Thriving in the Nine-Hole

(UNCAC/Bray)

DURHAM, N.C. --- The ninth hitter in a lineup typically provides a respite for the pitcher before returning to face the top of the order. However, North Carolina's Parks Jordan is not your typical last man up.

Jordan, a sophomore from Greensboro, N.C., is hitting .286 on the season, fourth best among Carolina players with at least 100 at bats. While that number might not stand out, the performance of Jordan in ACC contests this year is more significant.

Jordan, a left-handed hitter, is batting .326 in conference play, which is tops on the team. To put that number in perspective, North Carolina All-American third baseman Colin Moran, who is hitting .387 overall this season, has a .277 average in limited ACC play.

Five ACC programs are ranked in the top-25 of the USA Today Coaches Poll and ten of the conference's teams are in the top-40 of the RPI. With such difficult competition within the conference, it's unexpected for a player to perform at a higher level during in-conference games versus out of conference games against, on average, easier opponents. But Jordan sees it the other way.

"It's just a lot easier to be locked in - you're so much more concentrated," Jordan said of ACC games. "I know that sounds bad, but in the mid-week games the fans aren't into it. The attendance isn't as high and [for ACC games] it's just easier to be locked in and ready to go."

Jordan, who typically plays left field but has also spent time at first base for the Tar Heels this season, is also riding a ten game conference hitting streak dating back to the Virginia series in mid-April.

Remarkably, Jordan has done his damage at the plate during conference play largely from the ninth spot in the lineup. Rarely do you see one of the leading hitters on a team batting on the final spot of the order. Typically, coaches will stick a struggling player there in an effort to get them back on track.

Head coach Mike Fox offered little explanation as to why Jordan is hitting so well from the ninth spot, saying simply "it's another weird thing." Jordan himself is not even sure why the ninth spot is treating him so well.

"When they moved me up in the lineup, I'm like ‘alright, it's the same deal,' but I don't know if [opponents] are not expecting it or what it is, but I've just been real successful this year in the nine hole, so it's just working."

When Jordan has been moved up in the lineup during ACC play, his performance at the plate has suffered dramatically. The sophomore has just two hits in 21 at bats when batting higher than the ninth spot in conference games. That is good for a .095 average compared to a .394 average while hitting from the nine hole in ACC play.

Jordan continued his stellar play during the sweep of Duke this past weekend. He went 6-for-14 from the plate and set a career high for hits in a single game, with four in Saturday afternoon's 15-1 victory.

"I was just seeing the ball really well," Jordan told reporters following the game. "I think two of my hits were off fastballs and the other two were off breaking balls, so overall I just felt good and felt like I was picking up the spin real early and that was a big part of the good hitting today."

As the Diamond Heels continue to search for consistent hitting to compliment their dominant pitching this season, it seems they have it in their starting lineup. You just need to look a little further down in the order to find it.

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