Ready For The Stretch Run

Thornton, Roberts

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Top-ranked North Carolina has had one of the best starts in collegiate baseball history and remains hungry to hold on to the top spot and solidify its claim as arguably the best team in the nation.

It's been an incredible 2013 season thus far for head coach Mike Fox and his team. The Tar Heels are loaded with talents such as All-American third baseman Colin Moran, ace starting pitcher Kent Emanuel and slugger Cody Stubbs. UNC has played in the College World Series in Omaha five of the last seven years and Fox currently possesses the highest winning percentage amongst active coaches.

The case can easily be made, however, that this is Fox's best team during his 15-year career in Chapel Hill.

UNC currently hold the nation's best record at 43-4 and remain the top team in the Perfect Game, Baseball America and USA Today Coaches Polls. The Tar Heels boast a 18-1 midweek record along with a 23-1 non-conference record on the year.

UNC's dominance has kept the boys in blue atop the national rankings all season.

"Being top ranked you will always have a target on your back," senior outfielder Chaz Frank said following Tuesday's 9-5 win over James Madison. "Everybody is going to want to come in here and beat us. "

Carolina dropped its first midweek game two weeks ago with a 9-8 loss against UNC Wilmington. The Tar Heels responded with a 10-2 win over UNC Charlotte on Apr. 24 to become the first team in the country to reach 40 wins.

This may seem like a trivial milestone but in the large spectrum of collegiate baseball history it's quite a feat. The 2013 Tar Heels are just one of nine teams in NCAA history to record 40 wins in 43 games or less. They join the 1999 Florida Atlantic team to become one of just two teams to accomplish this mark of superiority in the last 24 years.

UNC leads the nation in runs scored at 8.9 per contest, possesses the top on-base percentage in the nation (.425) and ranks 10th nationally in batting average at .317. The Tar Heels also have the largest scoring margin in the country at plus-6.1 and are the only school in the country with a plus-4.4 or better scoring margin. These numbers alone speak volumes compared to the rest of college baseball in 2013, yet this group is one-upping their production from just a season ago.

Statistically speaking, the 2013 Tar Heels have already surpassed the 2012 team in quite a few major offensive categories. So far this season, the 2013 Tar Heels have scored 416 runs. The 2012 team managed to only tally up 372 runs over the duration of the season. Along with this, the 2013 squad is currently hitting 41 points higher (.317-.276) than the 2012 team and slugging 90 points higher (.474-.384).

The two Tar Heels who have contributed to this productivity increase are Colin Moran and Cody Stubbs. The duo has combined for 138 RBIs this season to stake their claim as the top-two RBI men in the country. This season marks the first time since 2009 that two Tar Heels have reached at least 60 RBIs in a season.

Moran continues to live up to his hype, currently leading the nation in both runs scored and RBIs. He could become just the fourth player in the NCAA since the 1980 season to accomplish this statistical accomplishment.

Now that exams are over, UNC can turn its full attention to the diamond, which doesn't bode well for opponents.

"I think that everybody is finished up with finals now so I felt like we were a little slack or tired [on Tuesday]," Frank said. "Everyone is finished up with finals and it has been a rough couple of days for everyone. After today, everybody should be getting well rested and we can get back to playing good ball heading into the post-season like we do around here."

Since 2006, UNC is 57-14 in regular season games following the exam break.

"I hope that is going to be the case this year but our program is geared to hopefully playing well at this time of the year, " Fox said. "We have had good players and good teams and they have risen to the challenge. That is one thing that I probably need to remind them of and I did before the game. You don't have anything on you now, there are no excuses and you should take a sigh of relief. It is what we shoot for to get to this part of the season to relish it and have fun with it and hopefully it turns into good play."

Matt Clements contributed to this story.

 

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