Youth Provides The Spark

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- ACC Freshman of the Year Dustin Ackley, the nation's fifth-leading batter with a .437 average, leads No. 3 overall seed North Carolina into the opening weekend of the 2007 NCAA playoffs. But he's only one of several rookies making an impact as the Tar Heels embark on another run at the College World Series title.

"It's almost expected for him to get a hit every time he comes up there," frosh right fielder Tim Fedroff said about Ackley.

Although he went hitless Sunday to end a 15-game streak, Ackley -- a spray hitter with power -- batted .353 (6-17) with three RBI on the week to earn a spot on the all-tournament team.

But his most important contribution to UNC's first conference crown since 1990 occurred when he walked, stole second and scored on Josh Horton's game-winning triple in the eighth in the title game.

Ackley's seven home runs and 62 RBI speaks to his power capability.

"I've had one coach who coached for 30-some years tell me [Ackley's] the best hitter he's seen, and he coaches guys in the major leagues," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "I've just never seen a kid with the ability to get hits like that."

The Tar Heels (48-12) open NCAA play against Jacksonville (34-26) Friday at 6 p.m. in Chapel Hill.

Horton was joined on the league's all-tournament team by Ackley, Fedroff, and 6-3 right-handed pitcher Alex White – all underclassmen – along with junior Reid Fronk.

Fox said Fedroff cried when he offered him a scholarship. From that experience, Fox said he knew right away Fedroff would bring it every practice and every game.

"Tears welled up in his eyes when we offered him," Fox said. "Right then, I knew he was going to bring something extra."

Fedroff, a native of Flaggtown, N.J., who donned a bright red Rutgers t-shirt after practice on Wednesday, led the Tar Heels with a .467 average (7-15) over the four-game tournament but was held hitless Sunday to snap a nine-game hitting streak.

"It's been remarkable how this season has gone for me," Fedroff said. "The team and the guys all have gotten along real well. It's made playing baseball out there a lot easier. We just kind of let everybody play their game. We're all focused, and it kind of comes easy."

White, Baseball America's Preseason Freshman of the Year, was schooled at in-state powerhouse Greenville Conley, where he shook off a 14th round drafting by the Los Angeles Dodgers in lieu of seasoning at UNC.

White is not so much as surprised to be already entrenched in the Tar Heels' starting rotation, as he is impressed with the tutelage he continues to receive. He credits Carolina coaching staff with his quick ascension to notoriety via a 3.35 ERA and a team-high 77 srikeouts.

"We try to go after every hitter and get ahead early in counts," White said. "We work hard everyday we come out here, and that's a credit to our coaches keeping us on track. With the run last year, they made sure we weren't complacent when we came out this year.

"Every freshman's goal is to come in and make an impact," he said. "Fortunately I've been given an opportunity, and I want to make the most of every opportunity I get out in the field."

Fox is not surprised his veteran, tournament-tested team is being buoyed by freshman.

"…Because you never know from year to year what's going to happen with your team," Fox said. "Those on the inside know your freshmen are going to have to come in and contribute.

"You have to recruit as if you have to fill some needs, and fortunately we've have had significant contributions from several. It's a credit to them; you know you have to have talented performers, but they still have to come in here and perform. And they have at a high level," Fox said.

One thing is for sure, the resurgent fan interest in Carolina baseball and it's national exposure via its recent success and ESPN has provided a recruiting shot in the arm for Fox that sets a firm foundation for future success.

Your never too old to learn, and the veteran Fox is reaping the rewards of a shift in recruiting philosophy he's enacted. Thus, the Tar Heels appear on the cusp of becoming a perennial national power.

Fox said, "I think four or five years ago we changed our philosophy a little bit as far as going after those ‘quote' high profile high school kids – and thinking, ‘Well, they're probably going to sign and not enroll.' So we started going after those kids where maybe their emphasis was on academics and going to a great school."

"That started maybe before Andrew Miller, but Andrew was that first high profile player who turned down that opportunity to come to school," he said.

"We've been able to target some pretty good players. But, more importantly, hopefully, we've been able to target some good kids, because I still think you win with character and kids with discipline. We really like to have kids that want to come to Carolina."

  • In addition, Fox confirmed senior right hander Robert Woodard will start against the Dolphins. Woodard is 9-2 with a 3.29 ERA, 68 strikeouts against just 22 walks.

    "We feel like we need to put our experienced guy out there – our strong thrower," Fox said. "We comfortable with (any one of our starters), but Robert will relish that opportunity in front of a great crowd. He can get us off on a good note. He'll be ready; I know he'll be ready."

  • Ackley and closer Andrew Carignan each claimed third-team All-America honors Wednesday when the Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I All-America teams were announced by Collegiate Baseball newspaper.

    The ACC Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection, Ackley is the first Carolina rookie to earn All-America honors since Brian Roberts in 1997. He has already set UNC freshman records with 107 hits and 63 RBI and is batting .437 with 19 doubles, three triples and seven home runs in 60 starts.

    Also a first-team All-ACC choice, Carignan leads the league with 13 saves in 14 chances and owns a 1.20 ERA in 31 appearances. He has struck out 54 in just 48 innings. Carignan is the first Tar Heel reliever to claim All-America honors since Derrick DePriest in 2000.

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