Veteran Heels Turn to a Freshman

OMAHA, Neb. – The prevailing storyline of this postseason has been North Carolina's vast experience in the College World Series, so now it's ironically fitting that freshman pitcher Matt Harvey has been given the nod on Thursday night in a do-or-die situation against No. 7 seed LSU.

"He was going to have to pitch out here eventually," head coach Mike Fox said during his media interview on Wednesday afternoon. "Matt's got good enough stuff to give us a chance, and I think that he'll relish pitching in this environment. It's what you work all year for, so we'll see how he handles it."

Harvey has posted a 7-2 record and a 2.52 earned run average in 17 appearances (14 starts) this season, with 74 strikeouts and a team-high 44 walks – impressive numbers that highlight why the Mystic, Conn. product was selected in the third round of the MLB Draft last summer by the Los Angeles Angels.

But the opportunity to play in a veteran program that had just gone to back-to-back College World Series factored heavily in his decision to enroll at North Carolina last fall, and now that move has presented the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder with an opportunity to pitch on collegiate baseball's biggest stage.

"This is what you pitch for – either playing in the Major Leagues or pitching in the College World Series in a big game," Harvey said. "If you don't pitch well or your team doesn't play well, then you could be gone, so it's definitely every kid's dream."

But that dream didn't turn out too well for then-freshman Alex White in last season's CWS. The Greenville, N.C. native allowed six earned runs and five hits in 1.1 innings of work in a 14-4 loss to Rice before giving up five earned runs and eight hits in 5.1 innings in an 11-4 loss to Oregon State in the championship series.

Blasting through William & Mary at home in March is not quite on the same level as what Harvey will face on Thursday night – a LSU squad loaded with seven .300-plus hitters, including the nation's leading homerun king in Matt Clark (27).

But White systematically picked apart that lineup on Sunday, allowing just four hits and three earned runs in seven strong innings. Harvey plans to utilize the ACC Pitcher of the Year's advice during preparation for the Tigers.

"It's always tough beating a team twice, so I'm going to get as much information as I can from him and try to duplicate a little bit of what he did," Harvey said. "It's definitely a big help when you have a good scouting report from someone on your team."

One concern for the Tar Heels is that Harvey has seen minimal action in the NCAA Tournament – the right hander's first and only appearance occurred on May 30th in a 16-8 victory over Mount St. Mary's in the Cary Regional. Harvey allowed just one run and one in three innings on that Friday, only days after pitching a gem in the ACC Tournament (13 strikeouts in eight shutout innings in a 2-0 victory over Wake Forest).

But the seniors on this UNC squad toed the company line on Wednesday, using coachspeak to indicate their confidence in the freshman.

"He's not a freshman anymore," closer Rob Wooten said. "He's pitched all year long and he's a Freshman All-American so I think we're pretty comfortable with him going out there."

Third-baseman Chad Flack echoed his classmate, saying that, "He's worked very hard and he's prepared very hard, so I think he'll be ready."

But while a fresh face starting for this veteran program may seem ironic, it should be pointed out that there are complete teams in this College World Series that arrived in Omaha with zero experience in this event.

"You're not going to have experience No. 1 through No. 25," Fox said. "That's not the way it works here. We didn't really have experience when we ran Brian Moran out there [Sunday night] – that was his first time on the mound in the College World Series. And it showed a little bit. He was much more comfortable [on Tuesday].

"So it's amazing, it's kind of like you jump in that pool one time, the second time it's not quite as big of a shock to you. Matt's just got to jump in the pool and he's either going to sink or swim. We'll see... I hope he floats."

Junior pitcher Adam Warren chuckled earlier this week when asked about the experience factor, because it has potentially been overplayed in the media. But it does add even more intrigue to the fact that if the Tar Heels want to return to the championship series for a third-straight season, a freshman must lead them.

"It's what everybody's been saying, but I'm not worrying about it at all," Harvey said. "I feel like I've pitched all season and I'm ready for this, so if people have doubts, then I'm going to go out there and prove them wrong."

Inside Carolina Top Stories