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The sophomore righty earning the opening pitch for the Chapel Hill Regional against No. 4 seed Dartmouth was not unexpected, especially considering it's the same approach employed by the UNC coaching staff last season in beginning the NCAA postseason against Mount St. Mary's. Harvey allowed one run on one hit in three innings, as the Tar Heels darted out to a 8-1 lead before he was pulled.
"They've all got to win a game for us, we think – or we know – in this regional for us to advance," Fox said. "We could really have pitched any one of those guys in any order. They've all shown flashes of being really, really good, and they've had some bumps in the road, which is normal. I think Matt Harvey has pitched great down the stretch… So we'll see if we pushed the right button there."
That's the correct political answer, but the more likely scenario is that Fox acknowledges that Dartmouth is not at the level of No. 2 seed Coastal Carolina or No. 3 seed Kansas, and by saving his first two options – Alex White and Adam Warren – for Saturday and Sunday, respectively, he's putting his program in better position to advance.
It doesn't hurt that the Big Green has not seen a fast ball jump on them quicker than what Harvey (6-2, 5.60 ERA) will deliver, as the Mystic, Conn. product is consistently in the 92-96 miles-per-hour range.
Despite getting hit hard early in Saturday's loss to Clemson, Harvey dug in and worked six valuable innings, giving up just three runs on nine hits with five strikeouts.
"I've just been trying to get our defense involved in the game as much as possible," Harvey said. "My arm didn't feel that great, velocity-wise, but I knew if I made my pitches and forced a ground ball or a flyout, then the defense was going to be right there making plays. That's what has helped me pound the zone a little bit more and not worry about striking guys out."
It's easy to point to the Adam Warren's and Garrett Gore's of the UNC roster that have played in an unprecedented three straight College World Series. But the Tar Heels replaced five starters this season, and that inexperience reared its head in the final moments of the ACC Tournament last weekend.
Patrick Johnson's throwing error to first base with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning made the headlines, but the reason Clemson's Mike Freeman advanced two bases to third – eventually scoring the winning run – is that freshman second baseman Levi Michael failed to backup first baseman Dustin Ackley. The ball ended up in the Tar Heels' dugout, allowing for the extra base pickup.
Fox indicated on Monday that the mistake was due to Michael having to learn on the fly, as the coaching staff was not able to work with him during the fall. Adding to the issue is that the freshman is new to second base, having played shortstop for most of his life.
"He catches himself out of position sometimes, and we have to constantly watch him and where he is," said Fox, adding that Michael's 13 errors are about twice as many as the staff wants from that position.
But in the end, the growing pains are a necessary evil, and it obviously helps to have others in the lineup with a plethora of examples over the years to pull from and utilize.
"Experience, I think, is probably the most important thing this time of year," Fox said on Wednesday. "It's something that I can't teach or coach. It's just something your team has to have, and fortunately, we have it. Now, we've got some guys on the field that haven't been in a regional game before… but I think they'll look toward our leaders and our experienced guys like Adam Warren and Garrett Gore."
A Possible Silver Lining
A portion of North Carolina's offensive woes this season have come from the fact that all too often, Dustin Ackley (.399, 20 HR, 61 RBI) and Kyle Seager (.385, 48, RBI, 24 doubles) step to the plate with nobody on base. But if there was a silver lining in the 4-3 loss to Clemson, it was the fact that those two sluggers walked to the plate a combined six times with men on base.
Unfortunately, the dynamic duo also combined for 2-of-11 hitting (.182, 2 RBI). But Ackley and Seager rarely struggle to that degree, so could Saturday's performance by their sidekicks be built upon this weekend?
"I hope so," Ackley said. "It's definitely good to be on base for anybody on our team. Everybody on our team is capable of driving runs in. It seems like Clemson was one of those games where we had some guys on base at certain times and we just couldn't get the job done. That can happen to anybody at any time, but I think we know what to do and our guys will be ready to hit with runners in scoring position."
White Moving Past Virginia
Eight earned runs. Six hits. Two walks. One out.
That's how Saturday's third inning against Virginia played out for projected top-10 draft pick Alex White. But if the junior has learned anything, it's that you can't dwell on past events.
"Sometimes you just can't help it – I was doing my best to get out of that inning, but I just couldn't do it," White said. "It just shows that you've got to move on, you've got to be ready to pitch the next weekend, and you've got to forget about it."
Regardless of how that particular inning turned out, White indicated that he was not ready to come out of the game.
"If they're going to let me go back out, I'm going to go back out," White said. "I'll throw 160 pitches if I've got to. I really don't care. I want to be on the mound at all times."