The Woodstock, Ga. native threw nine strikeouts in eight innings on Tuesday, leading No. 17 North Carolina (7-1) to a 4-2 win over the Charlotte 49ers (7-2). He entered the eighth inning with a shutout in-hand, but was replaced by Cody Penny after giving up two runs.
"We thought Kent was going to be good when we recruited him," head coach Mike Fox said after the victory. "We thought he was going to be good when he didn't sign out of high school. We thought he was going to be good in the fall. We thought he was going to be good in the spring. [He] has great temperament and had great tempo today; threw a lot of first-pitch strikes."
The slender 6-4 southpaw wears a relaxed smile, but at his core burns a competitive spirit. He is working hard to expand his arsenal of pitches.
UNC catcher Jacob Stallings is complimentary of his young teammate, and it's difficult for him to think of an area in need of improvement. However, Stallings did say that if Emanuel develops a harder breaking ball or slider, he will be one of the ACC's top pitchers.
"I'm going to try to get the cutter down first, then try to turn it into a slider," said Emanuel, who struck out two batters in five innings in his season opener.
In just three appearances, Emanuel sports a 1.93 ERA and is making strides at being able to get ahead of hitters early in the count. Fox also indicated that Emanuel is the best fielding pitcher on the roster.
"He's not going to get rattled," Fox said. "A lot of that has to do with his preparation. I think he trusts himself a lot."
Coming out of high school, Emanuel was drafted in the 19th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but did not receive an offer. His commitment to North Carolina was strong, and his transition from high school to the collegiate level has been relatively seamless.
"I think after that first start I just realized I can come out here and just pitch like I usually have in the past and be successful," Emanuel said.
While some pitchers are meticulous to a fault, Emanuel's easy-going approach has already won over his catcher.
"Kent's got an attitude I've honestly never seen before in a baseball player," Stallings said. "He hardly throws any warm-up pitches. He throws four fast balls, and he's ready to go. His demeanor is something as a baseball player I really admire. He's real care-free. In the ninth inning I'm like, ‘You still feeling good?' ‘Yeah, feeling good.' And I'm like, ‘Alright, let's get this guy out.' He's real mature for his age."
Not easily deterred sums it up when describing Emanuel. He just goes out and plays, and gets the job done.
For the freshman southpaw, it is not about fitting in or padding stats, but rather helping his team win. That's how it has always been for Emanuel.
"He's very mature," Fox said. "You could tell that in recruiting. Extremely mature, almost to where you didn't really think he was a junior in high school when we first started recruiting him."
When asked if Emanuel could move into the regular weekend rotation, Fox replied, "Whether or not something happens to where we move him on the weekend, I think it's way too early to make that determination. We like how our other three guys are throwing so far."
With challenging midweek games next week against Elon and St. John's, Emanuel will be tested well before the Tar Heels get into the rigors of conference play.