Countdown to First Pitch: Trent Thornton

Over the past two seasons for UNC baseball, Trent Thornton has spent his time clearly establishing himself as the ace of the pitching staff.  With the 2015 opener set for Feb. 13 against Seton Hall, the junior right-hander gives us an inside look into his life both on and off the diamond as we get you prepared for another run at the College World Series with our Countdown to First Pitch preview series.

Coming off a sophomore campaign in which he led all Tar Heel starters in wins, strikeouts, and ERA, Trent has definitely caught the eyes of major league scouts. These accomplishments were enough to earn him 3rd team preseason All-American honors for 2015, along with reliever Reilly Hovis.

This success came after a freshman season in 2013 where he started the year in the bullpen. But Trent ascended the ranks in no time, starting against LSU in the College World Series; a moment he names as the highlight of his career to this point.

(Photo courtesy of News & Observer)

Trent icing his arm during the 2013 College World Series. (News & Observer)

Discussing his pro potential, Trent says “it’s always been a dream to get drafted and make it to the major leagues, but you can’t look too far ahead into the future. You got to focus on what you have today. That’s something I’ve really focused on, is taking it day by day, because you never know what can happen.”

While he wouldn’t commit to any future plans, he did list the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates as two teams he’s always grown up wanting to play for.

Sports is a crazy world where a bad season or a freak injury can change an athlete’s life dramatically.

With this in mind, Thornton, a business major, says that “[he’s] actually thought about this a lot lately,” adding that if something happened where he wasn’t able to play professionally “[he’d] really like to stay in the game of baseball some way, coaching could be an option, but I’d also really like to start my own business.”

Off the field, Trent enjoys spending time with his roommates, and teammates, Korey Dunbar, Alex Raburn, and Taylore Cherry. As for his hobbies, you can include pretty much anything involved with the outdoors, saying “I like to keep pretty busy, I like to stay outside, I like to fish, play ultimate Frisbee, disc golf, and golf. If it’s outside I’m normally doing something there.”

Never a fun sight for opposing hitters. (UNC Athletics)

His personality is one that’s very laid back, but don’t let that fool you. Trent is serious about putting in the work it takes in order to perform at the highest level. This balance has helped Thornton and head coach Mike Fox form a tight bond since the righty’s arrival in Chapel Hill.

“I think Coach Fox is a great coach and I think we have a very good relationship. I like to joke around with him a lot, and I have a pretty good sense of humor I’d say. I like to put a smile on his face any way I can,” Trent says.

It takes a special kind of competitive fire to be the best at what you do, and in the case of UNC’s star pitcher, that’s definitely an accurate assessment.

Asked what pitch he would throw if he was one out away from a perfect game, with a full count, and Derek Jeter (in his prime) at the plate, Trent didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“I’d go with the fastball, just try and blow it by him up and in or low and away. It’s a bulldog mentality. I go out there with a chip on my shoulder every day like I have something to prove.”

2014 ended on a sour note for the Tar Heels, falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament behind a pair of losses to Long Beach State – this after previously taking six trips to Omaha for the College World Series since 2006.

Bringing the fastball, pretending Derek Jeter is batting. (UNC Athletics)

Bringing the fastball, pretending Derek Jeter is batting. (UNC Athletics)

Last season was out of character, but it was certainly not an indictment of the talent on this year’s baseball team.  They see no reason not to be optimistic.

“There’s a big difference between last year’s team and this year’s team,” Trent says, “We’ve got a lot of good freshmen that came in this year, and I think we’ve got a lot to prove, but we can definitely compete in, and probably win the ACC. We’re expecting a lot out of this team.”

When it comes to which game he’s most excited about pitching in, it was clear that the local rivalry is still burning strong among players, quickly replying “NC State, absolutely.”

Opening day is right around the corner, folks, and when it gets here, number 31 will be on the mound. Seton Hall better be ready, as the self-described “bulldog” is better than ever, and will be bringing his best stuff.

As a matter of fact, the entire ACC might want to have their players go ahead and start taking notes.

Trent Thornton is coming for them – probably with the fastball high and tight.

UNC Baseball Releases 2015 Schedule

The UNC Athletics office has announced the 2015 Carolina baseball schedule, featuring 38 home games including a visit from 2013 NCAA champion UCLA.

The season begins on February 13 with a home game against Seton Hall. UCLA visits later in the month. ACC play begins for the Tar Heels on March 6, also at home in Boshamer Stadium against Duke.

View the full schedule here.

Below is the full statement from UNC Athletic Communications:

Highlighted by Atlantic Coast Conference matchups with Duke, Miami, NC State, Boston College and Virginia as well as a visit from 2013 NCAA champion UCLA, North Carolina will host 38 games at Boshamer Stadium in 2015, head coach Mike Fox announced Monday. The Tar Heels, who will look to earn a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament bid this spring, open the season with a 15-game homestand beginning Feb. 13 against Seton Hall.

“We are eager to start another season in front of our outstanding fans in Chapel Hill,” Fox said. “Once again, I think we’ll face one of the most challenging schedules in the country and the ACC will be incredibly competitive. Our players and coaches look forward to the opportunity to play 38 times at Bryson Field at Boshamer Stadium and to pursue our goals of an ACC title and another trip to the NCAA tournament.”

After welcoming Seton Hall to kick off 2015, Carolina will host UCLA for three games Feb. 20-22 before midweek contests against St. John’s and Winthrop. Rhode Island is UNC’s final non-conference weekend opponent, and the Tar Heels will jump into league play on March 6 against Duke in Chapel Hill. This will mark the second straight season Carolina opens ACC competition at home after not doing so from 2010-13.

Other home ACC opponents are Miami (March 27-29), NC State (April 10-12), Boston College (April 24-26) and Virginia (May 14-16). Both the Hurricanes and the Cavaliers reached the postseason last year, with Virginia advancing to the College World Series finals.

Carolina’s five league road series include trips to NCAA teams Georgia Tech (March 20-22) and Clemson (April 3-5), as well as visitis to Pittsburgh (March 13-15), Virginia Tech (April 17-19) and Notre Dame (May 8-10).

As usual, the Tar Heels will face healthy midweek competition from a number of regional foes. Carolina hosts VCU (March 3), Gardner-Webb (March 11), Davidson (March 17), Appalachian State (March 24), Coastal Carolina (April 7), Liberty (April 8), High Point (April 14), UNC Asheville (April 15), Campbell (April 21), UNCG (April 28), Elon (May 6) and UNCW (May 12). UNC will travel to Coastal (March 10), Elon (March 31) and UNCW (April 22) to round out non-conference play.

This year’s schedule is subject to change based on the selection of games by the league’s television partners. Any changes to the dates and times of contests will be announced as soon as possible on

The 2015 ACC Baseball Championship will be held at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C., May 19-24. NCAA play begins the following weekend with campus sites hosting regional action May 29-June 1.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.