber for the Tar Heels, while N.C. State counters with senior RHP Ryan Wilkins (5-1, 3.16).
Emanuel is 0-1 in two starts against the Wolfpack. As a freshman, he gave up five hits and two earned runs in 1.1. innings. Last year in Chapel Hill, Emanuel took the loss after throwing 6.2 and allowing five hits and three runs, though none of them were earned. This year, he is averaging nearly eight innings per start and has tossed three complete games, with 58 strikeouts against 14 walks. Opponents are hitting .211 off of Emanuel.
Wilkins, a junior college transfer, has thrown just five pitches against the Tar Heels. In Greensboro, he stopped the bleeding and ended a four-run 12th with a strikeout of Michael Russell. Friday night will be Wilkins' fourth start of the year (he has 11 relief appearances). He entered the weekend rotation two weeks ago at Boston College, where he scattered five hits and two earned runs across seven innings.
Carolina sends sophomore RHP Benton Moss (7-0, 2.81) against N.C. State sophomore LHP Carlos Rodon (4-2, 4.48). Both pitchers have two appearances in this rivalry, but neither has a decision.
Moss gave up four hits and two runs (none earned) in a March 26, 2012 start against the Wolfpack. Two months later in Greensboro, he gave up two hits in 5.1 scoreless innings. This year, Moss is averaging nearly six innings per start.
Rodon struck out seven and allowed seven hits in 6.2 in March. He threw nine shutout innings in Greensboro, allowing just four hits. Last weekend in Atlanta, Rodon tossed a two-hit, complete game shutout of the Yellow Jackets.
Junior LHP Hobbs Johnson (2-0, 2.45) faces off with freshman RHP Brad Stone (2-1, 6.23) in the series finale.
Johnson pitched an inning of relief in Raleigh in 2011, with a hit allowed and a strikeout. Last year, he allowed just one hit in four innings of relief in March, and two hits in 1.1 in that Greensboro classic. This year, some arm tightness limited his innings early. In the last two weeks, he's gotten both the run support and the solid outings to put together his first two decisions of the year.
Stone, a Charlotte native, was a high school teammate of Tar Heels Chris McCue and Trent Thornton at Ardrey Kell.
At the beginning of the season, Carolina was searching for a replacement for closer Michael Morin. The answer hadn't been well-defined until recently, when freshman Trent Thornton stepped into the role. Thornton (8-1, 3 saves, 0.88 ERA) began the year as a midweek starter but proved his value out of the bullpen on weekends. The Tar Heels have several options to get to Thornton, including sophomore right-handers Trevor Kelley (2.28 ERA, .151 Batting Average Against) and Chris McCue (1.36, .182). Junior Tate Parrish (0.00, .118) could very well be called upon as a matchup lefty, and senior RHP Chris Munnelly could be available later in the weekend if necessary.
A pair of seniors, RHP Chris Overman (0.00, .101) and LHP Grant Sasser (0.59, .158) are the experienced shut-down men for the Pack. Righties Andrew Woeck (3.60, .237) and Josh Easley (1.65, .243) and LHP Travis Orwig (1.84, .204) have made many appearances as well.
At the Plate/ In the Field
Carolina hits .316 as a team and averages nearly 9 runs per contest. Junior 3B Colin Moran leads the way with a .395 batting average and 67 runs driven in, best in the nation. A more patient Cody Stubbs (.376, 57) is dangerous as well, and Brian Holberton (.345, 34) has helped tremendously in taking his share of the offensive load since Skye Bolt's injury. Parks Jordan (.317, 19) has taken advantage of increased playing time in the last two weeks. The Tar Heels certainly miss Bolt's versatility, as the switch-hitter provides some variety in the lineup, but the Tar Heel bats are swinging it well. Leadoff man Chaz Frank has been outstanding since returning from a hamstring injury.
N.C. State hits .284 a team and averages better than 6.5 runs per game. Sophomore shortstop Trea Turner sets the tone up front for the Wolfpack. He owns the ACC's best batting average (.438) and can burn the basepaths. Turner leads N.C. State with 48 runs scored despite missing ten games with a sprained ankle. 1B Tarran Senay (.333) is the reigning ACC Player of the Week after driving in nine in a sweep of Georgia Tech. The cleanup man has 45 RBI, 14 better than his next-closest teammate (Turner). Catcher Brett Austin is hitting .294 from the third spot in the lineup. Rightfielder Jake Fincher too is dangerous hitting behind Turner.
As a team, Carolina has fielded the ball a bit more cleanly through 43 games (.974 to .965 fielding percentage), while State has turned more double plays (31 to 19). Both teams should be wary of base-runners. The Wolfpack attempt better than two base thefts per game, while the Tar Heels have executed the hit-and-run to perfection.
It's going to be a tremendous series, and either team should be thrilled with taking two out of three this weekend.