Rotation Set for Gainesville

Thornton / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Sophomore ace Trent Thornton will start UNC's opening NCAA Tournament game against Long Beach State on Friday afternoon, head coach Mike Fox announced on Wednesday.

Thornton (7-3, 2.24 ERA) has been UNC's Friday night option all season long, but turned in his worst appearance of the season on Saturday against Maryland. The right-hander allowed three earned runs on five hits in 1.1 innings of relief ball as the Terps rallied from a 7-2 deficit to tie the game in the seventh inning.

There is also the chess match of sorts involved with regional play in winning the pivotal winner's bracket game on Saturday night. That topic, however, was apparently not a point of conversation for Fox and pitching coach Scott Forbes.

"We think all three of our starters have been throwing really well," Fox told reporters at Boshamer Stadium. "There are all kinds of debates when you get in about which game is most important and who needs to throw where and when, but we've got a guy who arguably has been one of our best pitchers here the last two years and has been on the big stage…

"For us, there was really not a lot of discussion that Trent Thornton needed to throw Game 1."

Fox added that junior right-hander Benton Moss (4-2, 3.33 ERA) was slated to start on Saturday and freshman righty Zac Gallen (5-4, 4.43 ERA) would pitch in Game 3 on Sunday, if necessary.

"It's definitely important to win that first game on Friday," Thornton said. "We have a really good pitching staff, but we've got to save pitching. If we have to go to a fourth or fifth game, we're going to be a little low on pitching, so it's important to get off to a good start and win the game on Friday."

Russell Injury Update

Michael Russell's back pain likely will linger throughout UNC's postseason. The junior shortstop sat out Friday's loss to Virginia with back spasms and served as the designated hitter in the early going of Saturday's win over Maryland.

Russell's back has bothered him in recent weeks and the only remedy is time off.

"This is just a rest kind of thing," Fox said. "Really, he needs to rest probably a month or two and it will heal. So it's going to be a game day decision about, first of all, whether he can play, and second of all, whether he can play defense.

"The trainers have done all they can do. He's feeling better. It looks like he's moving a little bit better. He's not going to be 100 percent, but we'll make that decision Friday morning."

If Russell is unable to start in the field, sophomore Alex Raburn is Fox's first option to fill the hole at shortstop. Raburn played shortstop on Saturday after playing third base against Virginia. Recommended Stories

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