East Carolina 70 – North Carolina 41 — F

Former Tar Heel Seager Ready For ‘Honor’ Of All-Star Status

There will be some Tar Heel flavor present Tuesday night at Target Field for the annual MLB All-Star Game. Former Carolina standout and current Seattle Mariner third baseman Kyle Seager will take to the field in front of the national spotlight.

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“This is obviously a dream come true. Everybody grows up wanting to play in the big leagues and become an All-Star. For that to happen is pretty special. It’s something that I’m very proud of. I’m very honored,” Seager says.

Seager has already smashed 15 home runs and 63 RBIs entering this week for the Mariners and has earned a nice reward for his efforts – his first career All-Star appearance in his fourth season in the majors.

While at Chapel Hill, Seager sported a .353 batting average in his three seasons and was a second-team All-America second baseman as a sophomore in 2008. The N.C. native smacked a school-record 30 doubles that same season and ranks in the top 10 in career batting average, hits, doubles, triples and total bases at UNC.

The 26-year-old led the Tar Heels to three consecutive College World Series appearances, including a spot in the championship series in 2007.

Seager replaced Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion, who was announced as the AL starter at third base before being placed on the disabled list.

But Seager will be joined by a few familiar faces Tuesday night. Three of his teammates – Felix Hernandez, Fernando Rodney and Robinson Cano – will be by his side.

And that’s comforting for Seager, who says he’ll be following Cano’s lead around the clubhouse, as he usually does.

“To go with a couple guys you know will be good. I can basically do there what I do here and just kind of follow Cano around. It will work out well for me,” Seager says.

With his selection, Seager has become the eighth Tar Heel to earn a coveted slot in the All-Star game.

Seager says he’s just humbled to be thought of so highly in his profession.

“It’s an honor just to be in consideration for it. To have people believe that I should be there is special. It’s been really cool,” Seager says.

Fans can catch all the action with Seager and the rest of the All Stars later Tuesday night. The game will be televised on Fox at 8 p.m.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/professional/former-tar-heel-seager-ready-honor-star-status/

Former Tar Heel Seager Snags All-Star Spot

Seattle Mariner third baseman and former Tar Heel All-American Kyle Seager was named to the 2014 American League All-Star team earlier this week by the MLB.

Seager has already smashed 13 home runs and 59 RBIs entering this week for the Mariners and has earned a nice reward for his efforts – his first career All-Star appearance.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Mariners

Seager – Photo courtesy of Seattle Mariners

While at Chapel Hill, Seager sported a .353 batting average in his three seasons and was a second-team All-America second baseman as a sophomore in 2008. The N.C. native smacked a school-record 30 doubles that same season and ranks in the top 10 in career batting average, hits, doubles, triples and total bases at UNC.

He led the Tar Heels to three consecutive College World Series appearances, including a spot in the championship series in 2007.

Seager will replace Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion, who was announced as the AL starter at third base before being placed on the disabled list on Monday.

With his selection, Seager has become the eighth Tar Heel to earn a coveted slot in the All-Star game.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/professional/former-tar-heel-seager-snags-star-spot/

UNC Slugger Ackley Gets Omaha Hall of Fame Nod

Dustin Ackley will become the first Tar Heel baseball player inducted into the Omaha College Baseball Hall of Fame in the second ever class.

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Established in 2013 to celebrate college baseball’s storied history, it’s fitting it didn’t take long for a Carolina player to join the elite ranks. Head Coach Mike Fox’s Tar Heels seemingly make Omaha, the site of the College World Series, their second home.

Ackley will be joined in the 2014 class by Steve Arlin from Ohio State, Will Clark from Mississippi State and Mark Kotsay from Cal State Fullerton.

Inductees were selected because of their outstanding contributions to college baseball with a special interest in the performances at the game’s biggest stage: in Omaha.

It must have been a rather easy decision for the former players and coaches who were voting on the honorees as Carolina’s Ackley is one of the best hitters in ACC history and holds the College World Series career record with 28 hits.

In addition, the lefty boasted an incredible .412 batting average in his Omaha career. Ackley, the first player ever to be named to the College World Series All-Tournament Team on three separate occasions, always saved his best stuff for college baseball’s cathedral.

The first baseman performed at the highest level for the Diamond Heels from 2007-09, finishing his UNC career as the school’s all-time batting average leader. He also led the way in hits, runs and total bases.

With those lofty statistics, it’s no surprise Ackley’s experienced success in the professional ranks. He’s currently starting in the outfield for the Seattle Mariners.

Ackley and the rest of the 2014 inductees will be recognized at the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby on July 3 and be featured on ESPN’s live broadcast.

It’s a fitting tribute for one of the Tar Heels’ very best.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-slugger-ackley-gets-omaha-hall-fame-nod/

Diamond Heels Will Try To Polish Up Rough Edges For 2015 Run

The North Carolina baseball team’s 2014 season is in the books. With the subpar campaign, by lofty Carolina standards, the Tar Heels are already looking forward to wipe the sour taste out of their mouths in 2015.

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The Tar Heels appear to be locked and loaded for a run at an eleventh ACC crown and an eleventh trip to Omaha for the College World Series in 2015.

With only two key contributing seniors departing in Parks Jordan and Tom Zengel, Carolina would look to have a veteran team returning to Chapel Hill, capable of returning a dominant sense of normalcy to Boshamer Stadium.

But what about offensive catalyst Michael Russell? Russell has likely swung his final at-bat in Carolina uniform. But still, the junior hitter is probably the only junior who will leave for the MLB.

Some analysts say junior pitchers Benton Moss and Trevor Kelley could depart if drafted. But those are long shots.

The entire pitching staff, led by ace Trent Thornton, should return. And don’t forget, Chris McCue will be back in the saddle after missing almost the entire season due to injury. So the depth in the bullpen will be Omaha ready, but how about the bats?

That’s the big question mark. A .274 team batting average in 2014 left Carolina a run or two short in countless contests. Even a modest rise in firepower in 2015 could spell the difference between an early exit in the NCAA Tournament and a return to Omaha.

An offseason to sharpen their skills at the plate should aid young players like Adam Pate, Wood Myers and Tyler Ramirez. But more practice can’t always cure every deficiency at the plate.

Help is on the way. Head Coach Mike Fox’s incoming recruiting class features six players inside the Top 100 in the nation, including highly-touted Asheville native, Braxton Davidson.

Davidson, a first baseman and outfielder, ended his high school playing days with a whopping .450 batting average and a .585 on base percentage. That’s the kind of weaponry the Tar Heels can use.

Thankfully for Tar Heel fans everywhere, Carolina should have the personnel and motivation to again return to its usual spot amongst the college baseball elite in 2015.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/diamond-heels-polish-rough-edges-2015-run/

Recurring Troubles Doom Tar Heels In NCAA Dirtbag Duel

The North Carolina baseball team saw its season come to an end Monday afternoon in a 12-5 loss to Long Beach State in the Gainesville regional. The Tar Heels finished 2014 with a 35-27 record.

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The Tar Heels’ season barely lasted into June as Carolina failed to reach the Super Regionals in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 2005.

Fittingly, a couple of the season’s recurring themes emerged again to lead to UNC’s demise once play resumed Monday at McKethan Stadium after torrential rains on Sunday led to postponement.

First, Carolina’s defense proved unable to find strike three. Time after time, no matter the pitcher on the mound, the Dirtbags would find a way to scratch and claw their way out of two strike territory, paying off with huge dividends in the latter stages of the elimination showdown.

Additionally, the Tar Heel bats failed to apply consistent pressure on the Dirtbag defense. The Carolina offense was erratic at best. Too many swings on first pitches resulted in quick outs and warp-speed innings.

A big ballpark with a center field that seemed more like a black hole, swallowing up any balls hit with authority, didn’t help the Tar Heel cause either.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Meanwhile, the Dirtbags handled Carolina pitcher Spencer Trayner with ease, spurting out to a 7-4 lead in the seventh inning. Benton Moss relieved Trayner and started off in a promising manner by stymieing the Long Beach attack. What’s more, Carolina tacked on a run to inch within a pair of scores at 7-5.

But the ninth inning slammed the door on the Tar Heel postseason hopes as the Dirtbag bats came alive as the lead ballooned out to an insurmountable 12-5 margin.

FINAL BOX SCORE

Despite the struggles this season, Head Coach Mike Fox says he never felt his team lost confidence or belief in its ability to win.

“I don’t think our confidence has ever wavered. We’ve been knocked down some, but I never sensed that we didn’t have confidence. We could win, play well and reach our goals,” Coach Fox says.

One bright spot for Carolina was Michael Russell. Russell played despite being struck in the head by a fastball Saturday night against Florida. Russell toughed it out and finished his strong junior season with a team-leading .339 batting average that included 20 doubles and four home runs.

Next season, most of the arms will be returning, but an infusion of offensive firepower will be needed if another trip to Omaha is to be in the cards in 2015.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/recurring-troubles-doom-tar-heels-ncaa-dirtbag-duel/

Tar Heels Fall To Long Beach State, 12-5

North Carolina saw its season come to an end with a 12-5 loss to Long Beach State Monday afternoon at McKethan Stadium. Long Beach scored twice in the seventh after having two on with one out when the game was halted late Sunday due to torrential rain and unplayable field conditions. Tom Zengel had three hits, while Skye Bolt and Tyler Ramirez had two RBIs apiece for the Tar Heels, who finished 2014 with a 35-27 record and a 13th straight NCAA regional appearance.
Long Beach State (34-25) had a 5-4 lead in the seventh when a second rain delay stopped play Sunday evening. After lenghty wait, the game was suspended and rescheduled for a 12:05 resumption Monday afternoon.
The Dirtbags wasted no time against Carolina reliever Spencer Trayner, executing a double steal on the first pitch Monday and loading the bases with an intentional walk to Richard Prigatano. Michael Hill, whose solo home run gave LBSU a 5-4 lead, singled through the right side to push the Long Beach lead to 7-4.
Benton Moss came on for UNC and got out of the inning, and the Tar Heels immediately responded with a run in the bottom of the seventh on a Ramirez double. But LBSU closer Ty Provencher struck out Adam Pate to strand the tying runs on base before the Dirtbags broke it open in the ninth.
Zengel’s three-hit day in his final game as a Tar Heel led a 13-hit attack, with Bolt, Ramirez, Alex Raburn and Landon Lassiter each chipping in two. Henry Sisson got the final two outs in the ninth for the Carolina bullpen, which figures to return the bulk of its arms – including first-team All-ACC righty Reilly Hovis – in 2014.
Michael Russell, who played despite a nasty cut above the eye from a fastball to the head against Florida, finished his standout junior season with a team-leading .339 batting average as well as four homers and 20 doubles.
http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-fall-long-beach-state-12-5/

Tar Heels-Dirtbags Contest To Resume Monday

Game five of the 2014 NCAA Gainesville Regional between North Carolina and Long Beach State was halted due to rain with the Dirtbags leading 5-4 in the top of the seventh and will be resumed Monday at noon at McKethan Stadium. The two teams sat through over six hours of delays after the 1:05 start before the field was deemed unplayable.
Both teams homered in the first, with Ivo Patron and Skye Bolt sending matching two-run shots out to right. Carolina took its first lead in the second on a Korey Dunbar safety squeeze before Patron drove in two more in the top of the third to give Long Beach State a 4-3 advantage. Tyler Ramirez singled home Bolt in the bottom of the inning to make it 4-4 before a Michael Hill solo homer gave the Dirtbags the one-run lead they will carry into Monday.
Starters Zac Gallen and Ryan Millison were lost after the first rain delay of over three hours in the bottom of the fourth. Gallen went four innings and allowed four runs on five hits, while Millison was touched for four runs on nine hits in 3.2 innings.
When play resumes Monday, Long Beach State will have runners on first and second with one out. Spencer Trayner, who had just replaced Zach Rice when the second rain delay started, is in the game for the Tar Heels. Carolina has Bolt, Wood Myers and Alex Raburn due up in the bottom of the seventh.
Game six of the Gainesville Regional will begin 55 minutes after the completion of UNC-LBSU. If a seventh game is necessary, it would be played Tuesday, June 3, at noon.
http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-dirtbags-contest-resume-monday/

Tar Heels Fall To LBSU 6-1 In NCAA Opener

Long Beach State had all five of its hits in a six-run fourth and Andrew Rohrbach worked into the ninth for the second-seeded Dirtbags, who defeated No. 3 seed North Carolina 6-1 Friday afternoon at the University of Florida’s McKethan Stadium. Tom Zengel and Landon Lassiter had two hits each for the Tar Heels, who will face the loser of the Florida-College of Charleston game in an elimination contest Saturday at 1 p.m.

Rohrbach and Carolina starter Trent Thornton traded zeroes until the bottom of the fourth, when LBSU (33-24) scored all six of its runs. Garrett Hampson reached on an infield single to lead off the inning before moving to third on a wild pitch and a groundout to first. The next six Dirtbag hitters would reach against Thornton (7-4) and Trevor Kelley, and when the dust settled Long Beach led 6-0.

For Thornton, the 3.1-inning start was the shortest of his career and the first of 2014 that didn’t last at least five innings. Kelley allowed a two-run double Colton Vaughn to cap the scoring, but the six runs would prove to be plenty for Rohrbach (7-2).

The redshirt sophomore who threw just four innings in junior college in 2013 needed just 94 pitches to work into the ninth. Carolina (34-26) didn’t get a runner past second until the ninth, when Michael Russell led off with a double off the wall. Two batters later, Lassiter singled home pinch-runner Adam Pate to put the Tar Heels on the board.

Long Beach closer Ty Provencher got the final two outs after Lassiter’s RBI hit, with a Tyler Ramirez blast to the wall in right center ending it and sending the Tar Heels to the loser’s bracket.

Kelley, Henry Sisson and A.J. Bogucki retired the final 14 hitters they faced, as the Dirtbags had just one baserunner all afternoon outside the fourth inning.

UNC will send Benton Moss to the hill in Saturday’s elimination game against the loser of Friday night’s Florida-College of Charleston matchup. With a victory Saturday, Carolina would play again Sunday at 1.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-fall-lbsu-6-1-ncaa-opener/

Fox, Underdog Tar Heels Prepare For NCAAs

The third-seeded North Carolina baseball team, 34-25 overall, will embark on the Road to Omaha when it faces second-seeded Long Beach State, sporting a 32-24 record, Friday at 1 p.m. at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

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The Dirtbags are no strangers to the postseason stage. Long Beach State has made 20 appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

Not surprisingly, Carolina Head Coach Mike Fox expects a stern test in game one Friday. The opposing defense especially stands out.

“They’re obviously a good team – very sound fundamentally. Look at their number of errors and their fielding percentage. They pitch exceptionally well,” Coach Fox says.

Carolina and Long Beach State have never met in the postseason. In fact, the two programs have played just one game all-time, a 1992 UNC win in Chapel Hill.

But this time around, Coach Fox says the Tar Heels will be facing a mirror image of themselves out on the diamond.

“They’re very similar to us I think. They just try to manufacture runs and depend on their pitching and defense to win,” Coach Fox says.

Hitting the road come tournament time is unusual for the UNC program, but Coach Fox says it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I think we can use that to our advantage. We haven’t been in this position. It is going to be quite different. When you’re hosting, playing at home, and you’re a national seed, there’s pressure on you. You’re expected to win. This is different. I hope that difference will help us,” Coach Fox says.

One might expect a low-scoring affair Friday with so much on the line and the sheer importance of not dropping into the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination format. The loser faces a daunting uphill climb the rest of the weekend against a loaded field.

Another reason to expect a pitcher’s duel is the man on the mound for the Tar Heels. Trent Thornton says he’s rested up and ready to throw.

“It feels pretty good. Every bullpen I’ve had is getting sharper and sharper. I’ve had my full week of rest coming into Friday. We’re ready to go,” Thornton says.

Overall, the bullpen is solid. But when push comes to shove, the Achilles heel for the team all season has been the run support. Coach Fox knows it, but says many members in the batting order are heating up.

“We’ve been up and down offensively. We just haven’t had everybody swinging at the level that they’re capable of, consistently. That’s where we’ve probably been a little bit better down the stretch. Landon [Lassiter] is swinging it better. Skye [Bolt] has been swinging it better. Parks [Jordan] got some big hits for us in the [ACC] Tournament. Maybe that’s a good sign for us offensively,” Coach Fox says.

History will certainly be on Carolina’s side. The Tar Heels have won their NCAA opener in 14 straight tournaments.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/mike-fox-tar-heels-embracing-underdog-role-ncaa-play-gets-underway/

Confident Skye Bolt Believes In Himself, Tar Heels Despite Season Struggles

Skye Bolt certainly had it all clicking a year ago.

The sophomore slugger struck lightning in his Carolina freshman year debut.

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The Georgia native and son of a former college baseball player earned consensus freshman All-America honors by Baseball America, Perfect Game, NCBWA and Louisville Slugger after starting 54 games in the outfield and hitting .321 despite missing a month with a broken foot.

But maybe it all came too easy. The infamous sophomore slump hit hard in 2014. To date, Bolt checks in with a mere .256 batting average and has only swatted three home runs this season.

But the sophomore says he’s matured and is gaining perspective on the game of baseball and life through the ups and downs.

“It’s a game of inches and a game of mental mentality. Success obviously fuels confidence. It’s good to see the results a little bit. It’s one of those things you’re going to continue to battle throughout your whole career, whether it be professional or life. It’s a game that will take advantage of you. It’s certainly given me the better half of the stick the past month,” Bolt says.

Due to the disparity in the stat sheet, many have speculated Bolt has been carrying an injury throughout the season, but the sophomore isn’t making any excuses for his dip in performance.

“You can hold on to an injury. You can hold on to an out like that for as long as you want to. But the fact of the matter is, I was playing some of my best ball this past fall. Injury has nothing to do with it,” Bolt says.

Overall as a team, Bolt credited a case of complacency in both the younger and older guys when asked about the unusually high 25 defeats in the loss column – the most since way back in 2001.

“We had a really strong fall. I think it put some complacency in the minds of some of the young guys. Some of the older guys have been here and done it. Even they fell into the trap of thinking we refueled what we lost. We got a lot of talent, but bottom line is that you have to get out there and play,” Bolt says.

Coming into postseason play as an underdog is an unfamiliar position for the Diamond Heels, who are typically locks to host a regional at Boshamer Stadium this time of the year. Head Coach Mike Fox’s ballclub hasn’t hit the road for a regional since 2010. But Bolt insists his team remains confident. He sees things turning around at just the right time.

“You’re starting to see we’re playing our best ball. When you’re playing your best ball, you’re playing defense, you’re pitching, and you’re getting some decent run support, which we’ve lacked, anything is possible with this team. That’s the way it should be with this program,” Bolt says.

Photo courtesy of Baseball America

Photo courtesy of Baseball America

The Carolina winning pedigree and tradition can’t hurt this young group of talent in the crucible of tournament play either. Omaha is seemingly a yearly reunion for this program. But will the belief be there? Bolt thinks so.

“If we do get in one of those situations, the history of Carolina baseball is that we’re going to come back just as we did against Maryland [in ACC Tournament]. We’re going to continue to play. They have that stepping stone as an example. It’s up to the younger guys. The older guys believe in what we can do at any moment,” Bolt says.

The irony of it all is Bolt is one of those “underclassmen” he talks about. But he has a trip to Omaha under his belt. The question remains, will this next group of Tar Heel freshmen be getting theirs?

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/confident-skye-bolt-believes-tar-heels-despite-season-struggles/