Heels Continue Winning Ways

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – If you haven't followed No. 4 North Carolina's baseball program through its current 38-13 record, it would be easy to assume that this Tar Heel squad is just an extension of the past three UNC teams that ended their seasons in Omaha. But in surmising that opinion, you might be on your own.

Mike Fox was asked about his team's current position in battling for a NCAA Tournament national seed on Monday afternoon, and his response was crisp and to the point.

"Yeah, I don't know how," he replied. "I really don't. I think we've really overachieved."

When most coaches – at any level – are interviewed about their squad's success this late in the season, the typical response is text book and politically correct. Not Fox. The 11th-year UNC head coach is succinctly honest.

A follow-up question asked if he was surprised by his team's 38-13 record, drawing this response – "Yes. Oh, yes. Very much… The fact that we're even in consideration for a national seed is a good surprise. It's a really good surprise." "

Those comments may sound odd coming from a man that has directed this North Carolina program to 203 wins over the last 39 months, but massive losses to the roster – Chad Flack, Seth Williams, Tim Fedroff, Tim Federowicz and Rob Wooten to name a few – as well as several untimely injuries this season have exposed the Tar Heels' lack of depth and inexperience at times.

Sure, UNC boasts two top-10 Major League Draft prospects in pitcher Alex White (7-2, 3.45 ERA, 82 strikeouts) and first baseman Dustin Ackley (.401 batting average, 16 home runs), as well as standouts in Kyle Seager, Colin Bates and Brian Moran, but the laundry list of accolades that followed last year's squad into the postseason is nowhere near as long this time around.

"We're not great at anything," Fox said. "We have a Friday night guy [White] that we can run out there and we're pretty good with him on the mound… But overall, we don't have great power, we only have 44 stolen bases [and] we're not an outstanding defensive team."

But senior pitcher Adam Warren (6-2, 3.21 ERA) doesn't believe having the most talent is required to win the national championship.

"We're probably not the most talented team out there, but we go out there expecting to win and I think that's why we've been so successful," Warren said on Monday. "You can't tell me the last three times in Omaha that the most talented team has won. I feel like this team has a chance to win some big games down the road."

And while talent can be cultivated from Day One, experience cannot – that is a trait developed only under fire in live-action situations. Last season, Fox knew he could count on Flack, Williams or Fedroff to handle the moment and play to the best of their abilities. With four games remaining before the 2009 postseason, the UNC head coach can only hope that his younger players rise to the occasion in similar fashion.

"That experience – you can't coach it, can't teach it, can't will it," Fox said. "You just have to have it. You've got to have guys that have been through it. So I think we've got some leadership, and I think we've got some experience to say, ‘This is what you've got to do to at least put yourself in a position to have a chance to win…'

"I'll have four or five guys out there who have not been big-time players in a regional. And if you try too hard, it doesn't work in this game."

The issue of pressing reared its ugly head this past weekend against N.C. State, when the Tar Heel bats fell dormant with a .220 batting average against the Wolfpack. And while the current youth on this roster pushes aside the notion that living up to this program's recent national success is stressful, living in the here and now and not in past glory is the key for this team heading into the final week of the regular season and beyond.

"Everybody wants to win, and sometimes when we struggle a little bit, that drive to win pushes us even harder to try to win," Warren said. "But sometimes you've got to relax and not panic… We're going to struggle at times, but it's the way that we react to those struggles that's going to define our team."

But even with experience and depth concerns, the Tar Heels are still in strong contention for a national seed, which brings with it the opportunity to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. And with a little help from around the league this weekend, North Carolina could possibly win the ACC regular season title outright.

Not bad for a bunch of overachievers.

UNC is down to four regular-season contests left on the schedule, traveling to Charlotte for a 6 p.m. start on Tuesday before finishing the ACC slate with a series at Boston College. The Tar Heels are 7-6 on the road in 2009.

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