CHAPEL HILL— Opening day of the Carolina baseball season is a week away, and the Countdown to First Pitch series rolls on. The Tar Heels will open their 2014 campaign against College of Charleston Friday, Feb. 14 at 3 p.m. in Boshamer Stadium.

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Sophomore pitcher Trent Thornton says the team was surprised by the No. 17 preseason ranking.

“There’s definitely a chip on our shoulder this year. We’re going to use that to our advantage and hopefully move forward from there,” Thornton says.

The relatively poor ranking, by Carolina standards at least, has a lot to do with the crucial losses from last season and a youthful lineup that Head Coach Mike Fox says raises some question marks.

But Thornton says he’s confident the Tar Heels have reloaded and will surprise the college baseball nation in 2014.

“I know we lost a decent amount of guys, but we have a ton of guys that filled in their spots. We have depth in the bullpen and have a lot of guys that can swing the bat and play defense behind us. I think we’re going to surprise a lot more people,” Thornton says.

Junior ace Benton Moss says the last out in Omaha that sent the Tar Heels home empty-handed has fueled the team’s fire in the offseason.

“For me, it was a little bittersweet. I wanted the game to go out there and compete. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way we all wanted to. It leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth. You get so close to knock on the door and nobody comes to answer. I think that’s another thing working for us this year – a lot of us have tasted that, and we want more,” Moss says.

Moss, like Coach Fox, tabs Zac Gallen as a freshman to keep your eye on in big games. His ability to consistently throw the ball over the plate should come in handy.

It will no doubt be a tough task for these youthful Tar Heels to live up to the 2013 campaign, a banner season for Carolina that that saw them ranked No.1 for a majority of the year and win the program’s first ACC tournament title in six years.

And if the Tar Heels are to make their eleventh College World Series appearance in school history, Moss says the veterans are going to need to disciple the young guys.

“I think the guys that are moving up that are older now that experienced last year’s team, their job is to take the feel from last year’s team, that chemistry, and to translate it to this team. Obviously, this team is a little bit younger. […] But I feel comfortable that the guys from last year’s team will do a good job of that and translate the same chemistry from last year to this year,” Moss says.