However, they'll face the challenge of getting the remaining two games of the Fall World Series in with the forecast for rain on the horizon. "We really want to try to play these last two games because we have to end Wednesday because of the [NCAA] rules and when we started our fall season," head coach Mike Fox explained. "Our fall season ends Nov. 5 no matter what. We have our pitching set up for our last four starters all to get a start. So when you run down to the very end like this you run the risk of rain catching you. They do such a wonderful job out here at the USA Baseball Complex - I'm sure we will get the game in."
Oct. 28 – White 1, Blue 0 (Notebook ... Play-by-Play)
Oct. 29 – White 3, Blue 0 (Play-by-Play)
Oct. 31 – Blue 2, White 0 (Play-by-Play)
Nov. 3 - Blue 4, White 3 (Play-by-Play)
Nov. 4 - CANCELLED (rain)
Nov. 5 - 2:30pm -
The Diamond Heels entered fall practice with a number of starting vacancies after the departures of Chad Flack, Seth Williams, Kyle Shelton, Tim Fedroff and Tim Federowicz. Meanwhile, Dustin Ackley recovered from offseason surgery and will head to his natural position in the outfield, opening up another starting position at first base. A small recruiting class arrived to help bolster the ranks.
"We basically only have four [middle] infielders," Fox said. "With Graepel, Seager and Gore we have got three very experienced infielders that I feel comfortable with really anywhere. We are going to keep Garrett on the right side of the infield. I think his best position is at second base but we have been working him in the outfield too. We will see how Matt Harrison comes along and we have a recruit coming in as well."
Junior Ryan Norton, redshirt junior Michael Cavassini and sophomores Ben Bunting and Zeke Blanton join freshmen Landon Adams and Seth Baldwin in the mix for playing time in the outfield.
Who have been some of the names that have taken advantage of the opportunity and raised the level of their game this fall?
"Greg Holt has probably made as big an improvement [as anyone] in the batter's box," Fox said of the sophomore. "Then Ben Bunting - mostly it has been our sophomores that I have been trying to keep an eye on because they are the group that really need to step up because they are the ones that are going to have to get some more playing time - more then they got last year. So I think Ben Bunting has been playing with more confidence as has Greg. And Brett Thomas has been playing with more confidence as well and it is nice to see him step up there and lace the ball [referring to the game-winning hit in game 4] - we made a mistake with that pitch but that is what good hitters do is hit mistakes."
The Tar Heels have a wealth of talent to take the mound this coming season with returning senior Adam Warren, ACC Pitcher of the Year Alex White and a pair of freshman All American arms in Colin Bates and Matt Harvey.
"I think we will have a good team and our goal just like every other season will be to take it as far as we can and go back to Omaha," junior right-hander Alex White said following his Game 4 start. "...for me it is to go out and pitch well and help our team win - and that is what I am going to try to do."
White will anchor a talented rotation and the expected return of Garrett Davis and Rob Catapano will help build depth in the starting rotation and coming out of the bullpen.
Fun in the Fall
While there is growing excitement for the return to the renovated Boshamer Stadium in the near future, the Tar Heels are enjoying the finale to fall practice at the USA Baseball Complex.
Pitting teammates against each other has provided a good mix of fun and competition.
"I like the games being competitive in the series and that is just like I told the guys -- to kind of dial up the intensity in our intra-squad competition," Fox said. "It is fun to see the guys compete and being in situations I have not seen before."
The Blue team lost the first series of the FWS, 2-1, before bouncing back for Monday's win the start the second series. Their support from the dugout has been both vocal and creative. Brian Moran has been a ringleader, beating a bucket with a bat on a number of occasions to rally the squad.
"That is their coaching over there - they can't keep them straight in the dugout," joked White about the opposing team. "It is a lot of fun - they are making it fun out there and we are going to enjoy beating them the next two days."
The Tar Heels adapted to their adopted home in Cary's deeper outfield last season by manufacturing runs with stolen bases and hit and runs. This style of play is here to stay according to Coach Fox, especially considering the roster for this coming season.
"I like the fact that between Cavassini, Norton, Bunting and of course Ackley I think we maybe have more team speed than last year and we will have to utilize that some even though we are back at Boshamer," Fox said. "We did back up the fences up there at some spots a foot or two with our new wall - we will have to see how it plays. But honestly it is good having some guys that can run because it gives you an opportunity to do some things you can not do otherwise."
Dustin Ackley saw his first action of the Fall World Series on Monday. The star junior first baseman/outfielder had been sidelined since the summer after undergoing elbow surgery.
"Dusty has been swinging for a couple of weeks now," Fox said. "He wanted to get in there for a couple of at bats to see some pitches here. It is just nice seeing him back in the box. He is still not anywhere near but we will throw him a lot of batting practice in the offseason and he will be ready to go. It is nice to see him back to where he can swing. I just wanted to get him out there with live pitching and take a few swings and see the effect with his elbow and he said there wasn't any..."