THREE THINGS: CAROLINA 1, ECU 0
Carolina headed for the exam break with a 10-inning, 1-0 win over East Carolina on Wednesday night. How big was the victory? "I'm not even sure I can quantify how big it was," said head coach Mike Fox. The jubilant Carolina locker room illustrated his sentiment.
1. Kent Emanuel was terrific. The lefty threw 96 pitches over 8 1/3 innings, allowing just four hits and walking none while shutting out the Pirates. "He was absolutely sensational, and we needed every pitch," Fox said. That was true, because the Pirate pitching was equally solid. Emanuel, normally Carolina's Friday night ace, was throwing on Wednesday because of the upcoming exam break. The Tar Heels closed the game out with Michael Morin, using perhaps their two most trusted arms in a rare weekday appearance. Emanuel still hasn't won since the Maryland series, but he's received very little run support. His outing Wednesday was much more prototypical Emanuel than his last outing, when he struggled with command against Georgia Tech.
2. The Tar Heels shuffled the infield, with Tommy Coyle (19 errors) moving from short to second, Michael Russell from third to short, and Mike Zolk from second to third. The new alignment was tested immediately, as Russell picked up a first-inning error on a ball that required do-or-die instincts, but overall it looked like a positive move. Russell made a tremendously athletic play to keep a chopper in the infield in the ninth that could have been a game-saver, and Coyle stopped a hard grounder in the late innings. The defense will change again when Carolina takes the field in a week against Winthrop, because Colin Moran will be back from a broken hand. The assumption is that he will step back in at third base. The Tar Heel coaching staff will now have a week to figure out how they want to handle the shortstop/second base combination and decide who sits down when Moran returns.
3. Speaking of Moran's return, Carolina weathered his absence reasonably well. The Tar Heels posted a 13-8 mark without their leading hitter, and go into exams in first place in the Coastal Division. All the preseason goals--an ACC title, a regional hosting spot, and a national seed--are still within reach. That national seed chase will be interesting to watch. In previous seasons, Carolina has closed the regular season with big series against highly ranked opponents that boost the UNC RPI. This year, with Carolina sitting seventh in the current RPI, the highest-ranked remaining ACC foe is Virginia Tech at 32nd. Even victories against the other two ACC series opponents, Boston College (75) and Duke (102), could cause the all-important metric to slide and take Carolina out of a potential top-eight seed.