Heels, Pack Take Center Stage

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Top-ranked North Carolina travels to Raleigh this weekend to face streaking sixth-ranked N.C. State. As usual for the Tar Heels, the primary focus won't center on the powerful offenses but will instead revolve around pitching and defense.

Heading into this weekend, UNC leads the nation in scoring at 8.9 runs per game, total runs (384) and on base percentage (.427). The Wolfpack are no slouches, either, when it comes to offensive production. N.C. State has tallied 285 runs on the season along with a .369 on-base percentage and has won 15 games in a row, good for tops in the country.

These statistics would lead one to believe that offense would be the deciding factor between UNC and N.C. State this weekend, yet that will be far from the case.

UNC sophomore pitcher Benton Moss made it clear on Thursday what will be the determining factor between the rivals, saying, "Pitching and defense will obviously play a big role - that's what wins you games in baseball."

This wouldn't seem like the popular outlook yet with top aces such as UNC's Kent Emanuel and Moss and N.C. State's Carlos Rodon, this series will revolve heavily around what happens on the mound rather than what happens in the batter's box.

"Up and down the league, the teams having the most success obviously have a good offense, but they can pitch and play defense too," UNC associate head coach/pitching coach Scott Forbes said.

Emanuel will be making his 43nd career start on Friday against the Wolfpack. Emanuel topped the list of Tar Heel pitchers with the fewest appearances needed to reach 25 wins against Duke last Friday and is looking to keep that momentum going against another in-state rival.

"None of us are big on N.C. State and that goes for all sports," Emanuel said. "It'd be pretty cool to take down both Duke and State in back-to-back weekends."

Emanuel is the highest-touted pitcher for the Tar Heels, yet N.C. State's left-handed slinger Carlos Rodon may be the best pitching prospect competing in the series. He received high praise from UNC head coach Mike Fox on Thursday.

"He can dominate you no matter what day he is pitching," Fox said. "He may be the best pitcher in the country or has the potential to be."

Rodon was the first freshman in conference history named the ACC Pitcher of the Year in 2012. Although his numbers haven't quite lived up to the hype so far in his sophomore season, Fox and the Tar Heels know how lethal Rodon and company can be.

"They're going to play at a high level against us," Fox said. "They always do and if we don't then we're going to be in trouble."

Moss will take on the high profile task of facing Rodon in Saturday's installment of this series.

"Already knowing it's sold out will give it a little bit of an adrenaline rush when I step on the mound and for all of our starters and pitchers who take the rubber," Moss said.

That being said, Moss has full faith in his Tar Heel team to perform in Raleigh.

"I think our team is extremely relaxed but at the same time extremely ready," said Moss. "Our team is one that rises to the occasion."

The series looks to be a big-time affair yet Fox wouldn't put too much stock in the series making or breaking the season for either team.

"In the big scheme of things, it's three games," said Fox. "It's three intense days of trying to play your best baseball in a hostile environment, trying to keep your composure and see what happens when it's all over with on Sunday."

The series between the two top-ranked programs kicks off Friday night at 6:30 at Doak Field in Raleigh.

Inside Carolina Top Stories