Santa Comes Early for Tar Heel Baseball

North Carolina head baseball coach Mike Fox got an early Christmas present this morning with the announcement of 19 new student-athletes signing their letters of intent to play in Chapel Hill next Spring. Coach Fox’s haul includes four of the top 75 prospects according to Baseball America, as well as six of the top 200, according to Perfect Game.

“My staff has put together another outstanding class and we are very excited to bring these young men to the University of North Carolina,” Fox says. “Coach Jackson has once again done a tremendous job leading our recruiting efforts along with the tireless work of Coach Forbes and Coach Gaines. I know that this group is made up of the type of student-athletes who will make our University proud while competing at the highest level both on the field and in the classroom.”

Leading the class are outfielder Jahmai Jones (No.47 Baseball America, No.17 Perfect Game) and OF/1B Desmond Lindsey (No.49 Baseball America, No.52 Perfect Game).  Jones, out of Roswell, Georgia, is rated as the fourth-ranked high school outfielder in the nation, while his outfield counterpart Lindsey, from Bradenton, FL, is also rated as the nation’s No. 4 first baseman.

Joining them at the top are catcher Wyatt Cross (No. 74 Baseball America, No. 40 Perfect Game), the nation’s second-ranked catching prospect hailing from Broomfield, Colorado, and left-handed pitcher Brendon Little (No.57 Baseball America, No. 124 Perfect Game).  Little, from Malvern, Pennsylvania is considered to be the top lefty in his state.

Twelve members in the class are ranked among the top 25 high-schoolers in their home states. This includes in-state commits Cole Aiker from Kernersville and Josh Hiatt from Mooresville. Both are right-handed pitchers. Overall, seven of the 19-player class are homegrown from the state of North Carolina.

These new prospects will look to continue the strong tradition of UNC baseball and add to Coach Fox’s already impressive collection of College World Series appearances.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/santa-comes-early-tar-heel-baseball/

Oakes’ Outlook: Bowls, Roles, and Noles

Motown

And so the Tar Heels’ disappointing 2014 campaign will come to a close in Motown. It’s a fitting end (a dreary and cold one in the Midwest at that) for Carolina in a season that began with its head coach, Larry Fedora, proclaiming “it’s time.” Time for what, exactly, I’m not sure, but it certainly wasn’t a trip to the Quick Lane Bowl to face the equally mediocre 7-5 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Grab your tickets, folks! Get ‘em while they’re hot. I hear you can grab a pair of upper deck tickets for $75 each. After all, who doesn’t want to spend Christmas in Detroit?

The only one who might be excited about UNC’s bowl destination is Eric Ebron. The ex-Tar Heel turned Detroit Lion won’t have to travel far to watch his former teammates play. Enjoy, Ebron. I’m sitting this one out.

Photo courtesy of longshotblues.com

Photo courtesy of longshotblues.com

 

Platoons

Strap yourselves in, Carolina fans. I’m setting the over/under for the number of times we hear the word “platoon” Saturday at 50. Place your bets!

If you haven’t heard, the Tar Heels head to Rupp Arena Saturday for a meeting with the No. 1 team in the land – the Kentucky Wildcats. I’m still waiting to hear back from John Calipari’s folks for an interview…then I can ask him which side he’d like on that over/under. He’s a betting man, right?

The real question in this game is whether the blue platoon or the white platoon gets more playing time. “What did you think about that platoon shift there? I don’t know, Calipari may have taken the blue platoon out a little too soon – they’re a more offensively-gifted platoon.” Just a taste.

But let’s face it: the result isn’t really in doubt. The margin of victory? Sure. UK is really good.

Just remember, we won’t be watching a war movie this weekend. This will be college basketball. It will be easy to confuse the two. You’ll be all “platooned” out when the final buzzer sounds around 2 p.m. Saturday.

FREE ADVICE: Get your earplugs ready.

Photo courtesy of fashiontimes.com

Photo courtesy of fashiontimes.com

 

Jimbo’s Genius

Has there ever been a more dominant team less appreciated (or, ummm….more disrespected) than Florida State?

29 straight victories. Defending national champions. Three-time defending ACC champions. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Tradition. Pageantry. Legends.

You can think whatever you’d like about Jameis Winston’s childishly foolish behavior off the field, but I choose to separate the product on the field from the transgressions off it.

And the product I’ve witnessed on the field since November 24th, 2012 (the last time they came out on the wrong end of a scoreboard) has been nothing short of spectacular.

And yet, as the Seminoles continued to rack up the victories this season, they began to slide down the College Football Playoff rankings. In effect, FSU was penalized for doing what? Winning. That’s downright laughable.

Dear committee members, I don’t envy your job. It’s a tough one, no doubt. But you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

The goal of a game is to win. Score more than your opponent. Who’s done that better than FSU? Nobody.

Flash only takes you so far. Substance prevails. FSU has plenty of that. But this year, at least, FSU isn’t sexy. Americans like sexy.

Perhaps that’s why each week, without fail, prognosticators, pundits and so-called experts pick the Noles to lose. This will be the week, they say. The week they won’t find a way to escape.

Yes, some day, maybe very soon, it will all be over. The Seminoles will lose. Most people will be happy.

But until then, I choose to give credit where credit is due. I’ll embrace the gritty determination, the steely composure under pressure and the ability to flip the switch. I admire it all. Why hate? Appreciate!

This year’s FSU team undoubtedly has more cracks in the armor than last year’s dominant display of perfection – in every phase of the game. The defense has holes. Jameis is more errant with the football. But in a way, to me, that makes the 2014 Noles even more impressive.

They’ve persevered. They overcame off-the-field issues. They survived the media onslaught. They’ve taken everybody’s best shot each and every week. They’ve been hated, and they’ve handled that too.

Photo courtesy of ngngsports.com

Photo courtesy of ngngsports.com

Sometimes you forget that these are 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids.

It’s far easier to get to the top than to stay there. Everybody wants to knock you off the pedestal, especially if you’re Jameis Winston – the guy everybody loves to hate. So what’s the magic formula to the Seminoles’ ability to stave off all challengers? There are lots of ingredients.

But the man stirring that potent concoction is Jimbo Fisher.

I still remember sitting a few feet away from the FSU head coach back in July at the ACC preseason media event in Greensboro.

There was something in the glint of his eyes and the infectious conviction in his words that made me a believer. Right then and there. Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

He let me take a peek behind the curtain. He talked for over 20 minutes on this thing called the “attitude of domination.” He discussed how in order to be special, you have to do something different that others aren’t willing to do. The throngs of national media members listened to the man preach.

Some coaches are X’s and O’s guys. And yes, Jimbo’s no slouch in that department. But I’m convinced that what sets him apart is not his football expertise.

No, Jimbo’s a philosopher. Behind those dadgum-its and goofy smiles, there lies a resolute belief system for success. I see how he gets his Noles to buy in.

We’ve grown so accustomed to Jimbo being asked the same questions by the TV sideline reporters after each and every thrilling come-from-behind victory this season. One of those questions is always, “How do you guys continue to come up with these fourth quarter comeback wins?”

Jimbo’s regular response? “It’s who we are.”

That resonates with me. And more importantly, it’s resonated in the hearts and minds of his players.

Through it all, the Seminoles have continued to live up to the University’s motto – UNCONQUERED. 29 and counting…

But yet again, everybody and their mother will be picking Florida State to lose when it takes the field in Pasadena against the mighty juggernaut that is Oregon in the national semifinals.

That’s just fine with Jimbo and the Noles. In fact, they like it that way.

 

Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/oakes-outlook-bowls-roles-noles/

Brice Johnson Responds To Roy Williams’ Tough Challenge

The Carolina men’s basketball team’s toughness has been scrutinized this season, most notably, after ugly losses to Butler and Iowa. But junior forward Brice Johnson is doing his best to rectify the situation.

***Listen to the story***

Johnson’s explanation for his 19 points and career-high 17 rebounds in Sunday’s rout over ECU is simple. He played more minutes.

“For one, I wasn’t in foul trouble all night. That was the biggest thing. I could get in the groove and was able to stay on the floor a good period of time. I attribute it to that. The last couple games, I’ve been in foul trouble,” Johnson says.

Brice Johnson recorded a breakout performance Sunday (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson recorded a breakout performance Sunday (Todd Melet)

ECU head coach and former Carolina basketball player Jeff Lebo says he was pulling hard for a UNC win last Wednesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge if only to avoid an angry opponent for his Pirates.

UNC head coach Roy Williams agrees. The Tar Heels were ticked off with their performance against the Hawkeyes.

“Mentally, we were more into the game. Jeff [Lebo] and I talked before the game. He was pulling for us hard Wednesday night, because he’s a North Carolina graduate, but also he didn’t want us to be as mad as we were. I told him I agreed after the game. We had much more attention to detail today. In the first half, we had one turnover,” Coach Williams says.

That clean of a game is an encouraging sign for Coach Williams if the Tar Heels can keep it up, and that’s a big if, especially with the No. 1 team in the nation looming large on Saturday.

But for now, Johnson says he’s eager to continue stepping up as a key big man inside for Carolina. His 17 rebounds, the most since Tyler Zeller’s 22 in 2012, jumped off the stat sheet Sunday, but Johnson says he wants more.

“Well, I wanted 20, but it didn’t happen that way. It’s good I could help my team any way I could. That was the biggest way I could help my team. I’m really happy about that,” Johnson says.

Coach Williams credits what he calls one of the toughest practices his team’s ever faced as a key contributor to the focus and improved play last weekend.

Roy Williams doesn't like what he sees all the time (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams doesn’t like what he sees all the time (Todd Melet)

“It did simmer for another next 24 hours. We got after it as hard as anybody on this team has ever had at practice the day before a game. You can’t do the things rebounding-wise or the things one-on-one and selfishly like we did Wednesday night and be a good basketball team,” Coach Williams says.

Johnson’s explosive game didn’t surprise his coach. The Hall of Famer has thrown the gauntlet down all season, expecting his post players to dominate for the Tar Heels. Not surprisingly, when they’ve done so, UNC has fared well.

“I’ve said that since the start of the year. We have a couple of big guys that have to step up. When they step up and be big-time players, we’re really a good basketball team. That’s putting a lot of pressure on guys, but heck, it’s college basketball at the highest level. If you want to be good, your best player has to step up and play,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams and Tar Heel fans everywhere will certainly be hoping the big men can answer the bell in hostile Rupp Arena this weekend. They’ll have to or risk getting embarrassed.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/brice-johnson-responds-roy-williams-tough-challenge/

Fedora, Tar Heels Aim For Redemption, More Passion In Bowl Game

The Tar Heels will be bowling in Motown the day after Christmas. The 6-6 UNC football team will be looking to finish with a winning record for the third straight year under head coach Larry Fedora when Carolina takes on 7-5 Rutgers in Detroit’s Quick Lane Bowl.

***Listen to the story***

The 4:30 p.m. kickoff Friday, Dec. 26 will offer UNC a chance at redemption.

Coach Fedora found it hard to offer an explanation for his team’s lethargic loss to the Wolfpack to close the regular season.

Larry Fedora (AP)

Larry Fedora (AP)

“I wish I had more answers for you. I would probably feel better about myself if I did, but I don’t have a whole lot to say. You have to give all the credit to them,” Coach Fedora says.

The bowl game gives the Tar Heels an opportunity to wipe the sour taste of a sound rivalry game beating out of their mouths and head into the offseason and spring football with a positive mindset.

Coach Fedora says the Tar Heels will need to be full of motivation to succeed against Rutgers.

quick lane bowl

“To play this game, you have to play with passion, energy and enthusiasm all the time. That’s the only way you can do it,” Coach Fedora says.

With a couple weeks to prepare for the Scarlet Knights, UNC will be hoping its starting junior quarterback, Marquise Williams, who was knocked out of the regular season finale against N.C. State, will be fully fit and ready to go.

The good news for Tar Heel fans is that it appears sophomore receiver Ryan Switzer, who also left the game against the Wolfpack, has not sustained any serious injury and will be in Carolina uniform in Detroit.

Former star tight end for UNC, Eric Ebron, announced his pleasure with the bowl destination for the Tar Heels. Ebron, now a tight end for the NFL’s Detroit Lions, will be happy to cheer on his former teammates in the stadium where he now goes to work on Sundays – Ford Field.

Rutgers and UNC are no strangers to each other. The postseason matchup will be the seventh confrontation on the gridiron between the two schools and the fifth since 2006.

Former Carolina running back Giovani Bernard’s two touchdowns helped the Tar Heels scrape past the Scarlet Knights, 24-22, in the last meeting in 2011.

UNC will be hoping for a similar result in 2014.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/fedora-tar-heels-aim-redemption-passion-bowl-game/

UNC Dominates ECU In Season Best Shooting Percentage

The No. 12 North Carolina men’s basketball team dominated East Carolina 108-64 Sunday afternoon at the Dean E. Smith Center.

With the win, UNC improves to 6-2 and ECU drops to 4-5.

Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto led the Tar Heels with each scoring 19 points. Johnson led the team in rebounding and set a career high of 17 rebounds. Johnson’s rebounding record surpassed any Tar Heel from last season and this current season.

“We feel a heck of a lot better than we did Wednesday night,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says. “I think we invested a heck of a lot more these last couple of days. Mentally, we were more into the game.”

*Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks*

UNC came off a tough loss against Iowa Wednesday night with a season-low 27.9 percent from the floor, the lowest field goal percentage in a game since 2011. In an amazing turn of events, Carolina had a season-high shooting percentage against ECU, going 60 percent from the floor. Freshman Joel Berry shot 100 percent going 4-4.

“Yesterday we got after it probably as hard as anybody on this team has ever had to practice the day before a game,” Coach Williams says. “But you can’t do the things rebounding-wise and you can’t do the things one-on-one and selfishly like we did Wednesday night to be a good basketball team.”

UNC vs ECU 045Coach Williams says it was the little details such as fewer turnovers that led to a well-played game against ECU. UNC only had one turnover in the first half.

North Carolina led 48-29 at halftime on the strength of a 23-5 run beginning midway through the first half. Johnson rounded out the first half scoring 8 out of North Carolina’s final 10 points, 6 of which came after his own offensive rebounds.

Kennedy Meeks added 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Nate Britt finished with 10 points.

“We still have to do a better job rebounding and a better job boxing out, but we shared the ball. Twenty-seven assists for us shooting 60 percent for the game and, again, we were into it mentally and we got to have that same kind of attitude every night,” Coach Williams says.

UNC will continue its nonconference slate Saturday away from home against Kentucky at 12pm.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-dominates-ecu-season-best-shooting-percentage/

Sweet Victory, Bitter Defeat Contrast for Tar Heels

There was plenty to offer on the Tar Heel sports menu over the weekend, and while it was a heartbreaking end of the road for one Carolina squad, it was the continuation of a national championship march for another.

***Listen to the story***

UNC soccer senior midfielder and Greensboro native Glen Long will remember Saturday night’s game for the rest of his life.

The Tar Heels’ NCAA Tournament fate rested on the strength of his leg and with the game and the season on the line, Long’s penalty kick was gobbled up by UCLA goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr.

In the eighth round, the Bruins clinched the gut-wrenching home victory with another sprawling save by Edwards Jr. And just like that, UNC’s season came to a close with a 15-5-2 final record.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

For four impactful Tar Heels in particular, the loss will be even tougher to take. As seniors, their soccer careers at Carolina have now ended, including captain Boyd Okwuonu, goal scorers Tyler Engel and Andy Craven, and stingy goalkeeper Brendan Moore.

UNC  head coach Carlos Somoano will do well to replace such pivotal performers next season.

Meanwhile, the locker room was a happier place for the Tar Heels back on the east coast.

The UNC volleyball team continued its winning ways with a tough 3-1 win over Southern California inside Carmichael Arena Saturday evening. The Tar Heels have triumphed in a school record 19th straight contest.

Now Sweet Sixteen bound, head coach Joe Sagula says the 2nd round NCAA Tournament match was an outstanding showcase of top-notch volleyball.

“I want to congratulate our North Carolina program, as well as Southern California for a great match – what a great battle,” Coach Sagula says.

Carolina’s coach, now in his 25th season in Chapel Hill, lauds his strong stable of seniors for the perfect 16-0 season mark in the cozy confines of Carmichael Arena.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

“This is why I have these four seniors with us here right now. This is significant for this program, what these four represent to us and what they done and how they’ve seen this program grow. Tonight was a special night for them and for this whole team,” Coach Sagula says.

Senior Lauren McAdoo says she’s proud of her team for overcoming obstacles and reaching for their lofty goals.

“It has been a goal since we got here to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. It shows the heart and fight of this team, through all adversity, to stick to our goal and fought through it together,” McAdoo says.

Senior classmate Ece Taner, who notched 24 digs and a service ace against the Trojans, says she’s enjoying every moment of the historic season, but is also excited for the road that lies ahead.

“We want it as a senior class to be able to play a really tough team. We’re glad that we played a team and are really excited. It’s hard to describe how special this feeling is. We’re ready to play more,” Taner says.

Next up for the surging Tar Heels is a Sweet Sixteen showdown with tenth-seeded Oregon Friday in the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/sweet-victory-bitter-defeat-contrast-tar-heels/

Tar Heel Football Headed to Motown

The 6-6 UNC football team will look to close the season on a high note in Motown, where they will face the 7-5 Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Quick Lane Bowl on December 26th in Detroit.

After a slow, 2-4 start to their 2014 campaign, head coach Larry Fedora and his Tar Heels hope to put a nice bow on their season the day after Christmas.  A win against Rutgers would give UNC a winning season, and help them recover from a lackluster showing a week ago against rival NC State.

Quarterback Marquise Williams, fresh off being named to the All-ACC Second Team, will need to be sharp against a solid Scarlet Knight bunch that saw four of their five losses in the Big Ten come against teams that were ranked in the top 25.  With at least 130 passing yards in Detroit, Williams could end the season with 3,000 through the air, while also leading the team in rushing with another 750 on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, the defense that has plagued Carolina all year long is tasked with finding a way to contain Rutgers wide receiver, Leonte Carroo. The 6’1” junior finished second in the Big Ten with 1043 yards and 10 touchdowns, and is regarded as a potential pro prospect.

The game will be televised on ESPN at 4:30 P.M. from the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, Ford Field.

View the complete bowl schedule here.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-headed-motown/

UNC Men’s Soccer Loses to UCLA in Shootout

The UNC men’s soccer team fell to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals after eight rounds of penalty kicks in overtime Saturday night at Drake Stadium.

Carolina led the Bruins 1-0 going into halftime after a free kick goal from sophomore Omar Holness. The Bruins threatened early in the open of the second half and scored from close range in the 69th minute to tie the game, 1-1.

The Bruins scored another goal just moments later and led the Tar Heels by one. UCLA scored yet again in the 74th minute and were ahead 3-1.

The Tar Heels rallied back and scored two goals within 30 seconds of each other. Senior Tyler Engel scored off a corner kick in the 78th minute making the score 3-2. Twenty-four seconds later senior Andy Craven was able to snatch a goal off of an assist from Raby George.

Men's soccer 2

With UNC and UCLA tied 3-3 in the 90th minute, it would take a round of penalty kicks to decide the final team in the Men’s College Cup. With the game on the line, North Carolina sent Glen Long to take the kick. UCLA goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. made the crucial game-saving stop and both teams proceeded to make their next two attempts. Going into the eighth round, UNC’S Warren Marshall took the final shot for the Tar Heels, but Edwards Jr. was there to make the sprawling save to advance the Bruins into the Final Four.

The penalty kick victory was the first for UCLA in NCAA Tournament play since the 1990 championship game.

Four Tar Heels finished their soccer career with UNC Saturday night, including captain Boyd Okwuonu, goal-scorers Engel and Craven, and goalkeeper Brendan Moore.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-mens-soccer-loses-ucla-overtime/

UNC Hopes To Regain Stride Versus ECU

The North Carolina men’s basketball team, 5-2 on the season, looks to recover from a 60-55 loss to Iowa when the Tar Heels welcome a 4-4 East Carolina squad to the Smith Center Sunday for a 3 p.m. tipoff.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for fifth-year ECU head coach Jeff Lebo, who played at UNC from 1985-1989 and is second in Carolina history in career three-point accuracy.

Paige shoots a jumper (Todd Melet)

Paige shoots a jumper (Todd Melet)

UNC sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks has five double-digit rebounding games already this season. To put  that in perspective, Meeks recorded five total in his entire freshman year campaign.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige will attempt to extend his 20-game streak of knocking down at least one three-point field goal.

Bu the main thing Carolina head coach Roy Williams will be watching out for is his team’s ability to make the easy shots around the basket. The Tar Heels squandered a bundle of short-range opportunities around the rim in their ACC-Big Ten Challenge defeat Wednesday against the Hawkeyes.

The Pirates, meanwhile, will be searching for their first win over the Tar Heels, trailing the all-time series 3-0.

Fans are encouraged to bring toys for the Toys for Tots collection outside the Smith Center. The toy drive benefits needy Orange County children who would otherwise go without any gifts this Christmas.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-hopes-regain-stride-versus-ecu/

UNC Wins Epic 2OT Battle With No. 18 Rutgers

In a double overtime shootout, sixth-ranked UNC women’s basketball knocked off No. 18 Rutgers on the road with a 96-93 victory Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Behind sophomore Allisha Gray’s season-high 29 points, The Tar Heels came back from trailing by 12 points in the second half to remain undefeated with an 8-0 record. Rutgers boasted the nation’s longest winning streak before the loss, but now stands at a 6-1 record.

In a high intensity back-and-forth contest, Carolina went on a run to cut the Scarlet Knights’ lead and tie the game at 71 at the end of regulation.

Carolina was up by five with 40 seconds left in overtime before Rutgers caught up to force the game into double overtime. Senior Latifah Coleman, last week’s tournament MVP, solidified the victory for the Heels with a steal, basket and two made free throws.

North Carolina is coming back to Chapel Hill to face Appalachian State in Carmichael Arena on Sunday, December 14th.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-wins-epic-2ot-battle-no-18-rutgers/